"Oh, look, look! There it is! The Capitol Dome!" -- Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington We Washingtonians have learned by now to indulge these film folk and their wild ways. If they've loosed hairy creatures on our White House grounds, as in Werewolf of Washington, sent Volkswagens hurtling into our Tidal Basin, as in Nothing Personal or, as in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, blown the top off our Capitol and split asunder our Washington Monument, we've survived. And later, as we've fumbled with our popcorn, there's always been that jolt of recognition.
Washington and Tinseltown share more than a chap named Reagan. This city of magic, city of light, is also a city of lights, camera, action. Just last week, Walter Matthau and Jill Clayburgh were here to put the finish on First Monday in October, a flick about the Supreme Court, scheduled for a debut next fall. So think of Washington and environs as a studio backlot, and you can turn your weekend wanderings into a quest for screen gems.
With a little determination, you can find the apartment building where Paul McGrath persuades Henry Fonda to fib to a Senate subcomittee in Advise and Consent, the house where Satan's an uninvited guest in The Exorcist, the yacht Jason Robards boards to Raise the Titanic!, and the parking garage where Robert Redford pumps a jittery Hal Holbrook for Watergate secrets in All the President's Men.
It'll take more than pluck, though, to produce the mansion where Katharine Hepburn shelters Spencer Tracy in Without Love, or the rowhouse where Jean Arthur does the same for Charles Coburn and Joel McCrea in The More the Merrier, during Washington's wartime housing shortage. Hepburn's place at 481 Connecticut Avenue NW and Arthur's digs, Apartment 2B, 1708 D Street NW, live only, alas, in celluloid.
But if the hunting's often tricky, sometimes a little too tricky, that's entertainment. Let's start with some easy ones. Those all-star Airport movies, for instance, do begin at DULLES AIRPORT, just as you've suspected. Yes, that's really the HOTEL WASHINGTON, 15th Street & Pennsylvania Avenue NW, hosting the Corleones in Godfather: Part II. Those patriotic show tunes at the end of This Is the Army, Warner Brothers' contribution to the war effort, are indeed performed at the NATIONAL THEATER, 1321 E Street NW. And all you really need is heart to recognize the late, lamented GRIFFITH STADIUM, home of the late, lamented Washington Senators at Seventh and Florida Avenue NW, in Damn Yankees. The stadium was reduced to rubble long ago, the ball field devoured by Howard University Hospital.
Sleights of cinema are commoner, though. First Family, Buck Henry's musing on pratfalls in politics, features the parlor of a red brick Victorian at 1324 VERMONT AVENUE NW as a hideout for the bumbling president, Bob Newhart; yet when Newhart emerges at film's end, to the cheers of a sidewalk throng, it's actually from an empty shell at THIRD & D STREETS NW. (Presidents in hiding are nothing new: The President Vanishes used this device in 1934, with Arthur Byron going to mattresses in a downtown warehouse to fight fascism.) Meanwhile, if you visit the council chambers on the fifth floor of the DISTRICT BUILDING, at 14th & E Streets NW, you may note a resemblance to the secret lair of the Supreme Court depicted in First Family.
The movie's ambassador of the United Nations, Harvey Korman, was in the council chambers recently for the Supreme Court business, and during a break -- as Buck Henry romped through the aisles in a fright wig -- he recounted his maiden trip to Washington: "It was night, and I was coming from National Airport in the limousine with Joyce Van Patten on one side of me and Imogene Coca on the other. And Joyce says, 'Harvey, you mean you've never been here? You gotta be outta your mind!' So they tell me to close my eyes. After a while, we come to a stop, and Imogene and Joyce help me out of the limo. Then Joyce says, 'Harvey, open your eyes.' It was the Lincoln Memorial, all lit up. Well, I don't have to tell you, I almost swooned."
Hollywood happened to Washington for obvious reasons -- there is, after all, some galmor in power -- and hardly a political movie worth the ticket price omits a shot of the White House. But 1313 F STREET NW, where the Coward Shoe Store sits 10 minutes from the executive mansion, may even be more important in the scheme of things. It's an address without which Hollywood might not be, because in 1895, it marked the real estate offices of Daniel & Armat. There, in the basement of a building long since gone, Thomas Armat and Charles Francis Jenkins invented the motion picture projector.
"Without other warning than a soft whir in the darkness," goes on account in the Baltimore Sun, dug out by Library of Congress cataloguer John Eustis for a recent paper, "a figure leaps out into the lighted space. With gliding step it moves forward to the edge of the 'stage' and gathers its flowing draperies in either hand with a sweeping curtsey . . . Of course it is Carmencita, the little witch of Madrid . . ."
