St. Petersburg has played host to Hollywood film companies on numerous occasions over the decades. Films made almost in their entirety here include Robert Altman HEALTH, Ron howard Cocoon and Carl Reiner’s Summer rental, which was John Candy’s first star vehicle.
We documented the production process for these three big budget films in our Vintage series, as well as a detailed story about Sun Haven Studios, the Depression-era setting on Weedon Island where three premieres ” talkies ”were made.
The filmography of St. Pete does not stop there, however. Movie buffs, and keen-eyed, will recognize St. Pete’s cameos in a few other well-known films. There are others, of course – who may forget the 1992 controlled demolition of the Soreno Hotel for Lethal Weapon III? – but these are the big ones.
As they say in Hollywood, location, location, location.
1940s: Black Goodbye
Two-thirds of the 1947 film noir Dead Reckoning, Lizabeth Scott drives a convertible Lincoln Continental through the night streets of “Gulf City”, a southern city never recognized by the state (the script also mentions a “Tarpon Springs Road”).
It is in fact the central avenue of Saint Petersburg. In the passenger seat: Humphrey Bogart.
Moments later, the car rolls onto the causeway of Treasure Island; in close-up, the two stars discuss a heinous crime that has occurred. Entering a country road, their vehicle is stopped by a motorcycle policeman. The two men speak smoothly to get out of a ticket. The officer never knows there is a corpse in the safe.
These scenes were shot from May 29 to 31, 1946 by an assistant director and a crew from Columbia Pictures. The director, John Cromwell, was not in St. Petersburg.
Neither Humphrey Bogart nor Lizabeth Scott either.
The crew was taking “long shots” that week, of the car passing downtown buildings, pedestrians and police, on the roadway and through the woods. The backgrounds were also targeted, to “project to the back” behind the actors as they ran their dialogue, inside a dummy car, in a Hollywood studio. Pre-filmed beach landscapes provide the backdrops for a later scene in a restaurant.
In the role of Bogie-from-the-back was George Ford, the body double of the movie legend. There are several profile moments in a split second where it’s obviously not Bogart in the car.
Newly created Saint Petersburg timetables Journalist Bette Swenson sat for blonde bombshell Scott. Swenson was only told, however, that she was dubbing for “Bogart’s Principal Lady” as the actress in the role had yet to be hired. It was later revealed that Rita Hayworth, just coming from Gilda, was the studio’s first choice for Dead Reckoning; when she turned out to be unavailable, Scott got the nod.
Swenson, who, as Bette Orsini, would pursue a long and distinguished career at the Times (winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for his presentation on the Church of Scientology), wrote of his “Hollywood” adventure in a story dated June 2, 1946:
So your reporter has completed what is possibly the shortest screen in history. You’ve seen Ingrid Bergman, Ida Lupino and Jennifer Jones in the movies – well, if you pick up a magnifying glass and be super alert throughout “Dead Reckoning” you might have a chance to spot poor man’s Judy Canova. in the price of his career.
1950: military melodrama
Glenn Miller’s story, with James Stewart and June Allyson, had just finished her engagement at the Playhouse Theater in St. Petersburg when the two stars, paired up for what would be their third cello as a married couple, arrived in town.
It was March 22, 1954. Stewart, Allyson, director Tony Mann and a small crew took over Al Lang Field to capture two short scenes for Paramount’s Strategic air command. In the story, the character of Stewart, a former Holland “Dutch” bomber pilot, has just signed a contract to play baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals.
August Busch, owner of The Real Cardinals, agreed to let the film company shoot the opening scene for the film, using his players, during spring training in St. Petersburg.
Arrangements had already been made for much of the film – a typical post-war melodrama about US Air Force fighters – to be shot at MacDill Air Force Base in south Tampa.
Produced under VistaVision, the latest fashionable widescreen format, Strategic Air Command begins with a photo of the sign in front of Al Lang Field. Pan right, through a beautiful Technicolor landscape of downtown St. Pete, and a car pulls up with June Allyson at the wheel.
She and James Bell (playing her father) enter the stadium and sit down to watch the Cardinals throw the old hard ball around the bases. Stewart-as-Dutch plays third. She calls him; he waves his hand.
And there’s Al Lang Field, in all its early 1950s glory, framed by palm trees, Australian pines, and azure skies and the blue / gray waters of Tampa Bay. There is the original dashboard, with its Coca-Cola sign.
