By Kelly Baker Staff Writer
Monday, April 23, 2007
Movie producer Philip Pitzer needed a Midwestern town and a well-known baseball great to finish the last scenes of his 3½ year movie project — a prequel to the 1969 cult classic "Easy Rider."
Pitzer found both on Monday when Hall of Famer Johnny Bench came to Springfield to shoot a scene in Pitzer's upcoming film "Scarlet Cross."
"I just happened to know of the stereotypical Midwestern town," Pitzer, of Aspen, said. "It's where I grew up."
On Monday, the Springfield native brought his cast and crew to Evans Stadium to film the fictional story of Peter Fonda's "Easy Rider" character Wyatt Williams in the years before he sought freedom on the back of a Harley.
After four years of litigating for sequel rights, Pitzer's independent film is scheduled to open around the country in September.
The movie will be told in "Forrest Gump" style, Pitzer said, with World War II veterans telling their stories in retrospect.
Monday's scene featured Wyatt's brother Virgil —a 1961 South High School baseball player who is being eyed by major league baseball scouts, played by Bench and Cincinnati restaurateur Jeff Ruby.
The experience was a first for Bench who played in every Cincinnati Reds game from 1968 to 1975. He retired in 1983 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989.
Bench arrived at the stadium around noon, under the radar screen of fans. As he exited the black limo, he quickly noticed a Yankees' ball cap worn by a crew member.
"Hey, the last time I saw that hat we swept you 2 and 0." Bench said referring to the 1976 World Series.
While he's logged more than 13,000 hours on television and radio, "Scarlet Cross" is Bench's first time on the big screen.
"I'm sure I'll just be background," Bench said, dressed in a lime green polo shirt, black pants and tennis shoes.
Pitzer asked Bench to play the part, not as himself, but as a 1960s scout who could capture the spirit of the game.
"And who better to do that than Johnny Bench?" Pitzer said.
In Philip Pitzer's version, "Easy Rider" character Wyatt Williams grows up in Springfield. "I had a charmed childhood here (in Springfield,)" Pitzer said. "It's always good to give back."
If the prequel does well, Pitzer plans to release the sequel in the summer of 2009 — the 40 year anniversary of the original film.
Local shots for "Scarlet Cross" included:
Bryce Hill Farms in Urbana
The home of local Dr. Charles Parsons
Cedar Bog In Urbana