Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Remembering actor Patrick Swayze

In October 1983, while a journalism student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I had the opportunity to spend an hour with actor Patrick Swayze.
I was working as a feature writer for the campus newspaper, the Daily Illini, when I traveled to nearby Pontiac, Ill., to cover the filming of “Grandview, U.S.A.” The movie starred Jamie Lee Curtis (a hot actress coming off “Halloween” and “Trading Places”) and C. Thomas Howell (a rising young star thanks to “The Outsiders”).
I visited the set twice. My friend, Michael Schmidt, then a student photographer with the Daily Vidette at Illinois State University (and now a photojournalist with the News Sun in Waukegan, Ill.), took photos for the feature article.
One day while hanging around the set waiting to interview director Randal Kleiser (“Grease” and “The Blue Lagoon”), Swayze walked up to Mike and me and struck up a conversation.
Although he co-starred with Howell in “The Outsiders” (1983), he was a relative unknown at the time. He had to compete for face time in that film with the likes of Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, Leif Garrett and Tom Waits.
Here’s what I wrote for the Oct. 29, 1983, issue of the Daily Illini:
Much later, Patrick Swayze, easily the most likeable of all the actors associated with the movie, comes to the set during his time off to check with his stunt double.
He says he likes to stay on the set, even when he is not filming any scenes. Swayze doesn’t want to “lose track of (his) character.”
“I can’t afford to sit in my room and watch TV, because I might come back the next day, not as my character, but as … Lee Majors,” he says.
Swayze told me he picked up traits for his character, a demolition car driver named Slam Webster, from people he met in the small town.
“I did a lot of research to find out who this guy was,” Swayze said. “He’s lower class, intelligent and should be somewhere else than where he is. And he lets his passion out in his driving.”
Released in 1984, “Grandview, U.S.A.” got poor reviews, flopped at the box office and was quickly forgotten. It’s not even available on DVD – one of many movies that haven’t made the transition to digital. (See earlier post on the subject.)
Swayze would find fame in 1987 for his star turn in “Dirty Dancing.” He’d follow that success with “Ghost” (1990) and “Point Break” (1991).
Patrick Swayze, 57, died Monday after a 20-month battle with pancreatic cancer. (See Associated Press article.)

Photo: Publicity shot from “Grandview, U.S.A.”

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