'Houseboat' column unleashes a flood of reader memories

By John Kelly
Sunday, September 12, 2010

Answer Man was delighted to hear from many Washingtonians who witnessed the filming of "Houseboat," the 1958 Cary Grant-Sophia Loren movie he wrote about last week. One of them, Arthur Shugars, was even in the movie.

Arthur is the chauffeur who was called "Sugar" by the child actors he drove around during their two weeks in Washington. Now 98 and living in a retirement home in Charles Town, W.Va., he's as sharp today as he was then.

"I'm in the opening scene, wiping the fender [of a limousine] when Cary Grant drives up with the Jeep," Arthur said. "I had to give him a dirty look: Why'd he have to come up to this mansion in a Jeep?"

Arthur was behind the wheel of a limo in another scene, when Grant cuts in front of him at the since-demolished Commodore Hotel.

"I took up the whole screen," he said. "But in the video, I'm not in it. They cut me out of the video."

Ah, showbiz.

Amanda Lee of Alexandria said those early scenes at the mansion of Grant's in-laws were filmed on the Virginia side of the Potomac near Dogue Creek inlet, where she grew up. The house, on Mount Vernon Circle, is still there.

"The Laundromat and produce stands shown in the film portray real places along old U.S. Route 1 in the Engleside area," Amanda wrote. "The family-run produce stand still stands."

Where was the titular houseboat moored? Jim Burch is the developer who pulled together the property that became National Harbor, a former gravel quarry called Smoot Bay. Wrote Jim: "Back in 1980-1984, I constantly heard stories from older residents about the movie 'Houseboat' being shot not at Piscataway Creek, but at Smoot Bay, adjacent to what is now the Beltway."

Perhaps some scenes were filmed there, but most people recollect the Piscataway near Fort Washington, five miles downriver. When Gina Croci was 9, she had a friend whose father worked for the park service there. One day he let a small group watch the filming.

"I was so excited just thinking that I would have the opportunity to meet or see Sophia Loren that I begged my Mom to get me an autograph book," Gina wrote. "Wow, a little Italian meeting a famous Italian!"

But when Loren finally walked past and Gina asked for her autograph, "She took her hand, did that 'Italian back hand' swish and said something like 'Move away.' I was heartbroken."

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