Washington County author focuses on reel life for 2nd book
By Ron Paglia
Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
His passion for documenting the history of film and television production in the metropolitan Pittsburgh area – including the mid-Monongahela Valley – will continue to be a work in progress for John Tiech.
But Tiech, of Fallowfield Township, is determined to see it through.
That's evident with his second book on the subject in three years, “Pittsburgh Film and Television.”
“The books will never be fully completed, even though the first two offer an extensive overview of our local film history,” Tiech said. “They are constantly making new movies and television shows in Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, so there is a never ending source of material for publication.”
Tiech's second endeavor is designed to be a companion piece to “Pittsburgh Film History” (subtitled On Set In The Steel City), which he authored in 2012.
“It is more of a pictorial representation with a few hundred photos that didn't appear in the first book,” said Tiech, an adjunct professor of writing at Westmoreland County Community College in Youngwood and Waynesburg University.
Among the pictures in the new book are those of the former Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. plant in Monessen, where scenes for the movie “Robocop” were shot in 1986, and buildings along Sixth Street in Monessen, where filming took place for the 1993 mystery, “Striking Distance,” with Bruce Willis in the lead.
There also are several pictures of the Layton and Perryopolis areas used as settings for the highly acclaimed 1991 thriller, “The Silence of the Lambs.”
Tiech's photographs of the former Western Center state hospital and reform school (aka Morganza) near Canonsburg, which also was used in “The Silence of the Lambs,” also draw attention in the new book.
“I received permission from the state to take myriad photos before the administration building was razed,” he recalled. “It was an eerie feeling walking the grounds of Western Center and going through the buildings. Everyone has heard stories about Morganza and the thousands of people who were patients at the state hospital. You could almost sense the presence of the spirits of those people there.”
The Mon Valley also gets into the act in “Pittsburgh Film and Television” with a photo of actress Sharon Stone on the set of “Diabolique,” a 1995 film produced, in part, in Lower Speers.
“I never cease to be amazed at how many local people have these wonderful set and location pictures somewhere in their homes,” Tiech said. “It's a matter of finding them and preserving them in this format. It's quite interesting to talk with these people and getting first- hand accounts of the production process as they remember it.”
Tiech, 31, a 2000 graduate of Charleroi Area High School, followed that pattern in compiling chapters on Establishing Film in Pittsburgh, Pioneering Pittsburgh Television, Location Filmmaking in Pittsburgh and Behind The Scenes of Modern Pittsburgh Filmmaking in his second book.
Tiech, the son of John and Noreen Tiech of Fallowfield Township, earned his bachelor of science in education and master's in teaching degrees at California University of Pennsylvania. His decision to become a teacher was inspired by four educators who influenced his formative years – English teachers Julianna Van Arsdale and Judy Paglia at Charleroi Area High School and English professors James T. McVay and Alan Natali at Cal U.
Tiech's initial teaching job was a six-month assignment at his alma mater, Charleroi Area, where he was a tutor and alternative English instructor. He then taught in the Charles County School System in Maryland to 2007 to 2011 before returning to the area to work at WCCC. He added the duties at Waynesburg University this school year.
When he isn't teaching, Tiech keeps busy with his pursuit of the history of filmmaking.
He directs a popular Facebook page, Hometown Hollywood, which has over 3,700 followers.
Tiech also is a co-founder and historian of the Greater Pittsburgh Entertainment Museum, a project planned for the venerable Hollywood Theatre in Dormont.
(Pittsburgh Film and Television — $21.99, Arcadia Publishing — is available at local book retailers including Walmart and online bookstores or through Arcadia Publishing at www.arcadiapublishing.com or 888-313-2665.)
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
He also plans to pursue digitization – possibly through grants — of the Pittsburgh Moving Picture Bulletin, a classic publication that made its debut on April 15, 1914 and is now located at the Heinz History Center.
“There's more than enough on the plate to keep me busy,” he said. “But I wouldn't want it any other way.”
“There are so many people to thank for their time and consideration – actors and actresses, production personnel, historians,” he said. “They were more than willing to welcome me with open arms and minds to help with my research over the past 12 years.”
“It certainly wasn't a one-man show, many people had a hand in creating this book and I remain deeply appreciative of them,” Tiech said.
“I've always enjoyed communications, English and creative writing,” he said “I also loved history but turning to English seemed like the perfect choice; it gave me the best of all worlds.”
“People from many parts of the country and abroad have responded to the Facebook site,” he said. “They provide a lot of interesting information and have been very receptive to our purpose.”
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