Long ago, I resigned myself to the fact that something very valuable to my younger self must have been unintentionally tossed out with the trash sometime in the last five decades. Thankfully, the memory hasn’t faded.
I even mentioned this on social media a few weeks ago when a friend’s post rekindled my memory. For the millionth time, I thought: I wonder what ever happened to that piece of paper?
The Vietnam War was underway on the other side of the world and had recently claimed the life of my uncle, Jim. Our family was dealing with that reality and now Jim’s brother, David, was leaving for a stint in the U.S. Army.
My grandparents – both maternal and paternal – lived in Winterset (Iowa) and though we now lived in the Iowa City area, we were ‘back home’ quite often. One particular day – August 9th of 1969 – my brother, our uncle, and I watched the filming of a movie directly across the street from the Winterset High School.
The cast and crew of “Cold Turkey” had been in the area for a few months. Over 1,500 local extras were cast in this satirical comedy featuring Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Tom Poston, and Pippa Scott.
This area just southwest of Des Moines was inundated with Hollywood folk who seemed to enjoy the slow-paced, Midwestern lifestyle. Some even made themselves at home at the motel in DeSoto, where another aunt and uncle lived. My uncle met some of these Iowa visitors when they frequented the gas station he owned in that town.
The premise of “Cold Turkey” was a tobacco company’s offer of twenty-five million dollars to any town in America that could stop smoking for thirty days.
At the encouragement of the local pastor (played by Dick Van Dyke), the fictional town of Eagle Rock, Iowa took the challenge and became the setting for this 1971 film. Anchormen (hilariously named Hardly Reasonable and Mike Walrus) covered the story throughout the movie and near the end, Walter Cronic (another play on words) made an appearance as the town celebrated their accomplishment.
Satire and comedy reign supreme in this film, which claims to feature the first on-air fart; something I don’t remember seeing, but go ahead. Google it!
Most scenes were filmed in Winterset and Greenfield (county seats, respectively, of Madison County and Adair County). Filming took place at several locations, and many locals recognized those familiar homes, buildings, and landmarks. It was good to see our hometown on the big screen, especially when we could say, “I watched the filming of that scene.”
I remember one scene filmed at a stately Victorian home on West Court Street, just a few blocks east of my grandparents’ home. Tom Poston’s character, featured in this scene, refused to quit smoking so he made a hasty departure from town after telling the pastor his “booze bone” was connected to his “smoking bone.” He chose to leave rather than quit his habit.
In this scene, an inebriated Poston (whose acting was superb in my opinion) stumbles out the front door, down the steps, and into his car. He threw his suitcase over the side, stumbled into the driver’s seat, and squealed the tires as he pulled away from the curb.
My brother and I stood across the street from that red convertible in a heavy mist. The drizzle made for a busy crew as they wiped the car dry just seconds before Poston reached it. You’d never know this scene was filmed on a misty day unless you were there.
The other scene I saw filmed was on August 9th, at the Glenn Cline home across from the Winterset High School. I watched it with my brother Glenn and our uncle David. Scaffolding held the camera crew high above spectators at the level of the upstairs window where the action occurred.
Lights. Camera. Action. It was so interesting to see filmmaking, in progress, behind the scenes.
When the filming was done that day, David, Glenn, and I walked past the high school. Walking toward us was Dick Van Dyke. No entourage. Just the four of us on the sidewalk – oh, my goodness. This 15-year-old was gobsmacked!
There we were! Standing with a family-friendly television star! A Hollywood icon.
We exchanged a few words, and then I asked for his autograph…but alas…I had no paper.
Thankfully, my uncle had an official government envelope in his pocket – most likely his U.S. Army orders to report for duty. It was on that manilla envelope Dick Van Dyke signed his name.
Fifty-four years later, I remember that day, that encounter, and that envelope though I hadn’t seen it for decades.
I often wondered HOW it was inadvertently thrown away. Oh well, I would think, I still have the memory.
But today, I was taking family pictures (circa 1978) out of a small lucite frame. It was my old keychain. On one side was a photo of my sister-in-law, her husband, and their two sons, and on the other, a picture of my brother’s daughter. I loved those pictures but decided to throw away the discolored and scratched frame.
Tucked between those pictures was a scrap of paper. When it fell out, I was magically transported to that sidewalk in August of 1969.
There it was – the autograph of Dick Van Dyke trimmed from that envelope and stashed away where it wouldn’t get lost.
And, yes…I may or may not be just as giddy as I was the day I met Dick Van Dyke.