Bobbie Gentry, Billie Joe, Jethro and Robbie Benson...the song before the movie
Ode to Billy Joe is a 1976 film with a screenplay by Herman Raucher, inspired by the 1967 hit song by Bobbie Gentry, titled "Ode to Billie Joe" (note difference in spelling).
The film was directed and produced by Max Baer, Jr. (of The Beverly Hillbillies fame) and stars Robby Benson and Glynnis O'Connor. Made for $1.1 million, it grossed $27 million at the box office, plus earnings in excess of $2.65 million in the foreign market, $4.75 million from television, and $2.5 million from video.
Gentry's song recounts the day when Billie Joe McAllister committed suicide by jumping off the Tallahatchie Bridge on Choctaw Ridge, Mississippi. When Gentry and Raucher got together to work on the screenplay, she explained that while the song was based on an actual event, she had no idea why the real person who inspired the character of Billie Joe had killed himself. Raucher thus had a free hand to pick one.