When Peggy Sue came to town
Published: Monday, April 29, 2013 at 9:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 26, 2013 at 9:24 a.m.
Petaluma is justifiably proud of the number of movies filmed here, using our glorious city as a backdrop for cinematic action. When conversations dwell on this subject, most often the focus is on “American Graffiti” and its showcasing of then-unknown talents such as Harrison Ford, Richard Dreyfuss, Suzanne Somers, and Cindy Williams. The director was a little-known George Lucas, yet to be famous for “Star Wars.”
But, the one movie that probably had the greatest impact on Petaluma at the time it was filmed was “Peggy Sue Got Married,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola, already famous for “The Godfather” and “The Godfather, Part II.” While “American Graffiti” was filmed mostly late at night and had little impact on most Petalumans, Peggy Sue totally absorbed downtown Petaluma, nearby residential neighborhoods, and many of our local businesses.
And, Peggy Sue was no slouch on featuring future stars in small parts as well, with Joan Allen, Helen Hunt, and Jim Carrey, among others, joining leads Kathleen Turner and Nicholas Cage.
Coppola and the film crew were diligent in attempting to engage the support of both downtown businesses and neighbors in the residential neighborhoods. Much of the filming took place at a stately Victorian home on Liberty Street, and the film crew worked to gain the goodwill of the neighbors, even inviting them to join cast and crew for their meals.
But all those efforts still produced some glitches. At the time, I had a graphics business downtown on Keller Street, and I was selected to represent the downtown merchants as liaison with the film people. One morning, the county’s film commissioner came to my office visibly upset. It turned out that the previous night the movie filming on Liberty annoyed a resident two or three blocks away, beyond the neighborhood pacification area worked by the film crew, and he had made a citizens arrest for allegedly disturbing his sleep.
It took some feather soothing, but eventually it all worked out, and filming was allowed to resume.
Coppola was a perfectionist, and this worked to the advantage of a number of local businesses. To keep up good relations with the city, he spent money locally whenever possible. In one scene, Nicholas Cage is working in a 1950s TV store, filmed on Petaluma Boulevard between Washington and Western. Coppola wanted a huge number of black and white TV’s which, at the time of filming, were fossil relics. And, he wanted every one of them working. A local TV repair shop got a windfall, taking a large number of non-working b&w’s and basically rebuilding them.
The overall impact of the filming gave downtown an effect that was almost surreal. For reasons only known to the technogeeks, downtown streets were covered with colored dyes, like deep purple. This color doesn’t show up in the film, but it apparently had a purpose. Scenes were filmed all over downtown, and you never knew what to expect.
One afternoon, I was walking down the Fourth Street side of the McNear building, and a policeman yelled at me to get off the street and I scampered to a recessed doorway, joining several others who had already been herded there. But, I thought, I hadn’t noticed the cameras anywhere. How did they do that? So, I stuck my head out trying to find the film crew when the policeman screamed at me, impugning my intellect, and informing us this had nothing to do with a movie, but that there was a man in the store two doors down with a gun.
Just shows how one thinks when caught up in the excitement of a movie in a place where the streets are purple and yellow and red.
When filming was over, the crew had a thank you celebration in the empty lot that is today’s Putnam Plaza. The lesser actors were all there, and I’ve always regretted not making an effort to know those unknowns who are now knowns.
They gave away a bunch of Peggy Sue Got Married T-shirts that day. I was given one for my help. I don’t wear T-shirts, but I’m proud of that one.
(Don Bennett, business writer and consultant, has been involved with city planning issues since the 1970s. His e-mail address is email@example.com.)
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