A Recollection of Movie Stars in Woodstock
JUST BEFORE GOING inside the Woodstock Theater to see the movie "Groundhog Day" which was playing for free during the "Groundhog Days" celebration last weekend, my wife Linda and I ducked into Ray Wolff Jewelers right across the street. The owner, Bruce Lewellyn, was behind the counter, wearing a head-mounted jeweler's eyepiece that gave him the appearance of a surgeon fresh from an operating room.
We told him we had simply ducked in to his shop to look around
before going to see the film "Groundhog Day" which was filmed almost entirely in the Woodstock Town Square, and suddenly found ourselves engaged in a discussion about the actual shooting of the movie.
Bruce was working at the store at the time – just as he had for the past thirty years or so – and he muttered something about business being off for those two months while Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Andie
McDowell and company descended on the Town Square and turned it into an enormous movie set.
And then he shared some information that will forever color the way
I view one of the celebrities in the film -- Bill Murray.
"Bill Murray stopped in here a number of times while they were
working on that movie," Bruce said. "Every time he came in he bought something and asked me how everything was going."
Well, this was quite wonderful to hear, especially since I happen to
admire Bill Murray's work. I recall being disheartened once long ago when I heard Jack Hailey, Sr. who played the Tin Man, rail on and on about the making of "The Wizard of Oz." Evidently, he had a
miserable time doing it. The whole project, Mr. Hailey said, was "not fun -- and not funny." Maybe it's being petty and small to allow that surly comment to have any impact on my appreciation of Hailey's
performance, but hearing it changed the way I feel about the Tin Man. It ruined something. I can't help it. Ray Bolger, on the other hand (who brilliantly created the Scarecrow role out of whole cloth) enjoyed that
time in his life, and felt immensely honored to be immortalized in celluloid. Life during the making of the movie, according to Bolger, was a "ding-a-derry" to him. And it shows. Bolger brightens every
frame he's in.
Bruce Lewellyn went on about Bill Murray. "I can't say enough
nice things about him. Once he came in here, and he was just being dogged by this little girl. You could tell she was retarded, and she was following his every step, carrying this autographed picture around with
her. Well, he was just as nice to her as he could be. You would have thought she was his own kid. He talked to her and never made any attempts to leave her behind. You'd never guess that he had any money or fame. He
was just a real normal guy."
For some celebrities, being nice to people seems a chore --
"the price of fame," as they call it. There seems to be little regard for the fact that the people they come in contact with once the director yells "Cut!" and the klieg lights are extinguished
are the same ones plopping down $7 or more for the privilege of watching them work for a few hours. How hard can it be to behave in a polite manner? How hard is it to show appreciation for your fans? How hard is it
to sign your name for someone after they've waited several hours to get a glimpse of you?
"Pretty hard," said Bruce Lewellyn, "if you happen to
be Steve Martin. I watched that guy breeze right past a bunch of kids with pens and papers in their hands reaching up to him after they had waited quite a while." He nodded his head and removed the jeweler's
eyepiece, looking a little pained. "If he had just smiled or said 'hello' -- or something. I tell you, I wouldn't walk across the street to see anything Steve Martin was in today."
At that point, Linda and I walked across the street to the Woodstock Theater in front of Ray Wolff Jewelers, feeling a warm glow
emanating from a particular corner of the Hollywood firmament from six years ago. And Bill Murray brightened every frame of the picture, like he was the biggest star in the sky.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Golden Globe Mystique: “I Want to Thank….”
“It’s a Cinderella story.”
- Carl the greenskeeper in “Caddy Shack”
“I’m not an actor! I’m a movie star!”
- Peter O’Toole, in “My Favorite Year”
Watching a few moments of the Golden Globe awards this past weekend, which is the official pre-Oscar picking party, something struck me
as a bit odd: if most of these people are actors, what are they doing taking out little slips of paper in order to read the names of people to thank?
You would think that memorizing a few lines of a speech or a few names would come as naturally as breathing to these people. And it’s
not as if they haven’t practiced for just such an occasion since the moment they first stepped into the footlights in their junior high production of “Grease.”
Don’t we like it better when an actor gives off just the right amount of natural charm and self-effacing gratitude and humility when
he’s called up there? Don’t we look for the expression of mild surprise followed by a nodding of the head that suggests, “I can’t believe it” and then don’t we hope the actor will have the presence of
mind to say something nice about the competition – and his wife? But most of all, don’t we like it so much better when the actor doesn’t pull out a crumpled laundry list and read a bunch of names we don’t
know? It’s too much an attempt to cover the bases, to not make anybody mad, instead of a genuine expression of thanks. It has the stench of public relations to it. Besides, if the person was that instrumental in
the making of the performance, wouldn’t the actor remember their name right away?
Some actors are better speech-makers than others, of course. You can rely on Tom Hanks to give a speech full of humility and a
sense of purpose combined with a touch of fun and respect for his peers. And Michael Caine’s speech after winning an Oscar for the “Cider House Rules” stands out because not only did he mention everyone in the
Best Supporting Actor category he was competing against, but he said something meaningful and fine about each of their performances. You could see that Haley Joel Osment was blown away that Michael Caine had paid
such close attention to his work. Sir Laurence Olivier’s acceptance speech once turned Jon Voight into a tower of Jell-O. And it was all done without the aid of a slip of paper.
