From Savannah to Hollywood and Back

 Alumnus Stratton Leopold Adds Local Flavor

Distinguished Armstrong Alumni Award recipient, film producer and owner of Savannah’s legendary Leopold’s Ice Cream, Stratton Leopold (‘64) is no stranger to the bright lights of Hollywood.

With more than 60 film and TV credits to his name, he previously served as a Paramount Pictures executive vice president and an executive producer for blockbuster films “Mission Impossible III,” “The Sum of All Fears” and “Paycheck,” among others. At present, he is independently producing films, including adaptations of a nonfiction New York Times bestseller and a book by the venerable Naval Institute Press.

“At this stage in my career I am fascinated by memoirs and stories that have meaning and have changed people’s lives,” said Leopold.

Gov. Nathan Deal also appointed Leopold as chairman of the Georgia Film Advisory Board, which oversees the state’s $9.5 billion film and TV industry.

Yet, it was as a liberal arts transfer student on the historic Armstrong Mansion campus that Leopold first offered a glimpse of an impending career in the spotlight. Landing the lead role as the “King of the Birds” in a classical, English-translation staging of the comedy “The Birds,” written by ancient Greek classicist Aristophanes, he also played a title character in the two-act musical, “Leave it to Jane,” on the Jenkins Theater stage, located just behind the mansion.

Armstrong College, a two-year institution at the time, wasn’t initially in the cards for Leopold, who began his college career at Vanderbilt University as a pre-med major. However, he returned to Savannah following the death of his father, a Greek immigrant who opened Leopold’s Ice Cream with his brothers in 1919 at the streetcar crossing of Gwinnett and Habersham Streets. Leopold’s intentions were to return to collegiate studies in Nashville, “but life got in the way,” and he enrolled here in Savannah to be close to home in order to assist with the family business.

By the time Leopold graduated from Armstrong, the theater bug was fully embedded and he headed to New York to pursue a job in entertainment. Soon introduced to the film business, he was enticed to move to Atlanta in the early ‘70s, where he and a handful of other novices launched the state’s fledgling film and TV industry.

“There was a small group of us who started it, but none of us knew what we were doing,” he said with a laugh. “This was when Burt Reynolds was starting to make movies and Atlanta had just formed a film commission.”

Without a guide map, Leopold and his peers developed the blueprint for Georgia’s film advisory committee today, drafting tax incentives and touting the state’s diverse set of location sites and quality of life.

Leopold’s skill set also expanded as he became a casting agent, location scout and production manager across the region for 12 years. He was involved in films like “The Big Chill” and “Wise Blood” with legends like director John Huston.

Eventually, Hollywood called. Over the next several decades, Leopold’s career veered into producing, which took him on location shoots around the world. This included stints in Italy with Robin Williams to film “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” and a year-and-a-half commitment to produce “Mission Impossible III,” starring Tom Cruise.

While Leopold is happy to share animated stories about Williams’ Italian-accented improv routines at Rome’s airport terminal and behind-the-scene takes on Cruise’s daredevil stunts, there’s a particular twinkle in his eye when he talks about his family’s ice cream shop. The locale has been hailed one of the best ice cream spots in the country by Travel & Leisure, Forbes, Thrillist, Food and Wine, Saveur, Martha Stewart Weddings, USA Today and The Travel Channel. The Toronto Sun ranked Leopold’s as one of the top five ice cream shops in the world.

The Leopold’s Ice Cream umbrella now harbors a flagship store on Broughton Street in downtown Savannah, featuring props and photos from Leopold’s movie shoots, a stateof- the-art creamery where they produce the family’s secret, small-batch ice cream recipes for the store and nationwide online shipping orders and catering services. They are also currently restoring the original shop location.

Leopold’s pride in his family’s business stems from producing quality ice cream and from its legacy of giving back to the community, especially educational initiatives.

During Georgia Southern’s Homecoming game in October, the University and Leopold’s Ice Cream unveiled True Blue ice cream, which features Leopold’s handcrafted lemon custard ice cream filled with whole blueberries and toasted almond slices. The customized ice cream colors are a direct nod to the history and coming together of Georgia Southern’s multiple campuses.

“We are excited to partner with Georgia Southern,” said Leopold. “Education is one of cornerstones of what we believe in and to have a partner such as Georgia Southern is an honor.”

— Melanie Simón

True Blue ice cream is available for purchase in Statesboro at GUS Mart in the Russell Student Union and the IT Building, as well as Armstrong Campus’ Student Union. Leopold’s will donate a percentage of True Blue ice cream sales to alumni scholarships.