CLARIFICATION: A recent article about the filming in Richmond of a television movie reported that Leo Frank was convicted in Atlanta in 1913 of murdering a 13-year-old girl, that his death sentence was commuted and that he was hanged by a mob in l915. In 1982, a witness in the Frank prosecution told a Nashville newspaper that he was convinced Frank was innocent of the murder. In 1983 the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles declined a request to declare Frank innocent. He received a pardon posthumously last year. (Published 7/9/87)
RICHMOND -- The crowd outside the statehouse chanted "Lynch him, lynch him," and called out ethnic epithets.
The scene was not from the old days in the Deep South, but from an upcoming television miniseries, "The Ballad of Mary Phagan," which has been filming in Richmond for two months.
The true-life drama is set in Atlanta in 1915, but location manager Fred Styles recommended modern-day Richmond for the filming because he found that the former capital of the Confederacy offered "a bigger variety and scope of architecture, and had cared more for restoration" than had Atlanta or other southern cities that were considered.
The movie, which stars Jack Lemmon and has Gov. Gerald L. Baliles in a bit part, has used 63 locations here, including the governor's office and mansion, state legislative chambers, private homes, turn-of-the-century office buildings and abandoned tobacco warehouses.
Although its location played no part in the selection, Richmond is convenient for producer George Stevens Jr., who lives in Georgetown, and two of the show's leading actors: Robert Prosky, an Arena Stage favorite, and Charles Dutton, a Tony Award winner from Baltimore.
"Mary Phagan" is based on the 1913 case of a Jewish businessman, Leo Frank (played by Peter Gallagher), who was convicted of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan (Wendy Cooke), an employe in his Atlanta pencil factory. Frank's death sentence was commuted by Georgia Gov. John M. Slaton (Lemmon), but an anti-Semitic mob broke into prison in 1915 and lynched Frank.
Filming of the drama, which NBC will televise on two nights in the winter, culminates a five-year project of Stevens and director Billy Hale, who said he "visualized some of the scenes" when the two men visited Richmond in 1982 while they were writing the script.
With a budget of $7.5 million, at least $2 million of which is being spent in Richmond, "Mary Phagan" is the most successful result of an aggressive marketing campaign by the state to tap the $1 billion-a-year business of shooting movies on location.
In the last six years, movie companies have spent more than $16 million in Virginia, according to Andrew D. Spaulding, the 29-year-old Fairfax native who is director of the state's film office.
"Virginia sells well because of its beauty and richness of history," said Spaulding, who serves as the in-state liaison with local officials and residents after a site is picked.
A movie production company "comes in like a bull in a china shop, and a lot of things get broken," he said. "Traffic may be rerouted; people are late for work and lose their favorite parking spots."
"But every metropolitan area in the state is now attuned to the benefits" of a movie, Spaulding said, with Richmond "the most aggressive."
"It's very good for the economy of the city, and for us," said Stevens, who said shooting on location is less costly and more realistic than building sets in Hollywood.
Once on the scene, production companies pay their own way. They reimburse a city for the time that police are detailed to the set, and in period shows such as "Mary Phagan" they cover the costs of removing modern distractions such as parking meters, signs and lights.
The normal frantic pace of film production -- 12- to 16-hour days, six days a week -- means that most of the cast and crew remains on location from start to finish.
So, in addition to the services directly related to making a film -- hiring carpenters and electricians and renting everything from antique cars to trained rats -- the cast and crew contribute to the economy of the city by using its restaurants, bars, stores and hotels.
Since arriving in early May, for example, Lemmon has flown home to California only once, and his wife Felicia and daughter Courtney, 21, have visited him here.
"Actors are in mortal fear of losing a part," Lemmon laughed, explaining why he spends so much time on the set or in a nearby mobile home. "I want to stay in the feel of it. I'm thinking about it all the time."
Sipping a drink from a plastic "Richmond" cup, Lemmon praised "the complete absence of big-city pressure" in the Virginia capital, which he said was a combination of "laid back and gregarious."
A big star in town attracts lots of attention -- residents of one block had flags designed with a lemon that read "Hi Jack" in a bid to get him to accept a dinner invitation -- but Lemmon turns down nearly all invitations.
"Those things are tiring," he explained. "When I'm not on the set, I want to relax, instead of having to be 'on.' "
Lemmon had a piano put into his room at the Hyatt, where he composes ditties, and has ventured out to play golf a few times, including at the Country Club of Virginia, where he said "the smell of old money comes through the woods."
"Mary Phagan" has a cast and crew of 120, not counting hundreds of extras who swelter in period costumes for $30 a day and a chance to be seen on network television. The movie features 72 speaking parts, including one line -- "Sir, I'm from Virginia and I protest" -- spoken by Baliles in his cinematic debut.
As a member of the General Assembly in 1980, Baliles sponsored the legislation creating the state's film office. After taking office as governor last year, he doubled the film commission's budget, to $200,000 annually, and last summer hosted a reception in Beverly Hills for members of the motion picture and television industry.
Baliles told his Hollywood guests that while "I'm a fan of movies, I was impressed by the economics . . . the fact that producers leave as much as a third or half of their budgets in the localities where they shoot. That should be part of any state's economic development strategy."
The effort has paid off. Spaulding said the state is now part of a third tier of competitors, along with Maryland and the District of Columbia, behind the traditional front-runners of California and New York, and a second group that comprises Illinois, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas and North Carolina.
Spaulding said that when he made his first trip to Los Angeles on behalf of the state three years ago, he found that Virginia "had a positive image as a place to vacation, to send a kid to college, or even for a second home, but it was one of the last places anyone thought of for making films."
Part of the problem, he found, was that "the film business is stereotypical," and Virginia was "hard to peg. It didn't have a New York skyline, or western plains, or a Deep South feel."
To "get Virginia on the list," the state began advertising in Hollywood journals, and Spaulding and his two assistants took photographs of scenes around the state to show to location managers and producers. The film office also provides a number of free services, including use of a state police airplane or helicopter, to check out sites.
Spaulding's office now gets an average of one script a week to read for possible locations in the state, which has been picked for two dozen movies in the last five years, with Richmond and Northern Virginia the most popular locales.
Last summer, Francis Ford Coppola's "Garden of Stone," starring James Caan, Anjelica Huston and James Earl Jones, was filmed at Fort Myer, Arlington National Cemetery and Fort Belvoir; "Best Friends," which featured Goldie Hawn and Burt Reynolds, was shot at Tysons Corner and Arlington, and "George Washington," with Barry Bostwick in the title role, was recorded in Alexandria, Fredericksburg, Williamsburg and Yorktown.