Richard Gere, The L.A. Times and Me
I had a semi-brush with greatness this week when I learned that two Hollywood stars apparently chill out listening to our Iowa Channel webcast. Full story on the Iowa Channel blog, and here is the story that appeared in the L.A. Times. Believe it or not, this is not the first time my work has been featured in the L.A. Times. Our tale begins in those halcyon days of 1987. The Iowa Hawkeyes were flying high under Hayden Fry. In Cedar Rapids, people worked for Teleconnect, Iowa Electric and Rockwell International. They shopped downtown at Armstrongs or at Westdale, which believe it or not, was then the "good" mall. And a young DJ named Dennis Green held down the PM Drive shift at WMT-FM, and was given entirely too much creative freedom.
This particular year, we were electrified to learn that a MAJOR MOTION PICTURE was going to be filmed on our community. Now bear in mind, this was before The Final Season, yes even before Field of Dreams. Up to this point in time, the only fairly recent movie to be made in Iowa was a 1970's Sylvester Stallone vehicle entitled "F.I.S.T." filmed partly in Dubuque (Don't bother). This movie was to be titled "Farm of the Year," and would begin with the visit of Nikita Krushchev to an Iowa farm in the 50s (which actually happened). The movie would be the dramatic tale of the sons of the farmer who hosted Krushchev. They fall on hard times during the 80s farm crisis and become folk heroes when they take to robbing banks after the farm fails. What the dramatic connection between the Krushchev visit and modern day Robin Hoods was supposed to be, was never adequately explained.
But the BIG NEWS was that the movie would star Richard Gere, then one of Hollywood's biggest leading men. And he would live & work in our town for several weeks during filming. Well, the moviemaking took the town by storm that summer. A lot of people got work as extras and on the crew. A few even got in the movie, including a young Coulter Wood, now a geologist and occasional jazz singer (Coulter's cousin Elijah had already split Iowa for Hollywood and would get his first pre-Frodo break just a few years later).
The filming was also not without some controversy, as then-Linn County Sheriff Dennis Blome was criticized for giving the production company free or reduced cost security services in exchange for his own part in the film. An interesting precursor to the flap over Iowa's Film Tax Credit. But, the one question that galvanized the entire community was "Where is Richard?"
It was a daily occurrence during my show... The phone would ring and the person on the other end would tell me that they had heard Richard Gere showed up at a bar with the cast and crew the other night. He was seen buying a 6 pack at the Handi-Mart. He's rented a house on Sherman Street.... It went on and on.
So, I did what any DJ at the time would do, created a comedy bit out of it. It took the familiar form of an Emergency Broadcasting System announcement.
"This is a test. This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Richard Gere-Sighting System. This is only a test."
The familar EBS tone was replaced by a high-pitched voice, dumbfounded by a close encounter with the star. At the end, the announcer instructed people "where to swoon."
It was good for a few laughs during our shows, and then we kind of forgot about it.
Until one day, several weeks later, my phone rings at the office and it's an L.A. Times reporter. She's doing a story on circus a "big-time" film crew creates in an Iowa town, and has heard about the ERGSS. I play it for her down the phone line. She chuckles politely. A few days later an L.A. friend tells me I'm in the paper. Sure enough, there's an article, which actually doesn't completely make us seem like ignorant hicks, and my comedy bit is the main topic. The AP picked up the story, and it also appeared in papers in Alaska and Ohio, among other places.
So, for the rest of my career, my official bio now truthfully can read ".... whose antics were covered by newspapers as far away as Los Angeles and Anchorage, Alaska."
An interesting footnote is that while we were all so obsessed with Richard Gere, we may have missed out several equally-interesting folks. Now, twenty-plus years on, it's hard to remember if these were all present in Cedar Rapids, but certainly some were. The movie may have been forgettable but a good half the cast have gone on to long and successful careers: Brian Dennehy, Penelope Ann Miller, Helen Hunt, Judith Ivey, Laurie Metcalf, John Malkovich and Laura San Giacomo all may have spent some time in our fair city.
But, the biggest surprise has to be the director. "Miles From Home" was the feature film directorial debut of... Gary Sinise.
I wish we'd kept better track of Sinise Sightings.