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Lights, Camera ... Easton!!

The Shovel Town's Connection to the Big Screen

I turned the TV on Saturday afternoon and started channel surfing.  I don’t watch a lot of TV, but occasionally I get sucked in.  The USA Network was showing Casino Royale, the first James Bond film starring Daniel Craig as the famed MI6 agent with a “license to kill.”  Bond films are cool.  I settled in.

One of the big appeals that this Bond movie has for me are the scenes in the second half of the movie which were shot at Lake Como in Italy on the grounds of the Villa del Balbianello, one of the most magnificent – indeed, borderline awe-inspiring – villas in all the world.  This villa has a connection to Easton in that it was once owned by Butler Ames (1871-1954), a soldier, engineer, politician, and industrialist, and a member of the extended Ames family, many of whom made their home in Easton.

In fact, I was recently talking to Bill Ames, an Easton native and resident, and he told me of how in the early 1970s, he had the opportunity to stay at the Villa del Babianello (this would be before the villa was sold to the explorer Guido Monzino in 1974). 

We are a week away from the Academy Awards, and when I opened the Boston Globe yesterday and got to the "Movies Sunday" section, and saw the paper’s critical assessment of Oscar nominations, and their thoughts on what films and actors/actresses should win, what/who shouldn’t, and what/who had been passed over, I figured a column on Easton and its ties to the movie making biz would be appropriate for today.

I remember in the late 1980s, you could drive down near North Easton Center late at night, and see the area behind the and the stately Victorian, Unity Close, all lit up like it was daytime.  Hollywood was in town, of course, and it was filming alongside Parker’s Pond scenes for the movie, Mermaids, starring Cher, Winona Ryder, and Bob Hoskins.

Many scenes for Mermaids – released on December 14, 1990 – were shot in Easton during the day, as well, but it was just exceedingly freaky to see day at night down in the Village. 

I'm not sure if those involved in producing and directing Mermaids knew that Queset House, a stone’s throw from where the filming went on, was the former abode of Winthrop Ames (1870-1937), who was a giant on Broadway as a producer and director of plays, a playwrite, and founder of theaters. 

Winthrop Ames is also rightfully considered a pioneer in motion pictures in that he was commissioned by the Famous Players Lasky-Corporation to write the screenplays for their 1916 films Oliver Twist and Snow White.

Winthrop Ames and his friends held plays and dramatic performances in the Queset Gardens behind Ames Free Library when those Italian style gardens were in their heyday.  Now, that the gardens are on the cusp of a complete return to their former grandeur, there are plans in place for the arts to return to the site.  

Winthrop Ames is enshrined in the American Theater Hall of Fame.

A little aside, when the filming of Mermaids was going on in town, Cher had an opportunity to take a tour of our community, and when she saw the mansion at Borderland State Park, she inquired about purchasing it.   The entertainment legend was told that the mansion – designed by Blanche Ames (aunt of Butler Ames) – was owned by the state of Massachusetts and not for sale.

Let’s stay at Borderland for a bit.

What did you think of the movie, Shutter Island, which was released last year?  I read the book (written by the Boston area’s own Dennis Lehane), but didn’t see the film.  The book was very good (as are all Lehane’s books) – and I hear the movie was excellent. 

The cabin scenes in the film were shot at Borderland, at the hunter’s cabin on the pond, which was remodeled and converted a bit for the scenes (and, of course, returned to its original state after the filming). 

And, yes, both Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio were up at Borderland. In fact, that scene in which DiCaprio takes the dunk in the water – he took that dunk up at Borderland. 

We know that the Disney movie, Miracle, tells the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” hockey team, whose members include Easton native Jim Craig.  I don’t know how many know that Jim was also a consultant for the production of the film.  The actor who played Jim in the film was Eddie Cahill, of CSI NY fame.

A funny story – one that Jim frequently includes in his speeches across the nation – is attached to the Miracle.  Shortly before the film had its general release, Disney put on a special showing of the film for Jim and guests at a local cinema.  That night, after the showing was over, Jim and his wife, Charlie (Sharlene), and their two children, their son, JD, and their daughter, Taylor, and Taylor’s friend, Jacqueline – who, like Taylor, was 13 at the time – jump into the car and head home.

