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Ah, the Glamour, the Stars, the Films; It's... Pittsburgh? By Dana Milbank

PITTSBURGH - Eileen and William Swazuk had to sleep in a hotel the night the vampire jumped off their roof. Ralph and Laura Horgan hardly slept at all the night Jimmy Hoffa appeared at their dorstep. And more than a few people around here may have lost some sleep over the three-story-high statue of Jesus that was erected in front of City Hall. But that's show biz. And this is Pittsburgh, Hollywood on the Monongahela River. Fleeing the hostility and the high cost of filming in Manhattan and Los Angeles, movie makers have shot 23 movies here in the past two years. Between 1980 and 1985, only one made-in-Pittsburgh movie was released. In 1990, according to Variety, more major motion pictures were made in Pennsylvania than in any state except California and New York. And the current crop is a far cry from 1979's 'The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.'

Stars for Breakfast
The city is star-struck. It gladly closed part of a downtown expressway for a day so Danny Divito and Jack Nicholson could film 'Hoffa,' snarling thousands of cars in a traffic jam. The City Council surrendered its chambers for the filming of 'Citizen Cohn'; a city official even emptied the flowerpot in his office so actor James Woods could use it as an ashtray. George Anderson, movie critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, says he's always getting calls from people 'to find out where they can see the stars.' Local TV stations sometimes report upcoming locations. 'It adds a little sparkle into their normally routine lives,' says Lew Borman, an aide to Mayor Sophie Masloff.

Stars are popping up everywhere: Maureen Stapleton in a mink coat, and Mr. CeVito dancing at the Metropol, a warehouse-turned-nightclub. Walter Matthau, Martin Sheen and Tim Robbins were all spied at different tables one morning for breakfast at the William Penn Hotel. And when Adrienne Barbeau went sunbathing in front of the Shadyside Inn, 'you could feel the building tip as all the guys ran to one side to watch,' owner Michael Plesset says.

But in a city where readers of Pittsburgh Magazine named Pizza Hut the best pizza in town and gave Chi-Chi's top billing for Mexican food, Hollywood types can get homesick. The 'Hoffa' crew bourght along its catering service from Los Angeles and feasts on lamb, jumbo shrimp and a big salad bar during its midnight 'lunch' breaks. Mr. Nicholson required a satellite hookup in his room at the Vista Hotel so he could watch the Los Angeles Lakers.

Hollywood likes Pittsburgh for a number of reasons. Doro Bachrach, who's producing 'Citizen Cohn,' about Roy Cohn and Sen. Joseph McCarthy, says Pittsburgh's diverse and often unmodernized architecture allows the city to Double for other places and times. It can pose as New York ('Citizen Cohn'), Washington ('Lorenzo's Oil,' with Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon) or even turn-of-the-century Los Angeles and Chicago ('Darrow,' an American Playhouse film).

Costs are cheaper here: The local crews are still largely nonunion despite Pittsburgh's labor movement roots. And Jodie Foster paid only $79 a night at the Shadyside Inn while filming 'The Silence of the Lambs.'

For New York and Los Angeles producers accustomed to being jeered and harassed by local crowds, Pittsburghers are refreshingly docile. Frank Pierson, director of 'Citizen Cohn,' says New York crowds have thrown things at him during filming, cheered during a shotgun scene and booed actors when a scene didn't work right. 'In Los Angeles and New York, at most of the places you want to work, you've used up your welcome,' he says.

Peter Haas, publicist for Hoffa, adds: 'In New York, you get, 'I'm walking through!' when you ask them not to walk on the set.' But not in this town. Mr. Haas says he watches the crowds here, and sees the same people gaping for six hours straight.

A Cult of Extras
The Pittsburgh Film Office, a state-funded agency that assists film makers, estimates the industry means $600,000 a week for the city- and while such 'economic impact' estimates are invariably inflated, the business has certainly been good for Anthony Stagno, who owns an Italian grocery. He rents antique cars from his collection to film makers for $150 a day, and acts as an extra for $50 a day. Many of the extras are former steel workers, he says: 'It's almost like a cult.'

There's a chance Pittsburgh's days in the spotlight are numbered. The frenzy of film making has turned some of the most popular buildings into film cliches. And the unions are moving in from the coasts: The International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees has quadrupled its membership here to 200 in the past two years. Meanwhile, other cities- Cincinnati, Cleveland and Chicago, for instance- are stepping up the competition.

And some Pittsburghers are beginning to get testy. Fred J. Limbach III, for one, has had his garage blocked once too often to worry about the financial benefits. 'People say, 'Well, I could show you figures,' ' He says, 'but that's not what you want to hear when it's one in the morning and there are five trucks out there.'

The Hoffa crew had to reschedule a 1,000-person mob scene in Chicago after H.J. Heinz Co. wouldn't let the crew use its Pittsburgh plant. The company said the filming would have stalled plans to open a $100 million baby food and soup factory. Mr. DeVito said at a press conference that he is 'never using ketchup again.'

Even Mayor Masloff, who likes sneaking onto the sets during filming at City Hall, turned down an acting role in 'The Bride in Black,' a 1990 TV movie staring Susan Lucci. Her office decided it wasn't appropriate for the city's first Jewish mayor to be filmed buying pork in a butcher shop.

Really Exciting
Other than that, though, it seems all of Pittsburgh's a stage. A dozen downtown businesses agreed to have their stores turned into ersatz porn shops for a week for the filming of 'Innocent Blood,' a vampire movie. Downtown office buildings more than once have turned all their lights on for skyline scenes. And the city allowed the huge Jesus statue to be put up last year for 'Lorenzo's Oil' despite the tender feelings remaining from a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling forbidding the county's Christmas creche.

At the Sqazuk's 125-year-old Victorian home on Pittsburgh's North Side, the 'Innocent Blood' film crew scratched walls, broke bricks on the building and cracked the bedroom ceiling. Yet Mrs. Swazuk, noting that she's being reimbursed for repairs, says she'd do it all again. 'It's really exciting,' she says. 'The inconvenience is worth the exposure.'

You'd think the Horgans would have had enough, after the 'Hoffa' crew's trucks rumbled down their street one night, draped cotton gauze all over buildings and blew confetti through the neighborhood to make a snow scene. The crew removed telephone poles, tramped through the Horgans apartment to place lights on the roof and kept the couple up until 7 a.m. filming just one scene.

But did Mr. Horgan mind? Not a bit. 'I would do it again in a heartbeat,' he says. 'It's kind of neat that this neighborhood will be forever on celluloid.'