GateHouse — With the exception of Gary, Ind., which produced the version of Michael Jackson most folks are trying to remember this week, Hollywood has not often intersected with northwest Indiana, or “The Region,” the weirdly blank nickname used by us locals.
I say “locals” though it’s been years since I’ve actually lived there, having fled the area’s eternal roadwork, magical-smelling pollution and pierogi-based diners years ago for warmer climes. But I grew up partly in Crown Point on the Region’s southern edge, a fine town but one where you don’t often bump into famous people. Which isn’t to say we haven’t had a few. The ex-house of journeyman reliever Dan Plesac — who Keith Olbermann once introduced on “SportsCenter” with, “You may remember him from every major league ballclub ever” — was close enough to mine that my cousins and I used to walk down to it hoping …. I don’t even know what, maybe that he’d sign our baseball cards, or maybe we’d catch a glimpse of the legendary Rick Wilkins or something. Rudolph Valentino was married at our Lake County Courthouse in 1923, to, I believe, Blitzen. Also, I think we produced an astronaut. (Whoa, wait – according to The Web, the following were also married in Crown Point, though not to each other: Muhammad Ali, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman, Red Grange and the parents of Michael Jackson. The Jacksons? Really? Is there some reason this is not covered in Social Studies, or for that matter on the town’s welcome sign? CROWN POINT: PARTLY RESPONSIBLE FOR TITO.)
More recently, although basically everything has happened more recently than Rudolph Valentino, Hillary Clinton famously killed whiskey shots in a bar/pizza joint called Bronko’s (by the Jewel) to argue during her campaign that Barack Obama was a rich arugula-snarfing taffypants who ate cash sandwiches off plates made of unicorn horns while she was working overnights slinging alternators at NAPA and making just barely enough to scrape out tickets to see the Friday night lights, during which the Bulldogs battled the hated Lowell, uh, Hog Peasants, or whatever. (What the hell was Lowell’s team name? Someone fix this in the comments, please. Updated: Lowell Red Devils; thank you kindly, Aaron Bradshaw.)
Anyway, this was all before the shooting of the film “Public Enemies,” opening July 1, about the life of John Dillinger, who, aside from a high-school girls’ basketball dynasty in the mid-1980s, is probably Crown Point’s biggest claim to fame (close third: Dairy Queen). Well, sort of, anyway: After being tossed in what cops claimed was an escape-proof cell, evidently made by the people who welded the Titanic’s hull parts, Dillinger, the legend goes, carved a fake gun out of wood, used it to hoodwink Crown Point’s crack 1934 police force, stole the sheriff’s car just to be a jerk and used it to skip the stony lonesome straight to Chicago. So, yeah, technically Crown Point lost him, but you can’t imagine what he did for the reputation of the quality of our local lumber.
“Public Enemies” stars Johnny Depp, who looks about as much like John Dillinger as I do Lou Rawls but whatever, and Christian Bale, who appears in 70% of all movies released in 2009, all of which require him to do his husky Tom Waits-as-Cookie Monster voice instead of talking like a human person. And for maximum historical legitimacy, parts of the film were shot in Crown Point last spring, which was a VERY BIG DEAL, according to both my Mom and the Facebook friends who posted 300,000 Johnny Depp-gets-out-of-his-SUV pictures every. single. day. (Sadly, Mom couldn’t make it to the shoot, because she told me she “forgot it was going on,” in a tone of voice that indicated major Hollywood summer releases are being shot two miles from her house with such regularity that it’s barely worth shutting off the Golf Channel for. I could almost imagine her sighing, “Listen, they can call me when they’ve got Wolverine.”)
The shoot took place in the restored old jail building near downtown, where there’s now mostly an abundance of Greek restaurants (all restaurants in northwest Indiana are Greek, regardless of what they serve; I literally made it to 23 years old calling all diners “Greek restaurants” until my wife finally asked what the hell I was talking about), an alley called The Super Bowl which has midnight-bowling but mostly beer and a storefront that used to sell baseball cards and comics but now, I think, houses an insurance company. It’s also down the street from the local movie theater, which, and I can’t back this up with paperwork, contained the gummiest, stickiest floors of any structure in the country not used for trapping varmints between the years of 1988-1993. You could drop a marble on the floor there, and it would just sit, frozen in time, waiting for something to happen. During a screening of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in 1990, I lost a shoe. The floor at this theater traps light waves. It’s sticky, is what I’m saying.
Anyway, by all accounts, the shoot was a great little thing for the town – Mom, for instance, verifies that she heard Depp was “a really nice guy,” who signed autographs and posed for pictures and stuff. He even mentioned Crown Point on a recent stop on Letterman. And though I couldn’t glimpse any Crown Point in the trailer or promo art, I’ll check it out this weekend to see the old hometown, so I can do that thing where I whisper irritatingly to whoever’s sitting next to me, “THAT’S THE SHOE STORE THAT SPONSORED MY LITTLE LEAGUE TEAM” (I ruined “The Dark Knight” for about six people in this manner, like I was the only person to have ever walked down LaSalle Street in Chicago). It’s about time Crown Point got a little national love. At the very least, they can start talking about it in Social Studies.