Sports Movie History: What Do Slap Shot and All the Right Moves Have in Common?
The answer to the question posed in the headline can best be answered with a where instead of a what. So where do Slap Shot and All the Right Moves have in common?
I have been a Johnstown native for the duration of my 21 years on this Earth, so I'd like to consider myself a bit of an expert on the area.
My house is almost exactly 63 miles east of Pittsburgh and about eight miles northeast of the heart of the city of Johnstown.
Historically, Johnstown and the surrounding areas were famous for four things—floods, steel, coal, and the world's steepest vehicular inclined plane.
I know what you're thinking—how do we contain our boastfulness?
While that might be a legitimate question, you might want to hold your tongue before posing it to an Old-Timer of the Johnstown area. The people of the city took great pride in their work and their ability to rebuild after their 119-year history was wiped out by the Great Flood of 1889.
In 1936, a smaller flood event shook the city once again, and yet another event followed in 1977. With each new flood came new adversity, with which came a renewed passion for the history of the city.
Aside from the last major flood in Johnstown's history, the year 1977 was significant for another, very different reason as well.
Arguably the greatest hockey film of all time, Slap Shot, was filmed in Johnstown in 1977.
The film was based on a book written by Nancy Dowd, which was based on her brother Ned Dowd's experiences in the United States' minor league hockey system during the 1970s.
Legend has it (it's not exactly "legend" per say, but we Johnstown-ers like to hold on to every little bit of glamour surrounding the movie) that while Ned Dowd was playing for the Johnstown Jets, a member of the North American Hockey League, the team was nearing bankruptcy and was put up for sale by the owners.
Upon hearing the news, Ned called his sister Nancy an explained the situation to her. Nancy decided, for whatever reason, to move to the Johnstown area, where she would ultimately be inspired to write the book.
The book/movie version of the Johnstown Jets became the Charleston Chiefs, a perennial loser facing financial trouble due to the closing of the mills in town.
The late Paul Newman starred in the film as Reggie Dunlop, the grizzled veteran player-coach of the Chiefs.
Ned Dowd landed himself a role in the movie as the goon of an opposing team, Ogie Ogilthorpe.
Perhaps the most entertaining scenes in the movie included the Hanson Brothers. The Hansons in the movie were actually based on three real-life brothers who played with Dowd for the Johnstown Jets at the time the book was written, the Carlson Brothers.
Beleive it or not, some of the outrageous on-ice antics from the movie were actually based on real occurrences during Chiefs' games.
Jeff and Steve Carlson played the role of their Hanson brother counterparts in the movie, but the third brother, Jack Carlson had been called up to the WHA before filming began and was replaced by professional actor Jerry Houser, to complete the Hanson trio.
If you've never seen Slap Shot, rent it immediately. Not only is it one of the most hilariously funny movies you will ever watch, it is a true American classic, filmed in a classic American city.
Slap Shot was released in 1977, the same year that the Johnstown Jets, and the NAHL folded. The city would be without a hockey team until 1988, when the All-American Hockey League granted Johnstown a minor league hockey team.
The massive success and popularity of Slap Shot within the city inspired the new owners to name their team after their big screen inspirations, and thus the real Johnstown Chiefs were born.
The Johnstown Chiefs are still around today, as the East Coast Hockey League affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In 2002, Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice was released as a sequel to the original version. It was quite possibly one of the worst sequels since Rocky V, and was simply cast aside as a failed attempt at a sequel to the classical original version of the film.
So, 1977 was a great year for Johnstown, well aside from the flood anyway, but where were you in 1983? I wasn't even alive.
In 1983, Hollywood came to Johnstown for the second time in less than a decade. All the Right Moves, which starred a much younger, much less Scientological Tom Cruise, Craig Nelson and Lea Thompson.
Cruise played Steffen Djordjevic, a high school football player seeking a college scholarship as a way out of an economically-depressed town in Pennsylvania.
While All the Right Moves generally isn't as recognizable as Slap Shot, it is still a great movie. It conveys the struggles of a middle-class American kid who was dependent on his mill worker father during adolescence.
All the Right Moves might be more recognizable as the film in which Tom Cruise reveals a little full frontal nudity during a sex scene with Lea Thompson.
Many of the in-game scenes from the movie were shot at Ferndale High School, located in Johnstown. The black and gold colors of the Ferndale Yellow Jackets inspired the same color of the Ampipe football team in the movie.
Another interesting fact about the movie was that director Michael Chapman asked Cruise and Thompson to go undercover for awhile before they began shooting the film. Both actors were instructed to attend a random high school in the area, to remember what it was like to be in high school.
Each chose a different school, but Cruise was recognized after just one day. Thompson, on the other hand, attended her school for four days, was asked out by many guys, and was even caught smoking, at which time she was forced to disclose her identity.
Cruise's home in the film was actually in Conemaugh, a small suburb of downtown Johnstown. The house used in the film was located on Second Street, which was two blocks away from the house my dad grew up in.
My grandfather was still living on Main Street at the time the movie was being shot, and he has told me that everyone in the town was there watching, people took off work, the whole city practically shut down.
A girl my dad attended high school with can be seen in the back seat of the car that Cruise hops into during one scene. The girl, now a woman, is mentally retarded, which I thought showed a great deal about the character of Tom Cruise, the director, producer, and everyone else involved with the production and casting of the film.
My dad asked his friend how she became the lucky lady that got to ride with Cruise. Her response was, "It was the best time to go for a walk. I couldn't believe I met Tom Cruise."
Slap Shot and All the Right Moves might not have won any Academy Awards—then again they might have, and I just don't know about it—but they offered the small city of Johnstown, and its hard working people a chance to be seen by the rest of the country. A chance that for most people doesn't happen in a lifetime—let alone twice in less than a decade.
So the next time you are watching a classic sports movie, do some research on it, see where it was filmed. You might be surprised to learn that some of your favorite sports classics might have been filmed right in your own back yard.
When Paul Newman passed about a month back, I felt a little piece of myself, of my own history die with him. I did not have the pleasure of ever meeting Mr. Newman, but the kind words he offered about the people of Johnstown and the city in which they lived will stick with me for the rest of my life.
So I'll leave you with a final farewell to a man that Johnstown-ers will always feel a special closeness to and affection for, a man who uttered the timeless words "Gloves off, stick down, no warning, he challenged the Chiefs," a man that we have come to know and love since he inhabited our small city in western Pennsylvania over 30 years ago.
A man that we refer to simply as "Reg".
You can check out the full article, with pictures, on Eric's blog, Experiencing the Evolution.
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