The Pride of Jesse Hallam

The Pride of Jesse Hallam
Genre Drama
Written by Suzanne Clauser
Directed by Gary Nelson
Starring Johnny Cash
Brenda Vaccaro
Eli Wallach
Country of origin United States
Original language English
Executive producer Frank Konigsberg
Producer Sam Manners
Cinematography Gayne Rescher
Editor Tony de Zarraga
Running time 97 minutes
Production company The Königsberg Company
Original network CBS
Picture format Color
Audio format Mono
Original release March 3, 1981 (1981-03-03)

The Pride of Jesse Hallam is a 1981 American made-for-television drama film starring Johnny Cash and Brenda Vaccaro. It originally aired March 3, 1981 on CBS.[1]


Jesse Hallam is a coal miner in Muhlenberg, Kentucky, whose wife has recently died and who has also recently lost his job. His daughter Jenny is in need of an operation on her back, and the nearest hospital that can successfully perform the procedure is in Cincinnati, Ohio. He sells the family farm to his brother-in-law Charlie, receives $15,000 in cash, packs up Jenny and his son Ted, and piles their belongings high on a pickup truck as they head to Cincinnati to start a new life.

Upon arrival in Cincinnati, Jesse checks Jenny into the hospital, paying the $14,000 for her operation in cash from the money he received from Charlie. After getting Ted registered at Harding High School, Jesse sets out to find work. However, his behavior is he is presented with a job application to fill out, he backs off and leaves. His efforts seem futile until he witnesses a vendor trying to cheat an elderly fruit grocer by selling him inferior apples. Jesse intervenes and stops it. The grocer, an Italian immigrant named Sal Galucci (Eli Wallach), is impressed enough to offer Jesse a job immediately.

Soon afterwards, Jesse learns his driver's license has expired after he runs a stop sign and is stopped by a police officer. One day, as Jesse is helping Sal set up a stand at a farmer's market, Sal rebukes him for setting their wares on a spot marked with another name. In his anger, Sal says, "What's'a matter, don't you read good?" When Jesse turns away to hide his shame, Sal comes to realize the truth—that Jesse is illiterate. He manages to convince Jesse to allow Sal to have his daughter Marian, who is also Ted's principal, teach him. Marian is reluctant at first, but gives in when Sal tells her how much he wants Jesse to continue working for him.

Throughout all this is a subplot that involves Jesse's son, Theodore "Ted" Hallam. Though his athletic abilities land him a spot on the track team, Ted is struggling academically, especially with reading—a parallel similar to his father. Because of this, he also struggles socially, leading him to hang out with a group of wild friends from school. This culminates in a police officer bringing Ted home to Jesse after Ted is found to be consuming alcohol.

Jesse continues to progress well with his reading, to the point where Marian offers him a copy of Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea", which further inspires Jesse. She suggests a summer reading program at the high school that would bring him to a higher grade level. However, after Jesse fails the written portion of his driver's test, he becomes discouraged and decides to return to Kentucky, which pleases Ted.

After the school year ends, Ted brings home his report card, and when probed by Jesse, Ted says he received an A in gym and a D in math, but says nothing about his other grades, expressing excitement at going back to Kentucky, where he would be enrolled as a junior at his old high school. Jesse learns that Ted actually flunked out of school...failing all of his other subjects, which require him to know how to read.

The final scene shows Jesse and Ted showing up at the high school for the remedial reading class that Marian had suggested to Jesse earlier. She watches them with delight as they pull up in front of the school. However, the class is out of control before it even starts, with all the students (with the exception of Jesse and Ted) talking and playing loud music. Jesse gets up from his desk and sits down each of the rowdy students, and grabs the radio and shuts it off. The class quickly quiets as he addresses them:

"You want to do what I've been doin' my whole life? Running away from words?" He then goes on to call it 'a poverty trade' and that they're in danger of digging deeper into their disabilities by not taking advantage of the opportunity they have in front of them. He says the choice is theirs, but no one is going to stop him and Ted from learning to read. The teacher, Mr. Parker, then calls roll, with Jesse and Ted proudly stating 'here' when their names are called.

Production notes

  • This movie was filmed entirely on location in Cincinnati, Ohio and rural Kentucky.[citation needed]
  • The 1987 made-for-television film Bluffing It, which starred Dennis Weaver, also dealt with adult illiteracy, which was Jesse Hallam's main problem.


  1. ^ Streissguth, Michael (6 March 2003). Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Reader. Da Capo Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-306-81225-5.

External links

Other Languages