Reflections about the filming of The Sterile Cuckoo on campus

"Thanks to Bob Hevenor [former director of public relations and editor of the Alumni Review], friends and classmates of John Nichols were invited to a party at the Alexander Hamilton Inn with members of the cast, most notably Liza Minnelli. After cocktails, my wife Heidi and I were at the dinner table with Ms. Minnelli, and with Sid Wertimer at the head. I'm not sure what prompted me to do my wind noise after we had had dessert, but soon others joined in with their party tricks. I remember Sid doing his famous lighthouse impersonation, where he would stand up with his arms in a U-shape, turning round and round and opening and closing his mouth and eyes like an occulting lighthouse light. After a few of us had performed, Liza, a performer's performer, proceeded to eat her cloth napkin — or try to!" — John Von Bergen '63

"It was the winter of 1969-70. My wife and I were vacationing at the Caribe Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Having recently seen and immensely enjoyed The Sterile Cuckoo, a familiar face came to my attention across the hotel pool. It was Liza Minnelli. She was being interviewed by columnist Rex Reed, but I decided to interrupt anyway. "Excuse me, Miss Minnelli," I said. "I think we have something in common." She recoiled at the intrusion and undoubtedly assumed she was being accosted by someone dangerous. Mr. Reed also was not amused. Her bodyguard approached. Once Liza calmed down a bit, I explained I was a graduate of Hamilton College and had adored her movie. She suddenly warmed, threw her arms around me, and gushed that she had spent the most wonderful days of her life filming on campus. She spoke of the genuine hospitality she was accorded and her wish that she could have attended such a marvelous academic institution herself. We chatted for a few minutes, recounting our respective memories of the Hill, with poor Rex twiddling his thumbs. She said she hoped to return to Clinton someday (has she?) and relive the joy of her Hamilton experience. Liza's enthusiasm and spontaneity in person only reinforced my continuing admiration for her artistic ability, and she's still knockin' 'em dead 40 years later. Her casting as Pookie was brilliant, as the result showed. John Nichols couldn't have asked for a better performance to bring his unique character to life. And I couldn't have anticipated such a coincidental and poignant meeting in the Caribbean." — Paul Silverman '63

"For about 15 seconds in The Sterile Cuckoo, I'm just to the right of Liza Minnelli in a party dance scene. The scene took three days to film, so I saw a lot of how the movie business works, or did then. Minnelli displayed terrific energy and charisma, time after time, take after take. But co-star Wendell Burton was a wash. The other rookie in this combination, director Alan Pakula, showed the perfectionism that would take him, like Minnelli, a long way in movies. In contrast, Burton and I faded quickly, but a night job as a copy editor at the Utica newspapers took me in another direction. Hurrah for liberal arts." — Alexander Cruden '68

"I certainly remember well the fall of 1968 and the remarkable parade of long-bed trailer trucks that descended on campus each morning. Bearing the vast assortment of sound, lighting, catering and other equipment needed for the filming of The Sterile Cuckoo, they were decidedly out of scale in our college setting. As class schedules would allow (and occasionally not!) quite a few of us, Hamilton and Kirkland students alike, answered the call for "extras" shouted up the stairwells of dormitories and fraternity houses by members of the Paramount Pictures crew. One distinct memory for me is the filming of the movie's pivotal party scene. The band seen playing on screen is Hamilton's own King James Version (a reference to soul music rather than the Bible). In addition to yours truly, the band included Benny Greenbaum, Bill Powers, Dave Campbell and Eric Milligan, all members of the Class of 1969. The scene was filmed on the back porch of the Theta Delt house over parts of several days, and "Hamilton's own" provided the sounds to which everyone moved. As I recall, a prodigious amount of beer was consumed during the filming, making it all the more an authentic Hill party. Regretfully, our brush with music immortality was just that. The music one hears in the movie is not the band's but a studio overdub. Assuming, correctly of course, that this moment in time was likely as close as my journey would bring me to a Hollywood career, I tucked away my Paramount Pictures location talent (pay) voucher and still have it among the transcripts and other memories in my Hamilton College file." — Rob Harwood '69

"In the fall of 1968 I had dreams about Kirkland and Hollywood. None of them came true. Like most of my Hamilton memories, it is hard to distinguish the real from the imagined. I am pretty sure about a few things: Alan Pakula did not want my top-siders to appear in the drunken stairway scene, but I refused to change to Weejuns. Jeff Miller was instructed to fake his guitar strumming in same scene so he would not qualify for musician's wages. I gave Liza Minnelli Frisbee lessons but was never paid. Oddly, "Come Saturday Morning" is a tune that I often find myself humming on cold autumn mornings." — Fred Endemann '71

"As an about-to-be freshman, I was on campus before school started to take part in soccer practice. One day after practice we were told they would be filming the movie and needed extras to make up the crowd at what I later came to know as a houseparty. We went to the Theta Delt house, where our "job" was to stand around and drink beer, dance and generally have a good time. After a while the director stopped filming because the lighting wasn't right and asked that we come back the next day to do the same thing. Of course, the party carried on after the filming stopped, and we did it again the next day. I remember thinking "Wow, college is great, they film movies here," not knowing it was a unique event." — Tom Droesch '72

"We saw The Sterile Cuckoo as graduate students at Penn and were enthralled both by the story and by the idyllic campus setting (totally unaware of its identity). Little did we know that decades later, three of our four children, Kathleen '88, Dennis, Jr. '93 and Will '06, would become captivated in person by the beauty of the "College on the Hill" and eventually all graduate from Hamilton! How could we have guessed, furthermore, that Kathy and Dennis would marry schoolmates Jon Hale '87 and Marshall Trow '93? Will's marital status remains undecided, but who knows, perhaps still another Hamilton alumna will someday join our clan. Understandably, The Sterile Cuckoo and its campus "siting" remain a special part of the Lynch family lore." — Ann Marie and Dennis Lynch P'88, 'P93, 'P06

Contact Information

Stacey Himmelberger

Editor, Hamilton Alumni Review
198 College Hill Road
Clinton, NY 13323
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