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Ready for its closeup: Laurel in movies, TV

Ready for its closeup: Laurel in movies, TV
Victoria Tennant, Robert Mitchum and Hart Bochner film a scene at Tipton Airport in Fort Meade for the 1988 mini-series "War and Remembrance." (Laurel Leader File)

It’s surprising how many times over the years the Laurel area has played a role—or at least been mentioned—in movies and television. In this part 1, three areas are presented: movies and TV shows that mention Laurel, films and shows that were filmed here, and the only time Laurel hosted the world premiere of a movie.

In the 1957 film “The Deadly Mantis,” a scene takes place in Laurel. The plot of this horror movie is that a prehistoric praying mantis the size of Godzilla is freed from Artic ice. It heads south to warmer weather and, naturally, the Washington, D.C. monuments, eating people along the way. It’s the kind of movie that if you ask questions about the absurdity of the plot, you won’t enjoy it.

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Be that as it may, the hero, an Army colonel, is driving the heroine home after a long day of tracking the mantis when an announcement comes over the car radio:

‘We interrupt this program to bring you a news flash. A train wreck has been reported north of Laurel, Maryland, on U.S. Highway 1. The engine and five cars were overturned in what appears to have been a freak accident. We will bring you further details as they come in.’

Our heroes decide to investigate and drive to a railroad crossing, supposedly in Laurel, where a policeman tells them: ‘Sorry, Colonel, there’s been a train wreck. You’ll have to go back to Wisen Road. Take the detour to your left through Laurel.’

Of course, as they leave the scene of the wreckage, they don’t notice the HUGE MANTIS FOOTPRINT next to the train tracks. They drive to a traffic light with a sign that says “Washington” with an arrow pointing left, and “Laurel” and “Baltimore” with an arrow pointing right.

According to IMDB.com, the entire movie was filmed at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

On the small screen, in season 1, episode 9 of the Netflix series, “The Crown,” Queen Elizabeth, portrayed by actress Claire Foy, tells her horse trainer that, “We’ve been invited to the Laurel International.” It’s true that in 1954 Queen Elizabeth’s horse, Landau, was entered in the third Laurel International. The horse’s entry was a world-wide sensation, but, unfortunately, Landau finished last.

Jeff Krulik’s award-winning documentary “Led Zeppelin Played Here” explores the urban legend that the then-unknown band played a concert before 50 local fans at the Wheaton Youth Center in 1969. The film offers a glimpse into the local music scene in the late 1960s, and some of the people Krulik interviews recall the Laurel Pop Festival in 1969. “Led Zeppelin Played Here” has screened at film festivals around the country.

On Court TV, the documentary series, “The Investigators,” featured a new story each week. In season 7, episode 7 presented the bizarre true story of Dr. Alan Chmurny, a chemist who was convicted of assault for trying to poison a North Laurel woman. When Chmurny was convicted in a Howard County courtroom in Ellicott City, he swallowed a cyanide pill and died 20 hours later. The episode was titled “Mad Scientist.”

In 1988, Main Street was shut down for the filming of the Fox show "America's Most Wanted."
In 1988, Main Street was shut down for the filming of the Fox show "America's Most Wanted." (Laurel Leader File)

In season 14, episode 5 of “On the Case with Paula Zahn,” the story of Laurel’s Stefanie Watson was told. Watson disappeared before her shift at Laurel Regional Hospital in 1982. Her body was never found, and the case went cold for decades.

Around 2015, Richard Friend (a member of Laurel History Boys) started digging into the case and was instrumental in helping solve it. Friend is featured on the show, which was titled “A Nightmare in Laurel.”

Friend was interviewed on-camera in 2016 at the Laurel Lakes Holiday Inn Express & Suites for the episode of “On the Case with Paula Zahn” described above. While most of the scenes for the show were recreated in Hollywood, they did film some locations in Laurel, including Stefanie Watson's apartment exterior at Eighth & Montgomery streets.

In season 3, episode 24 of “The X-Files,: titled “Talitha Cumi,” the character Agent Mulder references a street in West Laurel when he says, “off the I-95, uh, Bond Mill Road,” where he will meet with Agent Scully. The entire episode, however, was filmed in Canada.

Two scenes from ABC’s 1988 mini-series “War and Remembrance” were filmed at Fort Meade’s Tipton Airport in August 1987. Stars Robert Mitchum, Victoria Tennant and Hart Bochner were on hand for the scenes filmed around, and in, two vintage World War II planes, a B-25 and a DC-3, flown in specifically for the filming. Tipton was a stand-in for WWII-era Andrews Air Force Base. The mini-series was a sequel to “The Winds of War,” also an ABC mini-series shown five years earlier.

Also in 1988, the Fox show “America’s Most Wanted” filmed four crime reenactments in Laurel. Filming took place at Oliver’s Town Tavern (as it was called then), Fetty Alley, Laurel Avenue and in the home of former Laurel City Councilman Eddie Ricks. The sites were chosen by a production company based in Columbia for their similarity to where the actual crimes took place. Main Street was shut down for a day for the filming, to the dismay of residents. Laurel Police and Public Works employees monitored the filming and kept the public at bay.

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For the 1999 movie “Random Hearts,” stars Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas filmed at the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge. Filming also took place in numerous locations in the Washington-Baltimore area.

The old Laurel High School on Montgomery Street was the location of a History Channel show in 2000. Specifically, the school gymnasium was used as the location for the show, titled “Basketball: The Dream Teams,” and hosted by local broadcaster James Brown. The show focused on basketball dynasties.

On Jan. 15, 1969, Columbia Pictures held the world premiere of “Pendulum: at the Laurel Cinema in the Laurel Shopping Center. The crime thriller movie, which had no connection to Laurel in its plot, starred George Peppard, Jean Seberg and Richard Kiley, and was filmed in Washington, D.C.

Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, center, at the premiere of "Pendulum."
Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, center, at the premiere of "Pendulum." (Laurel Leader File)

The premiere was dedicated to the new Crime Check program, which promoted the prompt reporting of crimes. The motto of the program was “If you see it—report it!” The Laurel Police Department was selected to host the premiere since the LPD was the first police force in Maryland to launch the Crime Check program.

Police cars with lights flashing from every jurisdiction in the area lined the shopping center’s path from the parking lot to the theater. Laurel policemen served as official hosts inside the theater.

The invited attendees included dozens of local politicians and police chiefs, hundreds of policemen from area jurisdictions and representatives from the Maryland State government and federal law enforcement. Some Laurel residents were also invited but, unfortunately, none of the stars of the film attended.

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