A few minutes into the ride, Jacqueline pipes up and says, “Mr. Craig … ?”

“Yes, Jacqueline?”  Jim responds.

“You know that guy who played you in the film?”

 “Yes, what about him?”

 “Well, I thought he was really hot.”

 After a few moments of what Jim says is uncomfortable silence (As Jim puts it, “How do you answer that comment by a 13 year old girl?), Jim’s wife, Charlie, jumps in and says, “I thought so too.”

Among my favorite films is Prince of Tides (1991), based on the book of the same name by Pat Conroy.  The "first director" – also called assistant director – on that film was an Easton kid, Tom Reilly, who graduated from in 1966.

Reilly – who, like Winthrop Ames, spent his early years here in town and went on to Harvard University and then on to a profession of storytelling – has worked on more than 40 films, and with some of the biggest names in the business.  He has been a much relied upon and right-hand man to Woody Allen on the making of several of Allen’s movies.

What is the role of an assistant director?  In an interview in 2009 to promote his book, The Big Picture: Film Making Lessons From A Life On The Set( St. Martin’s Press, 2009), Reilly says, “I not only manage the day-to-day operations of the film, but also schedule it, stage the background, and supervise an eighty-man crew. I am a field general of sorts, and every day is completely different. It's a very fluid challenge.”

On a personal note, Tom Reilly has been very helpful to me in my own story telling career, and has never failed to return a call and to share with me valuable advice.  

(Check out Tom Reilly's website here.)

Easton resident, Chet Raymo, is Professor Emeritus at , and has written more than a dozen books.  He is among the most gifted and accomplished nature writers of all time.   In his book, The Path: A Mile Walk Through The Universe (Walker & Company), he takes the reader on the walk he tread from home to work for almost 40 years – a walk from Main Street to Stonehill College. In The Path  – as the publisher’s literature describes, Raymo “… chronicles the universe he has found by closely observing every detail of this route. He connects the local to the global, the microscopic to the galactic, with a scientist's curiosity, a historian's respect for the past, and a child's capacity for wonder.”

Raymo has also written novels, including The Dork of Cork (Warner Books, 1993), a gem – whose main character is a dwarf astronomer, whose achievements and yearnings captivate.  The book caught the eye of Hollywood and was made into a film called Johnny Starlight, starring Matt Dillon and Gabriel Byrne.

(Check out Chet Raymo's blog here.)

Kristian Alfonso, who grew up on Depot Street, and attended Easton Public Schools through junior high, is best known as one of the leading – and most beautiful – women in daytime television.  Her role as Hope on Days of Our Lives is among the most iconic in soap opera history.   Alfonso also had TV roles as Pilar Ortega Cumson on Falcon Crest (1988-90) and Lauren Etheridge on Melrose Place (1993-94).   

Now, while Alfonso has not as known for her film work, she has had acclaimed roles in movies such as Out of Time (1988), Army of One (1993), Whatever Happened to Bobby Earl (1997), and Day of Redemption (2003). 

(Check out Kristian Alfonso's website here. )

A couple weeks ago, the Ames Free Library event with Bob Halloran, author of Irish Thunder: The Hard Life and Times of Micky Ward, which is the inspiration and foundation for the movie, The Fighter, which was released in December, and which stars Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, and Amy Adams.  This coming Sunday night, if Christian Bale does not win the Oscar for "Best Supporting Actor" for his portrayal of drug addict and former boxer, Dicky Ecklund – and if Amy Adams does not win the Oscar for "Best Supporting Actress" for her role as Charlene Fleming, the rough-and-tumble bartender girlfriend of Micky Ward – then something isn't right. 

Okay, indulge me as I make a personal pitch in finishing up today's column.  The memoir I co-wrote, Street Soldier: My Life as and Enforcer for Whitey Bulger and the Boston Irish Mob (Steerforth Press, 2003) has attracted a good deal of interest from the movie industry.  Now, if only some group wants to come forward and close the deal. 

Street Soldier would make for a great movie.  Really. 

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