Mary Platzke's house has a character that only Ocean City could provide: Trimper's aqua blue Water Flume towers above the back yard, a mere splash from her bedroom window, spilling summer night squeals into her seaside dreams.
But shining onto her yellow aluminum siding along with the sun this summer will be the klieg lights of cinematic celebrity. The little house on South Division Street stars as Sissy Spacek's family home in Columbia Pictures' "Violets Are Blue," an Eastern Shore version of "The Turning Point" set here in the queen city of Skee Ball and the "Why Be Normal" T-shirt.
"You know what I can do now?" laughs Platzke, a 34-year-old brunet with a yellow Pinto that matches her house. "I can charge people 50 cents to have their picture taken on my porch!"
Fame is stalking Ocean City as the movie opens in Washington today. Memorial Day and the opening of Beach Season lie barely a month away and already Hollywood has descended here in the shadow of the Sooper Jet and Tilt-a-Whirl in the form of a black-tie (optional) gala premiere April 13 at the Sun and Surf Cinemas. Tickets were $40. Platzke didn't go.
Instead, she watched the evening news on which, she learned, the film's audience was a virtual Who's Who of Ocean City, more concerned with the scenery than the stars.
Platzke laughs again. "How tacky! All these people from Ocean City applauding the Route 50 bridge and the boardwalk!"
It was not the most auspicious premiere. Rain drenched the resort that promises "Seashore Hospitality" and "a great vacation of sun, surf, sand and fishing."
Past Dunkin' Donuts, Dip 'n Donuts and Mister Donut, all the way up Coastal Highway, the moviegoers drove to the gala after the premiere at the Carousel Hotel that Bobby Baker built. It took a week and a half to melt the 7 1/2-inch-thick layer of ice on the Carousel's indoor ice skating rink. The hotel began the melt on April Fool's Day and by premiere time the rink had become extra floor space for the crowd.
For 1,300 guests, including Spacek, Jack Fisk (Spacek's husband and "Violets Are Blue" director) and Gov. Harry Hughes, the hotel had 65 feet of red carpet, 700 pounds of roast beef, 100 pounds of Maryland crab, 350 pounds of shrimp, 4,000 strawberries, 30 pounds of chocolate, and 100 magnums of champagne.
The Columbia Pictures people, says Tim Meagher, the hotel's public relations director, had thought, "Oh! A little town is going to throw a hokey party." But that's not what the Carousel had in mind.
Little town? Hokey?
Ellen Trader, the hotel's food and beverage manager, puts Ocean City's detractors in their place: "When people talk about that they're usually here. So, hey, if it's that bad, why are they here?"
Off season or at the peak of summer, Ocean City can't commit itself to being just Ocean City. Ocean City would rather be somewhere else. How else to explain the Nassau Motel, Safari Motel, Shangri-La Motel, Antigua, French Quarter Motel, Saint Tropez, Chalet Motel & Apts., Riviera Motel, Miami Court motel, Atlantis, The Rainbow, Babylonia and Pyramid condominia?
Even if it's plain old Ocean City, it's still a state of mind. In the rain people wear sunglasses; in midwinter temperatures of 45 degrees they wear Hawaiian shorts and, perhaps, a tuxedo jacket.
One reliable key to Ocean City's uncertain identity is T-shirts. Succinctly philosophical and conveniently portable, T-shirt slogans should be studied. And in Ocean City one slogan, above all others, should be studied. It dominates the boardwalk and echoes from T-shirt stand to T-shirt stand, on sale and off, from small to extra-large.
"Why be normal," it asks. Or maybe states, since there are no question marks. Why be normal.
Even the English language has a hard time approaching normality in O.C. Letters of the alphabet disappear like youngsters in a game of hide and seek. And in this resortland becomes 'n'; night becomes nite; and you can have it all (even gold'n pancakes) while-u-wait.
History isn't. In Ocean City Patrick Henry is a Hero-of-the-Revolution Doll in a dusty cardboard box with a cellophane window on a ledge in the Sportland Arcade. The Revolutionary hero costs 20 coupons. And the coupons can be earned by playing Skee Ball: A score of 450 brings four coupons. In the culture of Ocean City, Patrick Henry boils down to a five-game roll in an arcade on the boardwalk.
At the premiere, Ocean City stared at the screen like a teen-ager scrutinizing a mirror.
Oh, look! There's Assateague; there was the Matterhorn ride; there was the Talbot Street Cafe; there were the bumper cars; and there were the people -- there was the colorful throng of summering humanity: on the boardwalk, on the beach, in the water, at the bar.
