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On the big screen

Campus goes Hollywood

by Mary Niehaus

In a restaurant near the University of Cincinnati, an ordinary-looking man seated with a few companions reaches automatically for the check. Scarcely glancing at the nearly $200 total and without a flicker of hesitation, he pulls a softball-sized wad of cash from his pocket.

"Here ya go," he smiles at the startled waitress, as he peels three $100 bills from his bankroll. "The rest is for you."

It could have been a scene straight from the movies. It almost was.

Film director David Anspaugh was among the diners, but his role did not call for paying the tab. "The props guy is the only one who carries money," he explained to Richard Friedman, special assistant to UC President Joseph Steger. "That's so he can work out cash deals on the spot when he finds the props we need."

That was just one of many Hollywood insights Friedman gleaned while serving as the university's liaison to film crews who brought their cameras, lights and sound equipment to campus in the last dozen years.

Anspaugh was the first of this wave, using the university as a major location for the romantic Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy film "Fresh Horses" (1988). Others include "Eight Men Out" (1988, starring John Cusack as one of several ball players involved in the 1919 World Series scandal), "City of Hope" (1991, an urban corruption tale written and directed by John Sayles) and "Little Man Tate" (1991, easily the most successful of the lot, starring and directed by Jodie Foster).

The Oscar-winning actress came to campus to film UC as the unnamed university where an extremely gifted child (her son in the movie) attends classes. Foster, one of Hollywood's most powerful actresses, is a woman who speaks her mind -- as Friedman discovered.

"When I went out to meet the location manager for the movie, I noticed there was a woman with him," Friedman admits. "I didn't pay much attention; she was short, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, no makeup. As I'm chatting, it suddenly dawns on me that it's Foster.

"Later, when I was introducing her to our provost, I was joking with him that she was going to give the university a million dollars. 'Dick's been very helpful,' Foster retorted, 'but he lies a lot.'"

Jokes aside, Foster came to UC for a very specific look. One of the locations she liked was 127 McMicken, a classroom in need of some redecorating. Would UC permit the company to put Levolor blinds on the windows and paint the room Ralph Lauren green? Friedman hesitated; usually the university sanctioned a limited palette of pale colors. But the College of Arts and Sciences approved, and a spruced-up Room 127 stars as a quantum physics classroom in "Little Man Tate."

Beecher plays Baldwin

Moviemakers who film on campus are driven to find locations that mirror their ideas of how things should look, never mind reality. The interior of Baldwin Hall on the west campus, for example, became city hall in "City of Hope," and the venerable Walnut Street facade of the old College of Applied Science (CAS) doubled as part of a New York City street scene in "Eight Men Out." Less of a stretch was the use of a lecture hall in the Old Chemistry building for an engineering class in "Fresh Horses."

"I would say to a location manager, 'Tell me what you need,'" Friedman recalls. "He'd say, 'We need a room ... ,' and he'd describe the look he wanted. After I'd show them something, he'd explain that the decision was up to the director. Then he'd say, 'Show me something else.'

"That's how Beecher Hall (now demolished) became UC's engineering college in 'Fresh Horses,'" the administrator explains. "I don't know why they picked Beecher, when we had Baldwin Hall -- a perfectly good engineering building, with pillars and everything."

But campus buildings weren't the only stars from UC. Scores of students and a number of staff were drafted into "Fresh Horses" when the director realized he needed additional extras. A scene on the bridge between Beecher and Tangeman University Center was not only more realistic with a bigger crowd, it gave Friedman a brief cameo appearance as Professor Berg.

"We've got something special for you," the filmmakers told him when he joined the throng of extras. As an inside joke, they wanted to insert the name of one of the project's backers, Dick Berg, in the movie. So, as star Andrew McCarthy strides across the bridge, he greets another student, then says, "Mr. Berg, how are you, sir?" Friedman is seen for several seconds as he responds, "How are you?"

New faces on silver screen

Jim Everly, associate professor of electrical engineering technology at CAS, was excited to be an extra in "Eight Men Out," even without the chance to speak a line. He and several others from the college found themselves wearing 1919-era costumes, pretending to be traveling on a train with members of the Chicago White Sox.

The production crew had very specific parameters for the extras' appearance. "I thought they'd like my moustache, but they made me shave it off," Everly says. "We were told to remove our glasses, wristwatches and any jewelry, because they would look too modern. They gave us shirts with high stiff collars, and I wore a bow tie with a gray pin-striped suit."

For one scene in the "Eight Men Out" film, shot at a railway museum in Covington, Everly intentionally chose an aisle seat near the center of the open-ended car. In the movie, he glances up at an inebriated character stumbling down the aisle, instead of continuing to read his dummy newspaper. Film director John Sayles liked the improvisation and complimented Everly on it.

"It was a very enjoyable experience. I would do it again," the UC faculty member says. "They paid us $20 and gave us a really nice meal. We could have sat with the actors, who were very congenial, but they were at another table.

"Ken Metz (another College of Applied Science associate professor) and I were excited when we went to see the movie. You really could see both of us. Our 'one minute' of fame. We show up even better on the video."

