Ever heard of a ‘gurn’?

Folks get silly at the ‘Original Alabama Gurning Face-Off’

Local author and artist Ben South, left, gets silly with friends Pam Pruitt, front, Mary Norton Bentley, center, and Maria Richter Schultz, right, at the Original Alabama Gurning Face-Off Friday at the All-Steak in Cullman. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. –Through March 15, the Wallace State Community College Theatre program will present “Big Fish the Musical” based on the 1998 book “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” by Daniel Wallace. On Friday, Wallace stopped by the All-Steak for a little fun in the Original Alabama Gurning Face-Off. 

For those who might not be familiar with the term “gurning,” a gurn is an extremely distorted and particular facial expression. Wallace joined Ben Johnson South, creator of “The Original One-Liner American Diner,” and Melva Hackbarth Jackson, who recently directed Cullman Community Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” for an afternoon of funny faces and great food. 

The face-off was to be judged by Wallace, South and Jackson, but guests were having such a lovely time swapping stories and laughing, time seemed to slip away. There was gurning and everyone was a winner! 

The Tribune did sit down with Wallace and South for a lighthearted chat. Wallace said he was having a great time.

“I’m glad I came back because this is the last place I’m going to be going for a long time,” joked Wallace.
“We won’t be able to drive anymore.”

Wallace is working on new material.

He said, “I’m always working on something new. I’m teaching at UNC full-time and working on a book that a lot of it takes place in Alabama. It’s a non-fiction book. All of my books take place in Alabama. It takes place in Birmingham mostly. It’s fun to write and to research, coming down to my old stomping grounds.” 

Wallace grew up in the Homewood/Mountain Brook area and often visited his grandparents in Cullman. His grandparents, Ewing and Lucille Wallace, owned the All-Steak for many years, and their portraits have a prominent spot in the restaurant.

“I like to look at all the places I used to be and see how they’ve changed,” said Wallace, “just walking up and down the Main Street here.”

Wallace currently teaches fiction at UNC to undergraduates. He is also working on a memoir.

He explained, “It’s about two friends of mine who died young. It takes place mostly in Birmingham and North Carolina. There’s also a true crime element to it as well, so there’s a lot of investigative moments in it. It’s different from anything else I’ve ever done. It’s fun and it’s also true. Everything else I’ve ever done is pure fiction.”

South joined the conversation and updated on the progress of his new musical “The Original One Liner American Diner.”

Said South, “They are premiering it at the Riverchase at the Country Club on April 9 and then it’s ready to roll out to a theater near you!” 

“Big Fish the Musical” will be presented Saturday, March 14 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 15 at 2 p.m., in the Betty Leeth Haynes Theatre. Tickets are $10 and $5 for children younger than 12. Tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance by contacting Heather Gillikin at 256-352-8277 or heather.gillikin@wallacestate.edu.  

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Ben Johnson South, creator of “The Original One-Liner American Diner” (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)
All-Steak owners Zac Wood, left, and Dyron Powell, right pose for a photo with author Daniel Wallace, center, in front a framed photos of Wallace’s grandparents. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)
Daniel Wallace, author of “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)