The audience sat motionless and silent through even the credits. "Directed by . . . Casting by . . . 2nd Unit Photography . . . Boom Operator . . . Leadman . . . Dolly Grip . . . Wrangler . . . Color Timing . . . Opticals . . . "
And then it happened, right after Wayne Fitzgerald received credit for "Title and Montage Design." There it was: "Special Thanks to . . . The State of Maryland, The Late, Great Mayor Harry Kelley and The People of Ocean City."
It was the best credit that Ocean City ever saw.
Monday morning after the world premiere, John and Mary Stringer and Hershey, their miniature poodle, drive around town in their Buick Regal. Hershey "can't understand why we are in and out of the car so much," says Mary Stringer, animated in her fuchsia running suit.
But that's simple.
The Stringers live in Beltsville and have a condo here on 32nd Street where they spend each summer. Naturally, they were at the world premiere of "Violets Are Blue." The event, says Mary Stringer, "was great. I have been coming to Ocean City since the '40s, so [watching the movie] was like reliving those earlier years.
They want to remember the premiere and the whole "Violets Are Blue" experience, so they've been aiming their Minolta at Ocean City: "We have been taking pictures for our personal scrapbook of some of the scenes that were in the movie."
They'll have shots of the Sun and Surf Theater, the Matterhorn, the yellow house on South Division Street, the tackle shop, the Oceanic Pier.
"John and I were so busy trying to recognize the scenes and the background and some of the people that we knew were supposed to be in the show . . . I didn't really concentrate on the movie the way you would when you usually go to the theater. So next time I go it will be strictly to see the movie."
Marykay Powell went to the world premiere and for the umpteenth time she watched "Violets Are Blue," the movie she produced.
"It was so much fun to sit with the people of Ocean City," says Powell. "Right from the start, where it says Ocean City, Maryland, they went crazy."
Powell grew up in Baltimore and went down to Ocean City with her family for a week each summer. She worked as a waitress at the Majestic Hotel one summer and even "got fired," she says, from a department store on the boardwalk. "Whenever I was here . . . I always was inspired to take pictures . . . Ocean City is very visual."
Her insistence that "Violets Are Blue" be filmed in Ocean City was "not so much because I had lived here or worked here, but because I wanted a place that on the screen would say to an audience instantly: 'Imagine that this is home.' "
Powell loves the "honky-tonk" Ocean City: "That's what I loved about [Spacek's character] Gussie's house being right in the middle of the honky-tonk part. In her house you can constantly hear the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel. You can imagine that she grew up with that."
He's a lawyer. He's a star. He's Fred Baker, the extra.
"I had heard that the amusement park scene had been cut to just a few seconds, so I fully expected I would have ended up on the cutting room floor. I was kind of excited that I made it," Baker says.
The trick to finding yourself in a crowd, even a "Violets Are Blue" crowd, is standing out: "I remembered what shirt I was wearing -- kind of a bright-colored pink and blue and yellow plaid short-sleeved shirt. I picked, like, an obnoxious shirt to wear because I thought that way I'll know what I'm looking for."
He worked for about 12 hours one night, called in sick the next day, collected a $50 paycheck from Columbia Pictures and spent $40 of it to attend the premiere and gala.
Chris (19), Melvin (20), John (age withheld) and Gary (18) roar around Ocean City in a Renegade CJ7 Jeep with oversized tires and a Coca-Cola bottle opener on the front bumper. They have no interest in "Violets Are Blue."
If there's a movie to be made in Ocean City, these guys think it should be about them and the fun they have in O.C. They are particularly proud of feeding Alka-Seltzer to the sea gulls. "They blow up 'cause they can't excrete gases. We're cruel," Gary says.
Oh, and they like to pour Mr. Bubble ("It's gotta be Mr. Bubble") into the Exxon station's fountain and watch the frothy bubbles spill into the street.
"As much as we've done for this place, it's about time we got recognized . . . Hey, we're the guys that drive down the streets and keep them pumpin'," says Chris.
Two of the best-contained shrieks at the 6 o'clock screening of "Violets Are Blue" came from 19-year-old Angela Stanton and her mother Marsha. The Stantons saw themselves on film, shook their fluffy brunet curls with surprise and cooed.
"Everyone was, like, 'Angela, you won't be in it!' " Angela Stanton says. "It was really fun to see me in it. I didn't think I would be in it, but I was."
Columbia Pictures needed 2,000 extras and 6,000 people applied, including Angela Stanton. "They called me up one day and said, 'We need you on the set tomorrow. Be there at 6:30 in the morning.' I thought, 'Oh God, how am I going to get up?' But I got up.
"I didn't know what to bring. They didn't tell you anything. It was a beach scene, so people brought beach balls, chairs and everything . . . The first shot, it was 8:30 in the morning and they wanted everybody to be drinking beer! At 8:30 in the morning! Budweiser! They had a big case of Bud. And Sissy was cooking on a grill."
