The legacy of television and movie writer/director/producer Norman Lear was already well established in the history of Greenfield, where in 1969 he filmed the comedy “Cold Turkey.” But the long-running “romance” between the Hollywood legend and the community was further established Dec. 13th, when the Warren Cultural Center announced the naming of its auditorium The Norman Lear Theater.
Writer/Director/Producer Norman Lear stands in the newly named “Norman Lear Theater” at the E.E. Warren Opera House, in Greenfield. (Photo submitted)
Lear visited the town on Saturday morning, to once again view the town square that captured his attention more than 45 years ago, share personal greetings and insights and read from his new memoir, “Even This I Get to Experience.” A crowd gathered at the Warren Center, some wearing “Cold Turkey” buttons, a few with “Eagle Rock” band uniform jackets, to hear Lear, pose for pictures and get autographs. Many indicated they had played a part in the movie.
In announcing the naming – a surprise to the 92-year-old Lear – Leon Schwartz, EE Warren Opera House board member, said “To commemorate our special bond and the lasting imprint you have made on this community we want to share something with you and together make a permanent sign of our special bond. You completely disrupted the normal rhythm of life for us that summer, and we thank you for that experience.”
Schwartz went on to says “Today, 45 years later, your impact can be seen right here in this beautifully restored theater. You brought a form of art – filmmaking — to our community that we had not experienced. You reminded us that the arts are a necessary and integral element of any healthy society. You also gave us the script proving that small towns can meet seemingly impossible challenges, such as breathing life back into old buildings and creating a cultural center in rural America.”
Prior to the announcement, Lear spent some time on stage answering questions posed by Liz Gilman, executive producer of Produce Iowa – the State Office of Media Production, as well as from the audience, covering his career, his outlook on life, and even his trademark hat. He also enjoyed some unexpected videotape greetings and congratulations from musician Randy Newman, who composed the score for Cold Turkey; and comedians Bob Newhart and Dick Van Dyke, stars of the film.
Lear was named an Honorary Iowan in 1999, when he returned to Greenfield with other stars, including Van Dyke, Tom Poston, and Jean Stapleton, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movie. Lear also produced many hit television shows, including “The Andy Williams Show”, “All in the Family,” and “The Jeffersons,” and other classic films, such as “The Princess Bride” and “Stand by Me.”
Cold Turkey tells the story of a small town – Eagle Rock, Iowa – that takes up the challenge for all its residents to quit smoking for one month to win a $25 million prize. Many scenes were filmed on the Greenfield square and throughout town, as well as locations in Winterset, Orient, and Des Moines. Hundreds of locals and other Iowans were used as extras in the film.
Lear attended the gathering with his daughter Maggie, who visited her father on the location as a young girl, and grandson Daniel. Former Iowa lieutenant governor Sally Peterson and her husband, James Autry, personal friends of Lear, also attended. The night before Lear was the guest of honor at the Celebrate Iowa Gala in Des Moines.