Matt Damon is surprised by the number of fans gathered to greet him.
Officer Bill Bendel was patrolling the corner of Ryder Road and Abbey Road in Munsey Park on Wednesday, Aug. 17, diverting cars from the set of The Good Shepherd. Excitement ran high with Matt Damon, Robert DeNiro and Angelina Jolie in the neighborhood. The movie chronicles the tumultuous early years of the CIA, thus is a period piece set in the '30s through the early 1960s, which explained the vintage cars parked behind orange cones along Manhasset Woods Road.
Filming began the week of August 18 and attracted an endless stream of onlookers hopeful of star sightings. On the first day of shooting the production managers had their work cut out keeping residents literally out of the picture because the local audience continuously crept forward until eventually yellow tape was necessary to set boundaries.
"It's a feeding frenzy out there" exclaimed one wide-eyed neighbor, "The paparazzi are literally in the bushes." Another noted the photographers hail from various agencies and "carry motor drives on their digital cameras equipped with huge telephoto lenses."
"This is a true community happening," one woman said breathlessly, "this is the most people I've seen in years." In agreement, her friend added, "People are coming out of the woodwork." On Monday afternoon the local ice cream truck discovered some steady business.
The story began two years ago when the location scout for the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, fell in love with Doris Dailey's house on Bellows Lane at the corner of Manhasset Woods Road. But Mrs. Daily, then 84 years old, was unwilling to leave her home for the duration of filming, and turned them down. Further complicating the deal, the Village of Munsey Park did not have a code in place that encompassed filming within the village.
Munsey Park Mayor Harry Nicolaides said remarkably he was contacted by a second location scout two years later representing a completely different movie company interested in the very same house. This go-round the village was prepared, local laws had been put in place two years earlier should the opportunity ever present itself again. Nicolaides said when Dailey communicated some interest, the village conferred with their attorney and insurance carrier, and informed the motion picture company of village requirements.
Ellen Dailey, one of Mrs. Daily's daughters, said "Mayor Nicolaides was very funny and told my mother she should play the lottery." Ellen added that, "the mayor, board and village staff have all been terrific." Doris Dailey, now 86 years old, confided, "this is a first for me. I turned them down two years ago, then was approached again." Still adamant in refusing to vacate her home, a compromise was struck which permitted the production company to use the Daily home to shoot predominately outdoor (and some foyer scenes) and the search was on for a home to shoot the interior scenes.
Fliers were placed in the mailboxes of houses that fit architecturally with the house on Bellows Road and caught everyone's attention because of the caliber of the stars - including Doreen and Vincent Stempion situated at the corner of Manhasset Woods Road and Park Avenue. Doreen said, "At first we dismissed the idea but eventually decided to give them a call. As a decorator I was interested in the process of creating a set in the home and I appreciated Robert DeNiro's efforts to keeps the film industry in New York." The crew wanted a house with a white brick exterior to match the Daily house but made an exception because they so loved the interior of the Stempion house. After shooting for a few days Doreen said she was "very impressed with the way they work. They never miss a beat."
Her neighbor agreed and praised the crew "for displaying award winning patience dealing with all the fanfare." The first night the cameras rolled at the Stempian house, she said, a large group of teenage girls gathered, lining the curb just waiting for that moment when Matt or Angelina might appear.
The most productive approach to glimpse the stars between takes was an ongoing topic of conversation. "The trick in all this star gazing," one decided, "is to show up at exactly the right moment as they arrive or leave the set." The "audience," stationed at both exits, was asked to quiet down during filming inside the house. Rampant rumors stirred the spectators until an actual sighting raised cheers from the crowd. Family pets came along too to see what the excitement was about.
Regina and Gene Papa were taking a stroll past the Stempion home and struck up a conversation with Rocco Curatolo, Robert DeNiro's chauffeur, who sought recommendations for a local restaurant with "some good Italian food." The Pappas suggested Café Continental on Northern Boulevard and Villa Milano, Gino's Pizza and Louie's Manhasset Restaurant, all on Plandome Road. Curatolo said his boss is very funny and on this particular job does not require bodyguards. Tara Thomas was one of the lucky ones who got DeNiro's autograph.
At various intervals the stars gave autographs to those who waited outside and on Thursday, Aug. 18, 12-year-old David Lawrence fearlessly walked over to Matt Damon to ask for an autograph. Damon asked whether Lawrence was a Mets or Yankees fan. When Lawrence replied that he favored the Yankees, Damon posed the question, "So what would you do if I gave you a Boston Red Sox hat?" Lawrence, who didn't realize Damon's loyality lies with the Sox, replied, "Burn it." Damon laughed. "He was actually really nice," Lawrence said. The next day, Damon remembered his young friend, saying, "David, what's up?" when he saw him.
Vintage cars were parked along Manhasset Woods Road because the movie is a period piece set in the '30s through 1961.
Lawrence returned to the set on Friday, this time asking Angelina Jolie for her autograph as she approached the crowd. "She signed my arm because I had no paper," he said.
The movie set spawned a mutual admiration society. Residents were bewitched by the stars while the crew was charmed by the area. "What a beautiful neighborhood" was heard so often it became the location mantra.
Nicolaides said all is going very smoothly in the village and to date he has had no complaints.
Robert A. Russell owns the house across from the Daily house on Bellows Lane, and said it is not an inconvenience at all. "It's fun," he said. "They had to make some changes to my house, for instance, the garage door was too wide, they did not have two car garages with only one door in the 1940s so they built a divider on mine.
Doris Dailey said she has lived in Manhasset almost 50 years, moving here around 1956, living first on Eakins Road then moving to Bellows Lane with her husband, who at one time was the mayor of Munsey Park. "In those days," she remembered, "that made me the first lady of Munsey Park." In her own right Mrs. Daily recalled she had been the president of the womens' club. Daily, in addition to living on a movie set, is the mother of six children, 13 grand-children and has "lost count of the greats." Her daughter Ellen said her mother is an interior designer by trade, having graduated from the New York School of Interior Design, and during her career had decorated the Cloud Club atop the Chrysler Building.
Just as Mrs. Dailey has watched the years slip by from her home on Bellows Lane, so too the years advance in The Good Shepherd. The movie crew removed the plantings from the front of her house and replanted younger shrubs. There are a few more stages wrapped in burlap, ready for planting, so as the characters mature, the landscape will keep pace.
In addition to the main stars William Hurt, John Turturro, Billy Crudup, Tammy Blanchard, Michael Gambon, Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton, and Kier Dullea appear in the movie. The filming ends Thursday, August 25, but the crew is scheduled to return in the future to capture a different season.
Anyone fortunate enough to have been in the right place at the right time and has a photograph of themselves with a star do e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org or place a copy in the drop box at the back counter of Raindew Family Stores for a future publication.