AP NEWS
Related topics

Iowa Town Marks Films Anniversary

September 27, 1999

GREENFIELD, Iowa (AP) _ Thirty years later, people here are still excited about going cold turkey.

``It was good for Greenfield,″ said Dale Yount, who was mayor of this small southwestern Iowa town in 1969 when it provided the backdrop for a Hollywood film by Norman Lear.

``Cold Turkey″ told the fictitious story of a town’s crusade to stop smoking in order to win $25 million.

On Saturday, Greenfield celebrated the 30th anniversary of the movie’s filming. Greenfield, population 2,000, is about 50 miles southwest of Des Moines.

A crowd of about 1,200 people _ many of them wearing ``Cold Turkey″ buttons and T-shirts _ lined a parade route in the town. Greenfield’s movie theater replayed the film four times during the day and not a cigarette could be found on the warm, sun-splashed day.

Lear, who wrote, directed and produced the movie, was in town for the festivities, along with some of the cast: Dick Van Dyke, Jean Stapleton and Tom Poston.

``Iowa and Greenfield could not have been warmer. This is a very huggable community. I’ve always divided people into wets and drys. Drys don’t hug well,″ Lear said Saturday. ``Greenfield and Iowa _ they are wet people.″

Greenfield became Eagle Rock, Iowa, for the movie. As the story goes, the town had been in a steady decline ever since a nearby military base closed. An Air Force official offered the town a deal: Fix up Eagle Rock, give it better schools, stores and hospitals, and the Pentagon would get a weapons manufacturing plant to move there and bring some life back to the depressed burg.

The situation seemed hopeless until the Rev. Clayton Brooks, played by Van Dyke, heard of a tobacco company’s publicity stunt: Any town whose entire population could quit smoking for a month would win $25 million.

Lear’s movie left the message that sometimes what goes into people’s lungs is less important than what comes out of their hearts.

``The funny thing is, it’s more timely today than it was then, that movie,″ Van Dyke said. ``I think Norman was ahead of his time in predicting what was going to happen.″

Debby Manning grew up in Greenfield and at age 17, was cast as a picketer in the movie. She remembers holding up a sign reading, ``Help save us from ourselves″ and earning $210 for an hour’s work.

The ``Cold Turkey″ experience gave Lear the confidence he needed to produce one of the most influential television programs to ever hit the American airwaves _ ``All in the Family.″

Network executives were concerned that the tale of a grouchy bigot and his dingbat wife wouldn’t play well in the country, where they thought the masses weren’t astute enough to get the humor. But Lear knew better.

``Filming ‘Cold Turkey’ in America’s heartland taught me a lot about how smart and sophisticated the so-called ‘silent majority’ really was, and laid the foundation for the television shows that I created in the 1970s,″ Lear said.

Saturday’s festivities ended with a bonfire fueled by cigarette cartons and a ceremony for some 20 townspeople who gave up smoking for good during the filming.

``I think it’s wonderful that you’re burning up those cigarettes,″ Stapleton said. ``Young people take notice. Don’t ever start.″

Although none of the actors or Lear smoke now, they admitted that the vice was hard to kick.

``It took me six years after being here to quit smoking, but you stopped right away, didn’t you Norman?″ Van Dyke asked Lear during a news conference.

``I stopped on the plane home _ cold turkey,″ Lear said.

``Oh, I was never able to do that. I was wearing the patch and chewing the gum,″ Van Dyke quipped.

AP RADIO
Update hourly