Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Monday, June 09, 2008

Steve, Go to Terre Haute

City sets date to rekindle its '70s fling with Steve Martin
By Mark Bennett
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. Mon, Jun 09 2008

— In many Terre Hauteans’ memories, the arrow through Steve Martin’s head is like Cupid’s arrow through the heart.

Steve bonded with us.

He put on a concert in Hulman Center that outdrew Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores. He dissed Terre Haute in a Playboy magazine interview, complaining about the lack of downtown shops, the horizontal hold on his hotel-room television set, and the local TV stations’ fertilizer ads. He called the city “Nowhere, USA.” But 13 months later, he accepted the mayor’s invitation to take a wacky tour of the Haute. The world premiere of his first movie “The Jerk” happened in the old Towne South Cinema here. Steve even singled out Terre Haute as the only place destroyed by a giant cheese mold in another movie, “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.” And in theater previews for that flick, the comic actor asked movie patrons to decide — by pinching one side of their buttocks or the other — whether he should release “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” or “Manure for the Millions: The Story of Terre Haute, Indiana.” He even talked about us with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

That tongue-in-cheek, love-hate relationship lasted almost three years.

This month, Hauteans can rekindle that flame.

The producers of an upcoming documentary, “One Wild and Crazy City,” are inviting anyone with recollections of Terre Haute’s Steve Martin era to attend a film session from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 28 in the Indiana Theatre. Co-producers Gary Wood and Justin Escue of 3Docs Productions in Indianapolis and a film crew will tape interviews on the theater stage.

There should be a large talent pool. Martin’s Nov. 18, 1978, concert drew 7,348 fans. (Bird and the Sycamore basketball team attracted a crowd of 6,222 the next day.) More than 2,000 people — including media from around the world — watched Steve feign contrition and humility during his return visit Dec. 7, 1979. Many folks probably read his interview in Playboy, or at least bought the magazine. Hundreds packed local movie houses for his films.

Almost everyone living here at the time knew Terre Haute had become a running joke for the world’s most popular comedian.

Anyone is welcome to reminisce, Wood said. He emphasized that “it’s strictly volunteer; there’s no pay. They’ll get credit in the film, though.”

“People can get their five minutes of fame,” said Roger Aleshire, manager of the Indiana Theatre.

The production crew is looking for “anyone that has a story, anyone that has a memory of it, whether they like Steve Martin or didn’t like Steve Martin,” Wood explained. “Even if they weren’t there [for the ’78 concert or his return in ’79], they can come and say they love Steve Martin, or that they never liked Steve Martin.

“It’s going to be a fun day,” Wood added. “We have no idea what the turnout’s going to be.”

One thing he is sure about is the film’s potential. Wood thinks, given the quirky topic, the approximately 90-minute flick could win a coveted spot at one of the “big three” film festivals — Cannes, Toronto and Sundance.

“I can’t help but think this has got a really strong shot, if our quality is up,” Wood said.

The production already has drawn a strong dose of local support. The Indiana State University Foundation is providing some sponsorship funds and assistance, said Gene Crume, the foundation’s president. Martin’s 1978 concert crowd included a large group of student fans and occurred in a campus hotspot — Hulman Center.

“Indiana State University and the students really had such a prominent part in his coming to Terre Haute, and we wanted to show our support,” Crume said. The foundation urges other local groups and people to join in sponsoring the film, which producers would like to premiere at the Indiana Theatre.

The 3Docs documentary will show that Terre Haute has progressed from those days, Crume said.

“To have people view the city of Terre Haute and ISU in a different light is really a positive thing,” Crume said. The film, as conceived by the producers, “seems to be a very complimentary piece to all parties involved.”

Martin’s literary skills also have appeal to a university, Crume said, as a “thoughtful, educated person.” Martin has written books and commentaries for national publications. Last November, Martin released an autobiography, titled “Born Standing Up,” about his days of performing live on stage.

“It seems like now’s the moment,” Crume said, referring to the “One Wild and Crazy City” project. “He’s open to reconnecting with that part of his life, and Gary and his guys have really tapped into that.”

Wood hopes to persuade Martin to participate and agree to be interviewed. Wood would take his film team to meet Martin anywhere in the country, if necessary, he said. And Wood hopes to interview Carl Reiner, who directed four of Martin’s movies. Reiner also played the diabolical Nazi field marshal in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” whose plot to destroy the world only managed to wipe out Terre Haute. Martin, playing the hero, answered with the classic line, “Damn. And they were just about to get a public library.”

Terre Haute kept its sense of humor. The townspeople played along for Martin’s return tour through a fertilizer plant, a car wash, a diner and a farm implement dealership. At the end, he conceded that Terre Haute transcended his perception as merely a place with TV ads about manure.

“Terre Haute has really got its s--- together,” Steve said, as his tour ended in 1979.

This movie gives the city a chance to reaffirm his outlook.

Casting Call

What: 3Docs Productions of Indianapolis, in association with the ISU Foundation, will film local people for its upcoming documentary, “One Wild and Crazy City,” about Terre Haute’s late-1970s connection to comic actor Steve Martin.

When: Interviews will be filmed from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 28, in the Indiana Theatre.

Who: Anyone who attended Martin’s concert Nov. 18, 1978, witnessed his return trip Dec. 7, 1979, saw his movies, remembers the talk around town, or just wants to share a memory or opinion of that saga is welcome. There is no pay involved, but producers say those interviewed will be credited on the movie.

Accessories: Producers ask people to wear brightly colored clothing; a toy arrow-through-the-head is optional. They could come with an original song or poem about those days. “The more outlandish, the more fun, the better,” said co-producer Gary Wood.


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