Armat, a businessman from Fredericksburg, and Jenkins, a farm boy from Ohio, dubbed their machine the Pantoscope. They perfected it in time for the September 1895 Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, which promptly led to three firsts: the opening of America's first movie theater in Atlanta, the first public demonstration of the Phantoscope, and the spectacle of America's first movie theater burning to the ground. Soon after this mishap, Armat and Jenkins had a falling out over sprockets and patents.
Raoul Kulberg, a film scholar at the University of the District of Columbia as well as and extra in Hair (he's a face in the crowd scene at WEST POTOMAC PARK), reckons that more than a hundred movies, mini-series and sitcoms have featured the federal city. The first, a 1912 two-reeler called Filial Love, chronicles a lad's efforts to clear his father of a bogus murder rap, with the hero miraculously discovering the real criminal in LAFAYETTE PARK after a stroll past Union Station, where the Columbus MEMORIAL is shown under construction. Along the way, he lunches outside the TREASURY DEPARTMENT -- then, as it is today, at 15th Street & Pennsylvania Avenue NW, across from the site of the Hotel Washington. (Years later, Treasury and the Bureau of Printing and Engraving were the focus of a counterfeit comedy with Dorothy Provine, Who's Minding the Mint? ) Another early film with Washington establishing shots, D.W. Griffith's 1915 epic Birth of a Nation, re-enacts President Lincoln's misfortune, but not at Ford's Theater, 511 Tenth Street NW. That place, it happened, was being used as a warehouse when Griffith's legions landed, though much later, the theater's back alley is seen in Scorpio, a spy story starring Burt Lancaster.
It's a far cry from Tenth Street to Georgetown -- at least a couple of taxi zones -- but the latter pricey parcel may just be Hollywood's favorite neighborhood. After all, it looks so much like a movie set. Should you venture there, by all means visit "The Exorcist Steps," directly east of a Victorian number known as "The Exorcist House," at 3600 Prospect STREET NW. The focus of the film's demonic doings but features with a false front, the house belongs to socialite Florence Mahoney. "It's a terrible nuisance having people ask me about it all the time," she says. "I don't think I even saw the picture." The movie, which had 'em falling in the aisles when it opened in '73, concerns a 12-year-old girl, Linda Blair, who's possessed by the Devil. There's an embarrassing incident at a cocktail party, held in a drawing room modeled after that of a mansard-rood Victorian at 3400 O STREET NW (recreated on New York soundstage, because the owner at the time, a senator, balked at cameras in his parlor), and eventually, the girl's movie-star mother, Ellen Burstyn, consults Jason Miller, a young Jesuit priest who likes to jog at GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY.With police detective Lee J. Cobb stalking in the background, Miller enlists the aid of an experienced exorcist, Max Von Sydow, who finally banishes the fiend, but not in time to save Miller from tumbling to meet his maker.
If you skip the tumble, you can step on down to the Colonial Exxon, at 3327 M STREET NW, whence Nothing Personal's environmentalist heroes, Donald Sutherland and Suzanne Somers, get chased in their energy-efficient Volkswagen by corporate heavies in a gas-guzzling sedan all the way to the TIDAL BASIN (though, actually, the mosie uses Alexandria's JONES POINT for the big splash). Another comedic adventure, Kisses for My President, also gets wet, with First Husband Fred MacMurray and Latin American dictator Eli Wallach flying under KEY BRIDGE in a speedboat. In Scorpio, the Burt Lancaster movie, Georgetown serves for a murder scene, but the action quickly moves to other climes, like Jim Finley's Gym, at 518 TENTH STREET NE, where Burt, late of the CIA, collars a contact. Later, Burt disguises himself as a black priest, and outsmarts his enemies by fading into a crowd of clerics at Gate 28 of NATIONAL AIRPORT. (One of the padres, bless him, is a star-struck extra named Jim Wright, these days the House majority leader.) Also in Georgetown, there's a 3508 Prospect STREET NW, otherwise known as Prospect House, where Jason Robards, Admiral James Sandecker in Raise the Titanic!, battens down. During the day, he's keeping office hours at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, 1758 MASSACHUSETTS AVENUE NW, conducting press conferences in the East Room of the MAYFLOWER HOTEL, 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW, and reporting to the president at Leesburg's MORVEN PARK MANSION, made over to look like the White House. The notices last year may have been iceberg-cool, but the movie was shot hot stuff for THE WASHINGTON STAR, 225 Virginia Avenue SE, whose newsroom's a featured attraction, and Meridian HOUSE, 1630 Crescent Place NW, which passes for the Soviet embassy. The biggest kick of all, though, was directed at Washington industrial Joe Wheeler, whose 90-foot yacht Potomac, now in dry dock but usually anchored at the Capital Yacht Club, 1000 WATER STREET SW, does a cameo on the river of the same name. "I happen to think it was a good movie," the ebullient Wheeler insists.
