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'Mothman' takes flight: Kittanning's brush with Hollywood ends

| Wednesday, March 28, 2001

KITTANNING: About five cars were floating in the river under the Kittanning Citizens Bridge on Tuesday night and another dangled from the side.

Rescue crews were on the scene, some members even laughing, but they were doing nothing to get the distressed vehicles out of the water.

That's because the cars were put in the water as part of a major scene in 'The Mothman Prophesies.'

The movie will wrap up filming in Kittanning today.

The movie stars Richard Gere as a Washington, D.C., reporter who quits his job to investigate a series of sightings in Point Pleasant, W.Va., that are rumored to be the mothman - a winged creature with fiery red eyes.

The mothman legend said that the creatures first appeared after the collapse of the Silver Bridge on Dec. 15, 1967, in which 46 people were killed.

Crews attempted to recreate that collapse using the Kittanning bridge.

'Let's just say it will be a mix of mechanical and digital features,' film publicist Michael Umble said.

Kittanning has stood in for Point Pleasant. Academy Award nominee Laura Linney plays a police officer. The movie also stars Alan Bates and Debra Messing of NBC-TV's 'Will and Grace,' who plays Gere's wife.

Umble said about 300 people were used in Tuesday's scene. The group represented Hollywood talent mixed with aspiring local actors and extras.

Rescue workers enjoy roles

Steve Neely and Scott Kline of Kittanning Volunteer Hose Company No. 6 strapped on their wet suits to take part in the film. The two men, rescue divers in real life, were enlisted by the producers to pull bodies from the water.

The 'bodies' actually were a group of dummies, lying patiently in the grass waiting to be thrown into the cold, murky river.

The men were unsure how long they would have to be in the cold water, but Kline said for the most part the wet suits keep them warm.

'The only thing that gets cold is your face,' he said. 'It's like having the worst ice cream headache I've ever had.'

A crowd of more than 100 people lined Market Street to watch the filming. Many probably wished they had a flask, or at least a cup of hot chocolate as temperatures dipped below 20 degrees.

The cold temperatures weren't enough to chill the spirits of most. Carol Delp of Cadogan said she has kept track of the movie from the time crews arrived in Kittanning.

Filming of 'The Mothman Prophecies' has given the small town more than its 15 minutes of fame.

But aside from minor filming after today, crews will be heading back to Pittsburgh and the area through the end of April.

Kittanning has not been the same since film makers announced their decision to film. It's been Christmas throughout the borough as storefronts and the Armstrong County Courthouse were transformed into stores for the movie.

Filming through the days and, at times nights, has detoured traffic around the bridge for more than two weeks.

'This is pretty exciting,' Delp said laughing. The town will return to its normal quiet self in the upcoming days, and Delp will miss the film crews.

'It's been worth every minute of it,' she said.

Maureen Szymanski of Ford City agrees. She was on scene because one of her friends, Margie Meyer, was cast as an extra.

Meyer played a bridge-collapse survivor. Szymanski said she doesn't think the filming has caused too much of an inconvenience.

She would like to see another movie come to the area. 'Next time I would sign up for it,' she said.

Owner of Jenn's Used Book Den, Jennifer Whiteford, said it will be good and bad when the movie crews leave town.

'I've been happy with it (even though) it may have hurt business a little bit,' she said.

But it will be nice to see things return to normal, she said.

Umble said the town has been more than cooperative. 'This community has been great,' he said. 'Beyond my wildest dreams.'

In most towns when a movie is filmed, he said the excitement wears off after a few days and people grow tired. But he said that hasn't been the case in Kittanning.

Filming might end today, but Umble said it will be several weeks before everything is packed up. The film will wrap up in Pittsburgh in the next three weeks, he said.

It's unclear whether or not Gere or any other stars of the movie will make a farewell appearance.

Umble said Gere doesn't have any more days off while in the area, and he will start filming a movie in New York as soon as 'The Mothman Prophesies' wraps up.

And for more than 400 residents who want to see how their movie debuts in the Christmas scene at the courthouse turned out, Umble said it will be a wait until early next year - probably February - for the movie's release.

Jason Walker can be reached at

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