Though filmmakers on campus sometimes caused inconveniences, the excitement of moviemaking seemed to give the whole university a lift, in Friedman's assessment. And when "Fresh Horses" was released, he knew the university community was well represented in the audience. "We could hear them yell when they saw themselves or a friend on screen," the administrator says.

Although critics may have noticed the movie's flaws, young fans of McCarthy and Ringwald were declaring it "wonderful!" Certainly the campus looked great.

A framed UC parking pass, with a penned inscription from a movie crew, "You'll always be a star in our eyes," is one of the souvenirs Friedman has of his cinematic experience. And his name actually is listed in the credits for "Fresh Horses."

Most of the films that came to UC in the past dozen years arrived with the encouragement of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and Ohio film commissions, which promote the region as a versatile, low-cost alternative to both the East and West coasts. But Hollywood also came knocking on the UC's doors in the 1940s, when RKO Pictures needed footage for a Pat O'Brien film, "The Iron Major" (1943).

The story is that of UC football coach Frank Cavanaugh, who led the Bearcats to a 6-1-2 record in the 1898-99 season -- four years before the university had its own football field. Long after that first experience as a head coach, Cavanaugh distinguished himself as a hero in World War I and went on to coaching fame at Fordham University.

When moviemakers arrived at UC in the summer of 1943, the film was nearly complete. They needed just a bit of background footage of students in front of three buildings prominent during Cavanaugh's time: the original McMicken Hall, the old Tech building and the Van Wormer administration building.

Something irresistible

Julian Lieberman, A&S '47, and his pal Stanley Osher, A&S '45, MD '47, were on the university's tennis court when "two or three funny looking guys in ascot ties and berets, one of them waving a long cigarette holder, came up to us," Lieberman recalls. "He said, 'You guys want to make a few bucks?' We were in pre-med that summer. We didn't have much money, so we said: 'Sure!'"

The Hollywood types said they were doing some filming for "The Iron Major," the story of UC's turn-of-the-century football coach Frank Cavanaugh. The students were told to meet on campus early the next morning and to bring along some friends. Several of their Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity brothers and some other pre-med students were willing, one of them Bearcat basketball, baseball and football player Hal Schneider, MD '47.

Schneider, now a UC emeritus professor of radiology, remembers that it was a beautiful, sunny morning when the students were asked to walk up and down in front of several of the university's older buildings. "It took about an hour," he says. "They filmed us from all different angles, even close-ups. They paid me $6, which was a lot of money for those times."

Lieberman, a retired executive for the David Joseph Co., was in a scene that required a costume. "They gave us two packages wrapped in brown paper and tied with string," he says. "There was a full change of clothes inside each one, except for underwear: long sox, knickers, Eton jacket -- similar to what was worn on campus in Cavanaugh's time."

The students were told to put on their "A" costume first, walk up the steps of McMicken near Mick and Mack, and enter the first door. Once inside, they were to change into their "B" clothes, then walk out the other door and down the front steps.

"We did what he told us. Over and over. I still have my pay stub from RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.: Wages paid $10.50, taxes withheld $2.20."

Some months afterward, Lieberman saw the movie at a military base where he had been stationed. "Sure enough, there we were on the screen," he says. "All that going in and out made it look like there were a lot of us. That was a lot of fun."

Whether one decade ago or nearly six, there's something irresistible about being on the silver screen, according to UC's Richard Friedman, special assistant to the president.

"The bottom line is this: It boosted the notoriety of the university. And for the participants, being in a movie was kind of wonderful."

beecher, bridge

Goodbye, Beecher, Bridge

Student anti-war protestors shouted in the venerable University of Cincinnati office building's hallways in the 1970s. Decades before, Beecher reverberated with the sounds of tricycle wheels, bouncing balls and children's giggles when the Arlitt preschool used its fenced roof for a playground. More recently, Beecher Hall housed the offices of the university treasurer, registrar and related student services, but some say it also harbored uninvited guests: feisty squirrels and chatty ghosts.

Whatever image alumni and staff retain of Beecher Hall, moviemakers of "Fresh Horses" (1988) thought its brick and stone facade the perfect image of an engineering school. Even those who declared the 84-year-old structure a "dirty, nasty old building" carried away 140 of its bricks as keepsakes after it was demolished last July. A new University of Cincinnati Center for Enrollment Services will open on the site in 2002.

photo/Lisa Ventre

Saluting The Iron Major

Mick and Mack are the same, but McMicken Hall was different in 1943, alumni Julian Lieberman (left) and Hal Schneider agree. They saw a lot of the famous lions when Lieberman agreed to help a film crew recruit extras for "The Iron Major," the story of a famous UC football coach. Though no gridiron scenes were shot at UC, Bearcat varsity player Schneider, number 11, could have handled it.

Frank Cavanaugh was not "The Iron Major" when he began his coaching career in 1898, right out of Dartmouth College; that title came later. A photo from the UC yearbook shows Cavanaugh wearing the Dartmouth "D" on his jersey.