When it comes to ebullience, though, no one can match Senator Jefferson Smith, a/k/a Jimmy Stewart, as he greets the nation's capital in Frank Capra's 1939 classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Picked by the governor of some unnamed state to serve out a dead man's term, he's fresh off the train in UNION STATION (the scene of countless moving comings and goings, like Robert Walker's in Stranger's on a Train ), in a day when senators ride the rails. Mr. Smith's loaded down with a covey of pigeons -- "to send messages back to Ma" -- and filled from head to toe with folksy innocence.
And when he glimpses THE CAPITOL, the quintessential Washington landmark -- the backdrop that Hollywood location scout Stuart Neumann says "always sells 'postcard Washington' best" -- he's compelled to shout, "Look! There it is!"
We never visit the young senator's quarters, probably because whenever he's not filibustering he's out playing tourist. He does meet with some influential home folks at the MADISON HOTEL, but it's not the one at 15th and M, which wasn't built till 1962. After Mr. Smith tangles with the sharks of the Senate and loses faith in Democracy, his loyal secretary Saunders, a/k/a Jean Arthur, consoles him on the steps of the Lincoln MEMORIAL. She persuades him to stick around and defend his convictions in a memorable scene that was one of Hollywood's last, teary-eyed looks at the momument's innards.
"We don't let movie companies film inside the monuments anymore," says Fran Giarth of the National Park Service."That Mr. Smith' movie, with all the commotion it caused, probably had a lot to do with the regulation." When, in 1976, Giarth thus informed actor/director Tom Laughlin, who wanted the famous Lincoln vista for Billy Jack Goes to Washington, he left town in a huff, crying "dictatorship of the bureaucracy." Can you imagine Jeff Smith doing that?
The Senate, of course, has long held Hollywood's fancy, and Allen Drury's novel Advise and Consent makes for a helluva movie. The 1962 film opens early one morning at the SHERATON PARK HOTEL, 2600 Woodley Road NW, with Walter Pedgeon, the Senate majority leader, conferring with his whip Paul Ford; in another suite at the Sheraton Park, the pajama-clad senator from Rhode Island, Peter Lawford (who happened, in real life, to be the president's brother-in-law), kisses an aide goodbye. That night, Washington hostess Gene Tierney throws a bash at a stately Georgian manse called TREGARON, once the estate of the late Joseph Davies, now the site of the Washington International School at 3100 MACOMB STREET NW. Among the senatorial guests are Charles Laughton, a wily old southerner, and Don Murray, a straight-arrow westerner who later bent out of shape.
"It was a wonderul party, with dancing and supper for everybody," recalls Mrs. Lowell Ditzen, one of Davies' daughters, who let the film company inside Tregaron and invited her friends as extras. "Everybody was there -- senators, socialites. I feel sure Hubert Humphrey was there. I had a marvelous time chatting on the terrace with Senator Henry Asher, wonderful old gentleman from Arizona. There was only one problem. The orchestra kept plalying the same number over and over and over again, and Mr. Preminger, the director, wouldn't allow anybody to leave. We were all imprisoned there until he got his scene. Betty Beale was furious."
The next day -- in the movie, that is -- the Senate takes up the president's nomination of Henry Fonda for secretary of state. At the hearings, Fonda as a Red, gives his address as 2221 Grove Place NE and admits to having recovered from a nervous breakdown at the Elm Grove Rest Home, somewhere outside Baltimore. Neither place is on the map, which may cast doubt on Meridith's story, but nominee Fonda is sufficiently rattled to seek out his old friend Paul McGrath at the Carlyn Apartments, 2500 Q STREET NW. There in McGrath's living room, we learn that Fonda had indeed strayed leftward in his youth. Fellow traveler McGrath suggests perjury.
Things come to a bad end -- especially for Murray -- which mightn't have happened had the Rev. Peter Marshall, the longtime Senate chaplain, been around for consultation. The late rector, along with his New york avenue PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, 1313 New York Avenue NW, is grist for A Man Called Peter.
One other Senate movie, The Seduction of Joe Tynan, is a bit sneakier about locales. It uses the ANNAPOLIS STATE HOUSE for Senate chambers, the LIBRARY OF CONGRESS for Senate corridors, and the Folger SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY, at 201 East Capitol Street, for the offices of the puissant but doddering lawmaker, Melvyn Douglas (whose spouse in real life, the late Helen Gahagan Douglas, served a stint in Congress and ran for the Senate against Richard Nixon). During filming in 1978, the Joe Tynan production crew had to switch to the Folger when a grip lost his grip on a Library of Congress catwalk and plunged through a false ceiling onto some hapless researcher's desk.
If you're still combing the Hill, you might also browse for the apartment hotel that hosts Sean Connery in the B thriller Meteor, plus Houseboat's HOTEL CONTINENTAL, where Cary Grant, a widowed lawyer, gets slapped by Sophia Loren, a maestro's daughter. (Mistaking Sophia for a floozy, Grant hires her on as a maid and takes her to his floating home on the Virginia side of the Potomac). Connery's digs, it happens, are actually HOUSE ANNEX BUILDING NO. 1 in disguise. As for the Continental, there's no such-named hotel, though in Houseboat, it's within five blocks or so of the Capitol.
