By Mike Peters. Originally published in the Greeley Tribune
From the silent “A Water War in Spudville,” to the 26-part, $30 million “Centennial;” from “Die Hard 2” to “Dumb and Dumber,” Weld County and Greeley have provided the sites of many movies in the past 87 years.
Some of the flicks were good and many were very bad, but the movie business in northern Colorado has brought some famous stars, film crews, producers and directors, and their money, to this area.
1913: Probably the first movie filmed in Greeley was “A Water War in Spudville,” was written by a Greeley woman, Mrs. Charles Tew, and starred only local actors. Said a Greeley Tribune reviewer: There is something doing every second; there is love and combat running through the play with a happy wedding at the end of a strenuous day.”
1974: A film crew from Quinn-Martin Productions was in Johnstown and Windsor to film a sequence for a new action series, “The Manhunter,” starring Ken Howard. The series was set in the 1930s, and they used a steam locomotive from the Great Western Sugar Co. for some action scenes. The theme of the TV series involved Howard as an ex-marine who returned home to save the family farm. The filming in Weld County involved The Manhunter tracking down a gang of bank robbers that killed his best friend.
1978: The biggest movie ever filmed in the county, “Centennial” made a huge impact in this area. Film crews and stars stayed in Greeley and Evans hotels while filming various scene of the movie in this area. Stars in town included Raymond Burr, Richard Crenna, Robert Conrad, Richard Chamberlain, Sally Kellerman, Barbara Carrerra, Chief Dan George, Brian Keith, David Janssen and Michael Ansara. Many residents signed on as extras, making $25 for an 8-hour day. Film sites included Greeley, the Kuner area, northeast of Kersey, at Pawnee Buttes, and other areas. On one day, bad weather forced the crews inside the Ramada Inn in Evans, where they set up a tepee and shot interior scenes. While the film crews brought much money into Greeley, there were few problems. One of the leading actors, James Conrad (“The Wild, Wild West,” “Baa, Baa Black Sheep”) was arrested for assault on a 19-year-old Greeley man who was shouting at Conrad’s motor home as it was driven through Greeley. Conrad pleaded no contest to third-degree assault charge and received a six-month deferred sentence. A $150,000 civil suit filed by the victim was settled out of court. After several months of filming, the 26-part series began with great hoopla from NBC, but then the network started moving the various episode to different time slots and different days, and the audience fell off. For a time, it coined a phrase in Hollywood for networks that would kill the audience ratings by changing the time schedule for movies. Directors would say “Please don’t Centennialize my movie.”
1978: Billed as “an explosive commentary on the restlessness of today’s youth,” a movie named “Over the Edge,” was filmed in Greeley, mainly using John Evans Junior High for the school scenes. In the final sequences, the school is blown up, using special effects. Minor damage to the school was repaired before the film crew left. The film, which starred a new young actor named Matt Dillon, was shelved after some violent youth films were blamed for creating real violence in the streets, However, when Dillon became more popular, the film was released on video.
1979: Harrison Ford and Gene Wilder were in rural areas of Weld County filming “No Knife,” which was later changed to “The Frisco Kid.” The story was of an outlaw (Ford) and a rabbi (Wilder) making their way across the wild west to San Francisco. The comedy can still be seen on late night movies, and got good reviews when it first ran in theaters.
1979: A basketball movie, “One-On-One,” was filmed in Ault and Fort Collins, starring Robby Benson and Annette O’Toole. It was the story of a high school basketball star who was recruited heavily by a big-time college. The high school basketball scenes were filmed at Highland High School in Ault, with Moby Gym at Colorado State used for the college scenes. As one reviewer said, “The harsh world of big-time college athletics is brought into clearer focus in this unheralded little film. The reviewer gave it four out of five stars.