Stanton worked two days, earned $174 and got to be in the movies -- right in the front of a crowd scene, "clapping and everything," she says.
But the movie wasn't quite what she expected. "I thought it was going to be a lot of Ocean City scenes," she says, "whereas it was more of a love story than anything else. I didn't think it was a good movie . . . If I were living out of town, I would go see the movie, but it wouldn't bring me to Ocean City.
"The real thing is what Sissy was saying: that she didn't belong in Ocean City, like Kevin Kline did. That's the way I am. I'm lookin for so many ways to get out. I know I don't belong here. It's just like she said. It was so real. I was going, 'Mom, that's how I feel.' . . . I need to go far away. Like Sissy went to Paris, I need to go somewhere like that. Australia or something."
Stanton is a sophomore at the University of Delaware, and that, she says, is not far enough.
Ocean City is an exercise in extremes.
In the winter months, a person rattles around the landscape like a penny in a beer can. It's a ghost town of flickering marquees, empty municipal buses and the tiny idiosyncrasies of a vacant carnival.
But come summer the off-season urban skeleton gains weight, person by person. Hundreds of thousands of sun worshipers storm across the sandy spit of land with terry cloth towels, boogie boards and Coppertone. Each pound of flesh wants space on the beach; each pair of sneakered feet waits in line for fries and shakes; and each boom box blasts out additional decibels for the police and their noise meters to monitor.
Mayor Roland (Fish) Powell wants to get even more people into Ocean City, and hopes the movie will lure them in.
"Lord knows how many millions of dollars it will be worth in advertisement and free publicity," Powell says, walking up the steps of the Sun and Surf to the premiere. "We can always use a few more. There's expansion every year. More places. We want to welcome everybody to come back."
It's a sunny morning on the beach. The Kite Loft on the boardwalk has a timely gimmick: "Violets Are Blue and Kites Are Too." The Ocean Gallery, which specializes in seafaring baubles, offers a "Special 'Violets Are Blue' Weekend Sale."
And Isaac Clark, a small man of 55, walks the lower end of the beach with his "dynamic monaural" headphones and his 8000/D Series 2 Coinmaster metal detector.
"Today I put her on 'discrimination' and she won't pick up any pull tabs," Clark says, referring to his metal detector. Pull tabs are an electronic beachcomber's nightmare. If he doesn't switch on the "discrimination" function, Clark says, he would find 300 to 400 pull tabs a day.
"I wish I was down here the other day when the stars were here. I missed that one," Clark says. "They say there were over 2,000 people here. A lot of people can't afford to go in, but if you can just be around, you're part of it."
Clark settles down on the edge of the boardwalk, reflecting. The hoopla of the world premiere "does a lot for the community," he says. "To be honest, just to see a movie star -- that's exciting. A lot of people live all their life and don't see one."
Once Clark met Johnny Unitas, however.
"You can learn a lot about a community with a metal detector," he says. And what Clark has learned about Ocean City is this: "They use a lot of alcohol. You find the cans. They bury them in the sand, you get a loud reception, kick up one can and there's a dozen more. This place is fascinatin'."
Clark says that "on a Saturday or Sunday, in the summer, you'll see this beach loaded with metal detectors and you wonder, 'What do they find?' "
His bounty includes "a lot of junk": 75 matchbox cars ("I've got a habit of keeping the little cars"); a lot of pocket knives and cigarette lighters; a button from a German uniform; about 500 keys ("I just keep them. I'm not going to use them for anything"); 200 or 300 barrettes ("You know, they're not good for anything, but why leave them there?").
"Some people do this for a living. For the average person, it's just a way to pass the time. I'm just as satisfied if I go home with a penny."
It's an off-season morning in Ocean City and Tina Bryan has never even heard of "Violets Are Blue."
Wearing a red jogging suit and reading a paperback thriller ("Mad Blood"), she sits in the admission booth to the Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum. "It's kind of boring right now," she says. No one wants to see the Siamese lamb, the unfortunate boy who died of old age at only 7, and the four-eyed man.
Outside her booth, the taped voice of a nameless, disembodied man pours from a metal loudspeaker and swirls across the vacant beach, through the brisk wind and starched light:
. . . Freaks of nature all and all here . . . Don't worry about what to tell the folks back home, you'll be able to fill a book let alone a few post cards . . . fascinating facts and unbelievable oddities . . . Bring your cameras and come on along. See the amazing, the awesome spectacle of Ripley's Believe It or Not.
Isaac Clark and his metal detector are but a distant glint on the white sand and Tina Bryan turns to the next page of "Mad Blood."