Anymore, stage moments like that can bring a tear to my eye, and I’m not sure why. Lately, I could cry buckets over a particularly
well done coffee commercial. Your sentimentality quotient rises in direct proportion to your own chronology in years, I’ve found. By the time I’m sixty, I should be a complete blubbering idiot at Golden Globe or
Oscar Time, unless I see that little slip of paper come out of someone’s satin-lined pocket.
But when a favorite actor pulls off a great little speech, there is great satisfaction and a feeling that your affection is
well-placed. We like to see our favorites do a good job up there, and sometimes we feel nervous for them, as though they were our own children at a pageant.
I used to be very upset when I saw someone pull a pair of reading glasses out of the pocket, too, standing there at the podium. It
seemed such a precious affectation and completely unnecessary. Until I started to need reading glasses myself. I went out to dinner at some trendy bistro with a friend recently, and between the tastefully low lights
and the brown parchment menu, we couldn’t make out a single word on the menu. Our waiter “Chad” obliged by reading selections to us, completing the picture of escapees from the nursing home out for a
night on the town. I am more forgiving of the glasses now.
And now, with the Golden Globe speeches done, can the Oscar announcements be far behind? One thing I am hoping for at the Oscars this
year is to do away with what Allison Krause calls the “shut-up music,” those piano ticklings and so forth that tell an Oscar winner that she has overstayed her welcome at the podium. For crying out loud, give
people all the time they want up there. We can all go to bed a half hour or so later.
With one exception: as soon as someone pulls out a speech on a piece of paper, feel free to tickle those ivories and strike up the
©Mark Andel 2002
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Déjà vu: Ground Hog Day Revisited
WHEN MY WIFE and I began looking for a house in Woodstock, we purchased the video of Ground Hog Day. Watching the movie made us feel
good about our decision to try to live in Woodstock, especially the closing scene in which Bill Murray and Andie McDowell are standing in front of that fabulous Victorian house called the “Cherry Street Inn” and
Murray says, “Let’s live here.”
Let’s live here. Yes. And now, we do.
And in a kind of “life imitating art” way, Ground Hog Day Fever is sweeping cross the town where the movie was filmed. I never
looked forward to Ground Hog Day before – except the time my old college roommate and his bride-to-be chose this date as the perfect day to marry. “Ground Hog . . . Groom. Get it?” he whispered boozily to me
at a pre-wedding party. Maybe he was alluding to the fact than once you get married, your life becomes maddeningly repetitive, and each new day seems exactly like the day before. But you didn’t hear that from
So my wife Linda and I looked for houses in Woodstock on the weekends, and watched “Ground Hog Day” when we wanted to feel better.
Repeated viewings made us feel like we were in our own little Rod Serling road show production. I figured maybe we were taking things too far when my step-daughter Megan devised a trivia game in which one of the
questions was, “What did Ned ‘the Head’ Ryerson do for a living?” If you know the answer to that, then you’re a bona fide Woodstock-o-holic, with a touch of Ground Hog Fever. Consult your nearest video
store clerk immediately and rent “Stripes.” You still get Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, but you’re slowly weaning yourself. Nobody ever said withdrawal would be easy.
On certain autumn days, Linda and I would park in the town square and point things out: “Look, that’s the gazebo where the mayor
pulled Furry Phil out of his cage.” We wondered where the puddle was that Bill Murray stepped in. And then we found the commemorative plaque. “Let’s live here!” I gushed, and then we went driving around
looking for what Linda called “FISBO’s.”
What we were looking for, and what we found, was a community untethered by Chicago. Not a suburb with the usual strip malls,
pizza joints and massive video rental chains, but a real stand-alone small town. And one with a train that actually went to Chicago if you found you needed to go there. ~
©Mark Andel 2001
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Now Playing at the Deserted Island Multi-Plex
Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene is offering up a challenge to readers this week in honor of the annual Academy Awards ceremony.
Greene’s challenge is this: if you were to be stranded on a deserted island (one that had a nice DVD player and an electrical outlet, presumably) what five movies would you like to have with you?
The temptation here is to rattle off the most critically acclaimed or “best”
movies in history, but if you really think
about it, the question boils down to, “Which movies could you really stand to watch over and over again?” And the ones that fit into this category may be completely different from the reliable film guide picks
like “Citizen Kane” or “Metropolis.”
For one thing, the very notion of being on a deserted island with electrical power is intriguing. It would be rather like that Ray
Bradbury story in which a man and a woman are the only survivors of a disastrous event that kills everyone but them, somehow leaving the freezers and movie theaters intact. The first thing the couple does is watch a
Gable flick. That’s not a bad choice, so we’ll make a Gable flick my number five choice.
