TV Film Crew Gives Fresno Day in the Sun

Times Staff Writer

"This is a story of love, hate and dehydration," said producer Bob Goodwin, running his hand over his face as though to keep it from wrinkling in the 100-degree heat.

It was the second day of filming--outdoor filming--of "Fresno," a five-hour miniseries about the bitter power struggle between rival raisin barons Carol Burnett and Charles Grodin.

Or, as it's subtitled, "The Power . . . the Passion . . . the Produce!"

Though a television movie about a murderous falcon was once made in nearby Clovis, this, as far as anyone could tell, was the first time Hollywood had come to Fresno, the nation's raisin capital.

"Audiences are demanding more realism these days," Goodwin said Tuesday. "So to capture the excitement of raisins, we had to come here. Stockton just wouldn't do."

Fresnans--or Fresnoids, as neighboring communities sometimes call them--were wary about the cameras, given past experiences.

After all, Fresno has been hailed by Johnny Carson as "Gateway to Bakersfield" and "Home of the Highest Speed Bumps." In "Science Made Stupid," author Thomas Weller defined half-life as "Saturday night in Fresno." And two years ago, a quality-of-life survey by an academician ranked Fresno 277th out of 277 urban areas.

"We're hoping the movie generates economic activity and image enhancement," Fresno City Councilwoman Karen Humphreys said. "But we'll have to withhold judgment on the latter."

In fact, immediate economic benefits will be limited. Of the 55 days of shooting, only two were held in Fresno. Actually, 1 1/2--the crew knocked off at midday Tuesday to catch a flight back to Los Angeles.

It's true. For all but about five minutes of its own miniseries, Fresno has stand-ins.

Real-life Mayor Dale Doig, who has a cameo role as himself at a Fresno masquerade ball, actually has to fly to Pasadena next month to film the scene in a Caltech auditorium.

Doig, 50, an energetic, good-natured fellow, doesn't mind, pointing out that few movies are filmed on location anymore. "And, I get to dance with Carol Burnett," he said.

Doig, who grew up in Manhattan Beach, seems to take an upbeat view of both the movie and the kidding of Fresno in general.

"I think you can make an analogy with (the nighttime soap opera) 'Dallas,' " he said. "Some people think that show pokes fun at Dallas. Others think it's good publicity.

"Anyway, people in Fresno have a good sense of humor. We think we've moved up to at least No. 244 by now."

Though shrugging off big-city detractors--"It's odd to be ridiculed when you know what a good town it really is," Councilwoman Humphreys said--Fresno is making a determined effort to promote itself.

Recently the city hired former circus promoter Stan Lockridge to head its visitors bureau. It has a new civic slogan, "So Much, So Close."

Fresno also plans to lure more film makers its way, encouraged by the fact that Sylvester Stallone recently considered using one of its freeways for a movie he's making about truckers. Fresno eventually lost out to Simi Valley on that one. But for two days anyway, they had the makers of "Fresno."

"I had to move to L.A. to find work," said Fresno native Michael Jordan, a stunt man working as a stand-in. "It'd be great if more work came here."

On Day 1, Doig gave Burnett and Grodin keys to the city and the inevitable raisins.

Grodin was pleased. "I like a nice raisin now and then," he told a reporter.

The genial Burnett told the hundreds of onlookers that "the people of Fresno are as warm as the weather."

Fresno Street was blocked off between M and P streets for a scene in which two henchpersons try to throw Grodin off a local landmark, a 90-year-old water tower (the movie people tacked a "FRESNO" sign on it).

For some spectators, the excitement generated by the presence of the media was a bit baffling.

"I was interviewed by a television reporter," said Fresno resident Henrietta Wells, "and he told me I'd be on the news at 5 that night--in San Francisco."

On Day 2, the crew chose a quiet road on the outskirts of Fresno near a herd of Holsteins.

Fresno Bee reporter Jim Steinberg smiled and said: "I bet they (the movie makers) wish they could get the smell in too."

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