On the evening of July 25 as we drove under the iconic green bridge and into downtown Brownsville, Oregon, we were transported onto the set of Stand By Me. Unchanged since filming in 1985, seemingly unchanged since the '50s, I asked Linda McCormick, organizer of the film's 25th anniversary celebration, what attracts fans to her quaint hometown.
"The '50s were a simple time for many people in America and coming to Brownsville is like stepping back in time," she said.
But the Stand By Me celebration was no ordinary step-back. Sure, the buildings nestled on Main Street retained their almost overly nostalgic Norman Rockwell facades, but Brownsville swelled with tourists from all over the world. Big-city hipsters traded the obligatory glad rags for jeans, Chuck Taylors and white Ts, cigarette pack rolled up in one sleeve. Middle-aged men greased thinning hair into ducktails while teenage boys vied for a spot in the Cobras, Kiefer Sutherland's movie gang, which spent their free time playing mailbox baseball and carving tattoos into each other's arms by way of rusty knife.
Standing out in the poodle-skirted crowd, some drag racing their "rat rods" in the classic car show, was a preponderance of Japanese tourists. Twenty-something men and women wearing fashions straight out of Tokyo's Harajuku district visited each of Brownsville's Stand By Me photo-ops, from the Castle Rock City Hall sign to the pool hall to the blueberry pie eating contest.
"The Japanese are fascinated with Americana. The movie is a cult classic there. Most Japanese children were not allowed to wander off overnight like the boys in the movie, so they are curious about that," said McCormick.
And maybe the promise of meeting some of the Stand By Me cast propelled them, and me, to wait in the town park for the great reveal we were promised, oppressive mid-summer heat wrinkling my own poodle skirt. I was holding out for Corey Feldman. My least favorite of "The Two Coreys." I still carried an '80s torch for Feldman's Teddy Duchamp (Stand By Me), Edgar Frog (The Lost Boys) and Clark "Mouth" Devereaux (The Goonies).
Finger on my camera ready to snap, I inched closer toward the wooden bandstand, along with the international crowd and one teen dressed like Teddy Duchamp, complete with dog tags and the kind of thick glasses nearsighted kids used to revile before Ray-Ban decided they were cool. And then, from stage left, appeared... Kent Lutrell. Although he's not a household name, you may (or may not) recognize Lutrell as the guy who played the important yet silent role of Ray Brower - the dead body that served as the plot fuel for Stand By Me, sending the youthful foursome out on their journey. Fans of Stephen King might place more precedence on meeting Lutrell, since the movie was adapted from King's novella, "The Body." To drive home the point, under his signature on each of the fans' movie memorabilia, Lutrell wrote, "The Body."
I left the bandstand without "The Body" signing my event pamphlet.
Shari Chinchen, Jerry O'Connell's body double, was also on hand to field audience questions. From Chinchen, I discovered that Bendite Robin Stenkamp played Will Wheaton's body double, and that the two women have remained friends. Chinchen shared her affinity for the "boys" (Feldman, O'Connell, Wheaton and River Phoenix). She also shared how, "Jerry O'Connell loved that he could curse in the script because his mom wouldn't let him curse in real life."
At dusk 1,000 fans, and what appeared to be the entire population of Brownsville, gathered in the park to watch Stand By Me on a screen mounted to a flatbed truck. Popcorn popped and vintage Popeye cartoons flickered as the crowd waited until dark. When the movie started with that first shot of Will Wheaton as Gordie Lachance, sauntering down Main Street toward his secret clubhouse, everyone exploded in riotous applause.
And I have to admit, when Kent Lutrell made his 10-second film debut as "the dead body," I pointed to the screen and yelled, "I know him!," star-struck by a little movie magic and the fleeting innocence of a small American town.