The Twentieth Century Fox flick was a big-budget technicolor production that featured William Holden, Jeanne Crain and Edmund Gwenn as its major stars. The story was timely – for those days – since it concerned GIs returning to college following the end of World War II.
As usual the local campus was abuzz with excitement as the film crew arrived. For those of us fortunate enough to score “extra” work, it meant that we would not only be excused from class, but also receive a daily stipend. The money was most important since the majority of extras were also ex-GIs. My roommate, Pete Pridgen, and I lucked out on some close-ups with both Holden and Crain.
During the protracted “set-up” time between “takes,” we got to chat it up with both performers. Each was very friendly and approachable and quick to answer our queries about the Hollywood of the era. Holden was most helpful on one shoot where we preceded him across the Tram at Manzanita Lake, saying “Don’t look at the camera!”
It was a little later as we were being positioned for another shot that we have the opportunity to spend some time visiting with Edmund Gewnn. He was just coming off his most successful role of his career, where he played Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th Street.” A small, stocky Englishman, Gwenn had a raft of show business stories to share and he got as many hearty chuckles out of them as he did his small audience.
Unfortunately, “Apartment” is not available on video tape or DVD, so it has not fared well in sales during the past six decades. However, it was typical of the many times that the Nevada campus was chosen as the locale for a major Hollywood film location shooting. A year later, we once again were fortunate enough to grab some camera time in the black and white film, “Belvedere Goes to College,” starring Clifton Webb, Shirley Temple and Tom Drake. It was a much longer shoot than the “Apartment” movie, so we were well-rewarded for our time. Some of us got brief speaking parts and stand-in work, which paid even better.
Why would Hollywood bother to pack up and travel nearly 500 miles to the tiny Reno campus when there were other campuses so close to Los Angeles? As one of the assistant directors told me when I posed the question, “We love the fact that the Nevada campus has such a traditional look; it can either function as an East Coast school, a Midwest institution or a far West location.” He was also referring to the many other pictures that had portions filmed at the University – films that included “Mother was a Freshman,” “Andy Hardy’s Blonde Trouble” and “Five Against the House.” Officials at the Carson City Nevada Film Services have a complete roster of the many pictures that featured Northern Nevada scenery on the silver screen. The most famous continues to be “The Misfits” – a film starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift that was filmed here during the summer of 1960. Two other luminaries on “Misfits” were writers of the screenplay, Arthur Miller and director John Huston.
Unfortunately, in recent times the two most notable flicks filmed in Reno, “Kingpin” and “Waking up in Reno,” did little to burnish the image of The Biggest Little City.
Other show business connections to Nevada are often seen on the series of DVDs available of the top-rated “Dean Martin Roasts” that are still being sold today. Watching the “Roast” program that put Jimmy Stewart in the hot seat can tick off a number of the roasters, as well as the roastee, who were frequent visitors here.
Stewart is best remembered for being the recipient one year of the Reno “Silver Spurs,” which used to be known as the Western Oscar in show business. Martin himself appeared frequently. His most memorable performance was when he and the rest of the “Rat Pack” opened the Cal-Neva Lodge when Frank Sinatra took over the establishment.
The opening show, in the new showroom that Sinatra personally designed, lasted well over two hours and has frequently been referred to as the top nightclub performance of all time.
On the Roast of Stewart DVD, some other familiar faces to Nevadans who took their turns at the mic included Milton Berle, who set attendance records every time he appeared on stage in the SkyRoom of the Mapes Hotel, Mickey Rooney, who was also a SkyRoom regular, Don Rickles, who played the Riverside showroom frequently and Tony Randall, who was a visitor during the filming of “The Misfits.”
Other talented Stewart roasters included big names like Orson Wells, June Allyson, Greer Garson, Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda.
Interestingly enough, the “roast” series was also filmed in Nevada, this time in Las Vegas.
Wolf Pack hitting its stride
Based on its stunning 18-point win in Hawaii, the Nevada basketball team is showing signs of jellying into the potent force the coach Mark Fox has envisioned for this year. Marcelus Kemp had a breakout performance scoring-wise and the entire team played excellent defense for the better part of the game. Go Pack!