Philadelphia PA: Movie-Making Memories


In ads for the 2006 movie, “Annapolis”, the Navy midshipmen were all sharply lined up by an imposing building that resembled the Greek Parthenon. However, in my Navy career I visited the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, several times and had never seen such a structure there. Then recognition hit me.

I saw it was Founder’s Hall in Girard College, with familiar dorm buildings behind it. The school for fatherless boys in Philadelphia had been my home from age six to 17, and I spent many moments near or in the now-180-year-old building. The makers of the movie had decided that filming at Girard College was cheaper and less restrictive than doing it at the real Naval Academy in Maryland.

Unfortunately, the movie got lousy reviews, never won any awards and had only a brief run on the big screens. I’ve seen it several times on video since, if only to once again view familiar scenes of Founder’s Hall, cadet drill field, athletic venues, school buildings, dorms and other familiar sights.

In the spring of 1951, I was a senior at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (now University of the Arts), and answered a call for students to sign up as extras for scenes of a big Cecil B. DeMille movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” 

When we arrived at the shooting location in South Philly, we were immediately assigned to the rope crew. We helped raise the  Big Top of the famous Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus.

We were in several scenes as we pulled the ropes to raise the enormous main tent. When that was done, we had extra scenes in the circus audience and as casual strollers outside gawking at the freak shows. Although we spent a fun day there, we never got to see the big stars, because our footage was just background scenes. 

Of course, possibly the most popular film episode shot in my home town was the original “Rocky” in 1975, as well as its many sequels.  I felt pride as Rocky ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum, my college Alma Mater. I also enjoyed the scenes of Rocky’s early morning runs along the Italian Market stalls on Delaware Avenue in South Philly.

Other films made in the city include “Trading Places”, made in 1983. Some scenes from the 1972 musical, “1776” were shot at Independence Hall at 5th and Chestnut Streets. The 1993 movie, “Philadelphia” showed various familiar locations, including City Hall.

In the past century, there have been hundreds of movies filmed in my home town. Producers may right now be somewhere around Broad and Market Streets, scouting locations for the next starring role of the City of Brotherly Love. 

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