There is a dialogue between Stewart and Allyson, and several other actors. This sets the plot in motion (Dutch, who is recalled to active duty, will have to put his budding baseball career on hold). The entire scene lasts about four minutes.
Later in the movie, there is a much shorter scene of Stewart, in Air Force uniform, watching a game from the same spectator seats (obviously shot on the same day). And that’s it for Al Lang Field’s big moment on the big screen.
The company spent about three hours in St. Petersburg, ending at noon (the Cardinals had a 1-hour game against the Milwaukee Brewers).
Jimmy Stewart sat on the bench next to us and talked about a storm. Uncle Al Lang was there too, so the conversation was endless. What was Jimmy Stewart’s favorite baseball team? The Yankees, sure, but he told us in confidence that he needs to change his favorite every now and then to suit local preferences.
“School reporters” Nancy and Sally Stephenson, St. Petersburg Times / March 27, 1954
1980s: Memoirs of the Crowd
Security was tight on the beach behind the Don CeSar Hotel on October 15, 1982, as actors Robert DeNiro and James Woods shot a scene for Italian director Sergio Leone’s sprawling gangster movie. Once upon a time in America.
If you’ve seen the movie – the heavily edited original release or Leone’s four hour “director’s cut” – you know this scene. Noodles (DeNiro) and Max (Woods) lounge on beach chairs at the back of an imposing opulent pink hotel (guess who?).
Max: A dream that I have dreamed of all my life. Swear to God, Noodles, you and I together we can make it happen.
Noodles: What is that?
Max: The Federal Reserve Bank. This is the biggest step we can take, Noodles.
Noodles (after a long break): You’re really mad.
Max (exploding in anger): Don’t ever tell me that! Don’t ever tell me that again!
Max rushes to mop along the waves.
The short scene, which lasted two days, employed 350 local extras, dressed in 1930s beachwear, in the background. About 60 Florida production people worked with the Warner Bros. team.
A local newspaper reported asking the publicist on set if DeNiro would consent to an interview. He was greeted with a laugh and this response: “He does not speak to God.”
2000s: All-Star capers
George Clooney and Brad Pitt shot scenes for Steven Soderbergh Ocean’s Eleven in and around a huge circus tent erected in the Derby Lane car park on February 20, 2000. Inside the tent, their characters, Danny Ocean and Rusty Ryan, watch a performance by the Beijing acrobats, granting special attention to the agile Yen, represented by the acrobat and real-life contortionist Shaobo Qin. Yen is then recruited for the Ocean thieves gang and Ryan assembles for a big heist in Vegas. He should be the team’s “oiler”.
Two teenage acrobatic troupe members, Li Dian Feng and Yang Chun Lei, collided while working on the “parallel poles” sequence seen in the film. They fell 10 feet to the ground and were taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where they were treated for minor injuries and released.
Clooney and Pitt were also filmed walking to their car after the ‘show’. By 3:00 p.m. Clooney was done for the day and finished with St. Pete. Although he happily chatted and signed autographs for the extras inside the (closed) tent, Clooney was kept away from curious onlookers outside the parking lot.
Pitt was back the next day to tour with Carl Reiner, playing Saul, another rookie. Soderbergh and his crew spent 11 hours at Derby Lane on the 21stst, as Reiner’s character had bet on today’s dog races, and he and Pitt sat in the stands and watched the race. There were 600 extras at the dog track, including Saint Petersburg timetables screenwriter Steve Persall:
4:26 PM Celebrity work is done, Pitt stands up and turns the extras on with a Rocky style pose. Big applause. Reiner gets up to leave, hears her name applauded, and takes off her fishing hat. Bigger applause.
2010s: Art of dance
Director Soderbergh was back in St. Pete in October 2011 to shoot scenes for Magic Mike, the fact-based film about stripper-turned-actor Channing Tatum from Tampa. Tatum played himself; his club owner mentor was played by Matthew McConaughey.
Tatum, Olivia Munn, Joe Mangianello and more of the cast shot exteriors at Wilson’s Bar on the 4the Street (replacing the movie “Club Xquisite”), in front of a Tierra Verde house, on the Pinellas Bayway Bridge, at Caddy’s on the Beach and at Three Rooker Bar, a heavily vegetated sandbar two miles from the beach in Tarpon Springs (The latter was filmed on day one, starring McConaughey, and was the Oscar-winning actor’s only local scene.