On a stormy July night in Tucson, Arizona, a crowd of locals cram into the Paramount Theatre and sweat through the world premiere of the movie “The Furies”. It is 1950 and the Paramount Theatre does not have air conditioning. It had rained on the parade before the premiere and the 2,500 people that crowded into the theater got to see Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey and Ms. America 1949, Jacque Mercer, a native of Arizona. Not present was actor Walter Huston, who died in April of an aneurysm. The Furies was his last film.
It was only a month before in June that Tucson Mayor Joseph Niemann had declared July 1st to July 22nd as the “Furies Festival of Tucson”. This launched a grand attempt between Paramount studios, the city of Tucson, and local businesses to bolster the local economy, and promote the film. The movie was shot in and around the Old Pueblo, Tucson’s nickname.
It was late 2009 when in a normal transaction at Old Pueblo Coin yielded an unusual find. There was a group of green notes with cancel punches through them. They were in $5 and $50 denominations. The backs say “Furies Money” and read, “GOOD ONLY AT FURIES AUCTION, JULY, 1950. World Premier ‘The Furies,’ Tucson, Arizona”. A giant “TC” is in the center. In the film, TC Jeffords creates his own currency (TC notes) and starts paying people with them! With 2 native Tucsonans and a third person on staff with 40 years here in Tucson, we were all surprised at these notes and unaware of the movie and its local consequences, until this point in time.
At first glance they look like movie prop currency and in fact they were used in the movie and were an integral part of the story. The face of the note depicts a bare breasted woman riding a bull and the denomination in each corner as well as the words “IOU FIFTY DOLLARS” across the top. It is “signed” by TC Jeffords, the main character of the movie. The center of the note reads, “AMICUS HUMANI GENERIS”. This translates to “A friend of the human race”. All the notes are punch cancelled “PAID +7.22.50 91.11”.
The notes are both referenced and used in the movie, as “TC’s” and are used to pay people that TC and his family deal with. They play a major role in the overall theme of the movie. In the end … well, I won’t ruin the movie for you, but as you can guess, “TC’s” don’t hold their value.
The Furies Festival here in the Old Pueblo was a big deal. Tucson businesses were taking out full-page ads in the Tucson Daily Citizen, the local newspaper, advertising that they would give their customers Furies money with every purchase. They promoted “Furies Value Days”, “Furies Money-Saving Festival”, and don’t forget about the “Fabulous Furies Festival of July Values”! The Furies Money was being given out at a dollar-to-dollar ratio. If you bought a sofa for $59 from Rueben’s on Congress Street you got $59 in Furies Money. Although we only have seen the $5 and $50 notes, it is assumed that $1’s, $10’s and $20’s were made, possibly even $100.’s. In fact, the Furies Festival Committee pleaded in the paper “HELP! HELP! We cannot keep up with the demand for $1.00 Furies Bills . . all who have been able to collect a number of these can help us greatly, if you will take them to any store and exchange them for bills of larger denomination”.The Furies money and the Furies Festival were to culminate in the Furies Festival Auction, to be held July 22nd at Randolph Park. The happy consumers could bring their Furies Money to the auction and bid on items. The auction featured over 200 items; from household goods, clothing and watches, to the climax of the auction, with the main prize being a brand new Convertible Hillman Minx automobile sold by World Wide Motors.
After a wet and sweaty premiere, the people were looking forward to finally getting to spend their Furies Money in the auction, which started promptly at 7 p.m. Here are some excerpts from the Tucson Daily Citizen:“Furies Auction under heavy criticism. Boy’s Bicycle $4,000, portable radio, $4.000: man’s hat, $3,500… Those prices do not reflect the inflationary picture of some foreign country where it takes a suitcase full of money to buy a loaf of bread, but they do indicate the terrible amount of inflation that was rampant at the “Fabulous Furies Auction”.
Thousands showed up, many leaving right away and ‘’throwing their Furies money to the ground in disgust’’. The Minx car sold for $46,000. as well as “Every other price realized, equally out of reason for the average bidder…” . It was unlikely that average income locals spent many, many thousands of dollars during this 3 week period just to accumulate Furies Money. Although the bleachers were packed, they were empty by 10:30, even though the auction went well past midnight.
What caused all this inflationary bidding? It sounds as if there were some security issues with the notes. “Any number of employees of local business houses could be seen in the crowd flashing huge rolls of bills which could not have been collected during the three-week promotion with purchases. Sales girls with $19,000 in Furies Money, teen-age boys with $8,000 to $15,000– individuals with various amounts ranging upward from $10,000. Obviously – the average person does not purchase merchandise totaling such amounts in a year – much less in three weeks.”
To this day it is still unkown who paid for the Furies and how much they paid. Since they are cancelled as ‘’paid’’ the same day as the auction, some one was turning them in for Federal Reserve Notes. Our belief is that Paramount paid for the notes. They then gave a percentage of value for them when they were turned in at the auction. The only problem for the payer of these notes (presumably Paramount) is that the businesses had no incentive to keep them under wraps, as all notes that are brought back in during the auction, go to bolster the auction items price. In other words, the seller of the car possibly worked out a deal to have the other businesses bid up the items without any risk of them losing money on their item.
This neat piece of Old Pueblo history which ties together local business, politics, movies, actors, an actress, new cars, Mrs. America and scriptography ends with disdain and anger from a small community that felt like it was duped into taking TC dollars….just like in the movie!
Victor Milner was nominated for an Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.
Theme Song- TC Roundup by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. Listen Here.
You can see a Hillman Registry list here.
You can order the Furies movie here.