Independence Day always brings back thoughts of my hometown. In publicity photos for the 2006 movie, “Annapolis”, midshipmen were all sharply lined up in front of an imposing building resembling the Parthenon in Athens. Hmmm. In my Navy career I visited the Naval Academy many times, and there was no such structure there.
Then reality hit me! How could I not recognize Founder’s Hall in Girard College? The school for fatherless boys in Philly was my home from age six to 17, and I spent lots of time near or in the imposing building.
The movie’s producers decided that filming some exterior scenes at Girard in Philly was cheaper than doing it at the real Naval Academy in Maryland. If interested in visiting Girard, it’s at 21st and Girard Avenue. The school’s beautifully historic campus was built in the early 1830s, founded by Philly millionaire Stephen Girard.
I was recruited to be in another Philly film. In 1950, Museum College of Art students were in scenes of a big Cecil B. DeMille movie, “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Our daily pay as film extras was $5 plus free lunch.
When we arrived where the now-demolished Veterans Stadium was at 3600 S. Broad Street, we were put to work on the rope crew. We helped to raise the Big Top tent for the famed Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus scenes.
All dusty and sweaty, we heaved and pulled the ropes of the enormous canvas. We then had some easier assignments posing as fans in the bleachers and as casual strollers gawking at side shows.
Probably the most Phillyish (is that a word?) film shot in City of Brotherly Love was “Rocky” in 1975, and its many sequels. It also involves personal memories. As a BFA grad of the Museum College, I felt pride when I saw Rocky run up the steps, then spin around on the plaza and raise his arms in a victory salute. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the most famous in the world, is at 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
I also enjoyed scenes of Rocky’s early morning runs along Delaware Avenue in South Philly, and through the picturesque Washington Avenue Italian open air market.
For 1983’s “Trading Places”, early scenes were in the posh Union League Club at Broad and Locust Streets. When hustler Eddie Murphy roams, he’s seen on Broad, Market and Chestnut Streets. Many interiors, supposedly of Philly business locales, were actually shot in the World Trade Center in New York City, doomed for terrorist destruction in 2001.
The 1972 musical “1776” featured Independence Hall at 5th and Chestnut Streets. The building has been faithfully maintained, and is a world-famed tourist destination. Just across the plaza, the original Liberty Bell dwells in its own glass house.
The 1993 movie, “Philadelphia” was filmed at various city locations. Tom Hanks and attorney Denzel Washington were in courtroom interiors and exteriors of City Hall, at Broad and Market Streets. Also there were scenes at the University of Pennsylvania, 34th and Chestnut Streets, and at the Spectrum Stadium on South Broad Street.
The 1940 movie, “The Philadelphia Story”, starred Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Its remake as a 1956 musical, “High Society”, starred Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly (native Philadelphian) and Bing Crosby.
Both movies were made in Hollywood. However, the story was about the wealthy Main Line suburbs, such as Bryn Mawr, Chestnut Hill, Wyncote and Narberth. All are several snooty miles and billions of inherited dollars west of downtown Philly.
Other films made in Philly include 1998 “The Sixth Sense”, 1981 “Blowout”, 1995 “Twelve Monkeys”, and “Beloved” in 1997. “Witness” filmed in 1985, had many early scenes in Philly’s main train station, at 30th and Market. It’s a nostalgic place from Navy days, when I returned after WWII and Korea service.
In the past century, hundreds of movies and TV programs were filmed in Philly. You can be sure producers are now somewhere around Broad and Market today, considering locations for the next starring role for the City of Brotherly Love.
When planning a visit to Philly, set a day on your itinerary to see all of its famous movie-making sites. And when you run up the steps of my alma mater, the Philly Museum of Art, wave your arms Rocky style. And be sure you have a selfie stick or someone nearby to catch the magic moment on video.