In the latter film, a romantic comedy, Cary drags his kids to a Watergate concert on the Potomac. In Born Yesterday, a suave Bill Holden does the same for Judy Holliday, spiriting her away from her loutish lover, Broderick Crawford. While they're out seeing the sights, Crawford sulks back at the WASHINGTON STATLER, now called the Capital Hilton, at 16th & K Streets NW.
Many Washington movies have taken the "postcard" approach, suggesting a city strong on monuments but weak on neighborhoods. Watching a few, you can get the impression that no one really lives here. In such classics as the satirical Dr. Strangelove and the serious Failsafe, two views of hydrogen horror, Washington seems composed entirely of Pentagon basements and White House situation rooms (though Seven Days in May, about a military coup, does provide a shot of FORT McNAIR). Three Days of the Condor, a tale of CIA dirty tricks, has the ubiquitous Von Sydow, a hit man in this incarnation, strolling, not jogging, across MEMORIAL BRIDGE -- the movie's only bonafide Washington location.
In Logan's Run, a 23rd-century vision of decadence replete with moss-bound monuments, hardly anyone does live here. The movie's sole Washingtonians are Peter Ustinov and his cats, who prowl the crumbling Senate chambers. And a Japanese disaster film, Virus, goes the whole nine yards, showing the city as a deserted freeway underpass in Anacostia. "We need a place that looks dead," Virus's location manager told Stuart Neumann.
You get a sense of community, though, from such films as Being There, wherein a witless Peter Sellers loses his gardening job at 937 M STREET NW (where pieces of a fake brick wall constructed for the movie remain) and rambles all over town in search of cover. On his way to the top as a presidential adviser, Sellers wanders past GIBSON'S TV WORLD at 1400 14th Street NW, THE BENITO JUAREZ MEMORIAL in the 2600 block of Virginia Avenue NW and the STEPHEN-WINDSOR CLOTHING SHOP at 1730 K Street NW, done up as yet another TV emporium. Unless you're up for a road trip, you won't find the Virginia estate where Sellers ends up with Shirley McLaine and Melvyn Douglas: That's actually the Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina.
In The Other Side of Midnight, a steamy romance of wartime, government secretary Susan Sarendon lives on Logan Circle and lunches at SHOLL'S CAFETERIA, at 1433 K Street NW, though that eatery wasn't in business till after the war. (For a twist, Midnight palms off Virginia's LURAY CAVERNS as caves in Greece -- which, you'd have to admit, does improve on Injun Joe's Disneyland haunts.) And though you'd least expect it, The Day the Earth Stood Still, a sci-fi from the '50s, has a hometown feel of its own. After escaping from Room 309 of Walter Reed ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, 6825 16th Street NW, our favorite Martian, Klaatu, rents accommodations at a rooming house near 14th & Harvard Streets NW, where Patricia Neal is staying. The address these days, given in the flick as 1412 HARVARD STREET NW, falls among some drafty old apartment buildings under renovation.
In Cary Grant's and Bill Holden's day, as we've seen, Watergate meant sweet music. These days, as everyone knows, it means something else. WATERGATE, and the complex so named, has inspired its own film genre.
Movies that sketch the scandal include Blind Ambition, John Dean's made-for-TV story; Born Again, the saga of Nixon consigliere Charles Colson, and, lest we forget, All the President's Men. The first two feature spots in Virginia. You can see Dean's house in Blind Ambition at 100 PRINCESS STREET in Alexandria, not far from the real McCoy. And the 14th-floor balcony of the SHERATON NATIONAL'S Presidential Suite, Columbia Pike and Washington Boulevard in Arlington, affords Colson, played by Dean Jones, a chance to think deep thoughts while savoring the capital's vistas.
It's no trouble finding THE WASHINGTON POST, whose newsroom was copied down to the last cigarette butt on two Hollywood soundstages for All The President's Men. It's a cinch hitting on Webster House, at 1718 P STREET NW, where Robert Redford, as Bob Woodward, uses a potted plant to signal sources from his terrace. And it's only slightly harder to come by CREEP treasurer Hugh Sloan's place, 7022 ALICENT COURT in McLean's Stoneleigh townhouse development, where Redford and Dustin Hoffman, as Carl Bernstein, like to lurk in the bushes. But where's the famous Deep THROAT GARAGE? If you go to the Japanese Steak House at 1701 Fort Myer Drive in Arlington, and stare directly across the street, there it'll be, marked Metro Park, near the corner of FORT MYER DRIVE & Wilson BOULEVARD.
That's only in the movie, of course.