Number Five: “It Happened One Night”
The film features a pre-Gone-With-The-Wind Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, looking dewy and beautiful. He’s a rough-and-tumble
journalist. She’s a socialite on the lam. When Gable says that line about the experience of looking at stars that seem so close you “could reach up and stir ‘em around,” watch Colbert’s expression. If you
can’t have true love on your deserted island, you can at least have someone who expresses the emotion as well as anyone else has on film. And this was in 1933, just five years after they started shooting pictures
with sound. What a great moment.
Number Four: “Easy Rider”
This 1969 film may be a bit of a nostalgia choice, harking back to a more carefree, casual time, when the most grave dangers around
were being pulled over by cops or hassled by rednecks. Dennis Hopper’s performance and his choices in directing are the real kick here, grounding his Billy Wyatt character in real human experience: suspicion,
greed, foolishness, and lust. He’s a reality-based contrast to Peter Fonda’s incredibly cool and generously glib Captain America. Plus, there’s the youthful, gold football-helmeted Jack Nicholson as ACLU
lawyer George Hanson, in a breakthrough performance.
Number Three: “The Godfather (Part One and Part Two)
I’m counting this as one selection. It is the sprawling saga that has all you could ever want in the way of action, power
struggles, character exploration, loyalty, honor, and bloodlust. It’s an American “Caligula,” and a worthy addition for many nights of enjoyment with coconut chips and papaya juice on the island. There was a
Part Three, of course, sad to say, which we’ll just leave in the states.
Number Two: “It’s a Wonderful Life”
What else needs to be said about this durable and venerable classic that withstands repeated viewings and always comes out as sparkling
as ever. On our deserted island, the film would keep the spirit of Christmas alive, and make us feel hopeful and good about the possibility of our prayers actually being heard and acted upon by some of God’s
lieutenants, however grouchy they may seem up there. The reassurance of that alone is worth inclusion.
Number One: “The Apartment”
My favorite film of all time, mainly for the sensational performance of Jack Lemmon as C.C. Baxter, a hapless insurance company
employee who attempts to get ahead by lending higher-ups a key to his apartment for cheap affairs. I watch it a few times a year anyway, and it always, always makes me feel good about the absolute, inexplicable
power of true love.
Those are my choices. What’s playing on your island?
©Mark Andel 2002
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X-Philes Are "Out There"
X-PHILES (WHICH TRANSLATES as lovers of the show "The X Files") are definitely among us -- and if there is a truth to be had
"out there" in the vast configuration of the outer limits of space it's this: watching too much of this program will turn you into a creature more zealous than a hard-core Trekkie, the kind that goes to
Star Trek conventions and greets other Trekkies with the Vulcan split-finger salute, which is something like a "Heil Hitler" only with greater finger-muscle coordination.
I envision David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, the long-suffering, conspired-against leads who play Fox Mulder and Dana Scully
(respectively) on the show, making guest appearances at similar "X-File" conventions ten years from now, fending off papers being thrust in their faces from masses of people wearing flying saucer hats --
the variety that the band Devo made popular a decade ago. And as they sign the autographs, they will be forced to listen to nutty stories of alien abduction from overweight women from Nebraska who describe in
excruciating detail how they were walking along a deserted highway when they saw these incredibly bright lights on the horizon before being raised up into a transport vehicle by a smelly being. They would of course
deny that it was a Mack Truck driver asking them if they needed a lift.
Poor David. Poor Gillian. Maybe they'll completely wig out like William Shatner did when he was hosting Saturday Night Live and say,
"It was just a T.V. show, people! Get a life!"
"The X Files," for the uninitiated (and I can't believe there are many who don't have a passing familiarity with the program)
is about two FBI agents in charge of following up on inexplicable events that have the mark and feel of something extraterrestrial taking place (the "X" in X Files). For some reason, aliens are very big on
premature burial and live bugs inhabiting corpses, as though they've all taken a primer course on Edgar Allan Poe and never miss an issue of "Weekly World News."
The themes are All-American, and even literary. I remember speaking with Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, when I was twenty
years old. We spoke about writing. He said that he got up every morning at 4:00 and wrote for several hours before his family stirred. He said he felt close to the world of the collective unconscious then, as though
he were freshly arrived from the shores of sleep and open to anything. This feeling was the protein that fed his writing.
Fox Mulder seems to be open to any bizarre event as well. There may even be a quote in Latin that Fox Mulder will struggle with, and
then there are three computer experts, who spend their time in a decked out van, hacking into complicated computer systems in the name of national security. The biggest enemy, it turns out, is the United States
government itself. No big surprise there, and it seems to work especially well for the cynical, suspicious, jaded, rebellious, and paranoid audience that we all are.
The show is on every . . . well, every time I turn around. My wife is an "X-Phile," and I'm more familiar with Mulder's
laconic method of speech than hers these days. Every night it appears on channel 32 (the "Fox" network -- get it?) at 7:00 and 10:00, and tapes in-between. It's almost as if she's . . . possessed by
somebody or something.
She'd deny it of course. Which only fans the flames of my suspicion.~
©Mark Andel 2001
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