The city and its food earn hoorays from Hollywood

They may be "Sleepless in Seattle," but they were "Eating in Baltimore."

"Faidley's was great, and they ended up on the cutting room floor, but it's not their fault, it's mine. . . . And my true loves, at the Woman's Industrial Exchange, we ate there every day and ordered 72 cupcakes a day. . . . The last day, we were filming on the dock at Fells Point . . . and we had just eaten 40 crab cakes and soft shell crabs, and I thought, I could shoot this movie forever."


That was Nora Ephron, writer and director of "Sleepless in Seattle," on what it was like eating, er, we mean filming, in Baltimore.

While the city didn't end up in the title of the romantic comedy, which opens a week from today, its female lead character lives here -- therefore, the Senator Theatre hosted a special screening of the movie last night, giving Ms. Ephron a chance to thank the city for its hospitality during the week last fall that she brought crews to film.


Accompanied by her husband, Nick Pileggi, also a writer, and meeting up with her friend, Baltimore author Taylor Branch, Ms. Ephron joined several hundred gathered to watch the movie. It stars Tom Hanks as a widowed architect who lives in Seattle and Meg Ryan as a lovely, intelligent, winsome and beautiful features writer -- a true-to-life depiction, if we do say so!

Being billed as "the date movie" of the summer, "Sleepless in Seattle" will no doubt tickle Baltimoreans who never tire of seeing their rowhouses and harbor on the big screen.

"I thought it was fabulous," said Mr. Branch, whose own book, "Parting the Waters," has been optioned by TriStar. "And my daughter was in it." Twelve-year-old Macy Branch is in the background of a restaurant scene.

This is Meg Ryan's second time portraying a journalist, her first coming in a movie also written by Ms. Ephron, "When Harry Met Sally." Which is why Ms. Ephron, herself a former newspaper writer, said the actress didn't need much coaching.

"I think she's pretty much got it down," Ms. Ephron said before the screening.

Dressed in a silky black pants suit, the writer didn't seem particularly pleased to be the one quoted rather than the one quoting.

"You know, I think it was a strange thing to get used to," she said. "And I'm still not used to the amazing number of times I've been misquoted."

The invitation-only screening was sponsored by the Producers Club of Maryland. The group, comprising film, entertainment and other interests, promotes movie-making in Maryland. "Guarding Tess," another TriStar movie, starring Shirley MacLaine and Nicolas Cage, was filmed in the area several months ago for release at the end of the year.


The group hopes to capitalize on the number of former Baltimoreans now working in Hollywood. In fact, most of their parents seemed to be at the Senator last night.

"These Baltimore kids have really made it," said a proud Sue Platt, whose son, Marc, is the president of TriStar and grew up in Pikesville. "From the time he was three years old and on, he'd do all these shows in the neighborhood."

Donald Rothman was giving a plug for another movie, "Much Ado About Nothing" -- it's a movie from Goldwyn, where his son, John, is international head of production.

The "Sleepless" crews spent about a week here last fall filming in such Baltimore-esque locales as the Lexington Market downtown and the Peabody Conservatory's library in Mount Vernon. The latter so captured the imagination of the director, she changed a character from a psychiatrist to a musicologist to find a way to use the elegant building.

And, while it doesn't show up on screen, another local landmar figured prominently, at least in the stomachs of the filmmakers.

"We ate," said producer Gary Foster, "a lot of crabs at Obrycki's."