1985: Although none of this movie, “The Mean Season” was filmed in Greeley, the city and newspaper are discussed in this thriller. The plot involves a Miami reporter (Kurt Russell) who becomes entangled with a serial killer who vowed that unless Russell would keep daily stories about him on the front page of the paper, he would continue to kill. It’s an above-average story about responsibilities and control of the press. However, the big moment comes at the end, when Russell, worn out from finally winning the war against the serial killer, talks about his next job: the editor of a weekly newspaper in Colorado, The Greeley Tribune. He refers
to Greeley as a “town of pickup trucks” and the last scene of the movie shows him writing his story with the by-line as editor of the paper.
1985: Greeley was abuzz during most of the year with the filming of the National Sports Laugh in town. An idea of local comedian Dave Parsons, numerous investors put money into the show they hoped would become a hit , a sports comedy show. Some of the sports stars who came to Greeley to film the pilot included Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor and Dallas running back Duane Thomas. Although the idea seemed promising, and Parsons had promises from ESPN to pick up the series, another sports comedy show was produced by the network. “National Sports Laugh” never made it on the air, and several local investors lost money.
1989: A movie that held great promise but fell apart was entirely filmed in Greeley and Weld County, using North Colorado Medical Center, Greeley Central High School, rural Platteville and Ault. It was called “Curse of the Corn People,” and produced by Aaron Spelling, who already had some hit shows, including “The Love Boat” and “Charlie’s Angels.” But problems abounded for the Corn movie: The story was about a group of bored, small-town high school students who decided to make a film of a feminist zombie stalking farmers; the main characters included people with strained friendships, broken families, a farm crisis, and dead-end jobs in a spaghetti-sauce factory. In addition, they weren’t very likable. The director’s lack of agricultural knowledge was evident in one scene that showed a crop duster spraying a field of corn stubble in the winter.
Although the producers said they would open an office in Greeley if the series was picked up by the networks, the networks rejected the story. Only the pilot was shown, which received universally bad reviews.
1989: Probably the most successful movie ever filmed in Weld County was the second series in the Die Hard movies: “Die Hard 2: Die Harder.” The goofy name of this flick couldn’t keep it from being a huge success. It even drew higher box office sales and ratings than the original “Die Hard.” Only a portion of the movie was filmed in Weld County and at Stapleton Airport in Denver. In the movie, terrorists take over an airport, and the headquarters for their operation is a small rural church. For that scene, the movie crew rented the Highland Community Church in Mead. They built an extra steeple for the church and remodeled it so it was in better shape than before they came. In the movie, Bruce Willis tracks the terrorist to their lair, the church, and a gun battle ensues, in addition to lots of explosions. The bad guys plant bombs in the church, but luckily they don’t get the chance to blow it up. The Mead portion of the filming ends with Willis chasing the villains across frozen Highland Lake on snowmobiles.
1993: One of the stupidest movies in history, and consequently, one of the most successful, “Dumb and Dumber” had some brief scenes filmed in Weld County. While several scenes were shot in Morgan County, there was an on-the-road scene filmed between Keenesburg and Roggen on I-76. The two stars, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, were shown driving west toward Aspen in their car, which looked like a giant, fuzzy dog. Pretty dumb.
1993: “America’s Most Wanted” cop series began producing two-hour TV movies about some of their most interesting cases. A film crew working on “Escape From Terror, The Theresa Stamper Story,” came to Weld County to scout for filming sites. The story involved a woman who’s ex-husband was stalking her across the United States. Filming took place Farley’s Machine Shop in Platteville, with several Platteville residents playing extras. The film can still be seen occasionally on late-night movies.
1995: Comedian Bill Murray brought an Elephant to Weld County for the filming of “Larger Than Life.” The story line was about a sleazy
motivational speaker (Murray) who inherits a trained elephant named “Vera” from his father, who was a circus clown. He must bring the elephant cross country in order to sell it, and the adventures occur on the trip. In Colorado, the filming took place at Roggen on Interstate-76, and on I-25 at Johnson’s Corner.