A ‘Deer Hunter’ day in Mingo Junction
When the “Deer Hunter” movie was being filmed locally in 1977, I had finished my freshman year of college and was back home in Richmond, working for the summer in the concession stand at the local drive-in theater.
It really wasn’t on my radar then that something out of the ordinary was going on in the nearby community of Mingo Junction.
But Thursday, I got a perspective on what that meant to Mingo during its well attended “The Deer Hunter” 40th anniversary and community awards banquet held at the Mingo Knights of Columbus Hall.
What a special evening that was, capped off by earlier in the day seeing the unveiling of a beautifully done “The Deer Hunter” mural on Commercial Avenue, which is attracting a lot of attention.
Kudos to the leadership of Jim and Kathy Freiling and their committee and all those who had a hand in all this.
While the banquet was a time to acknowledge recipients worthy of community awards, it also kicked off Mingo Community Days — which wraps up today at Aracoma Park — and capitalized on the 40th anniversary of the movie.
Thursday’s event included an auction of various movie-related items, among them autographed photos of cast members Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep and others that committee member Rose Angelica had solicited for, she explained before the auction’s start. There also was a display of photos and enlarged newspaper clippings from a souvenir section produced by The Herald-Star on March 15, 1979, as a salute to the Academy Award nominee.
But a highlight of the evening came at the end when the audience was especially quiet and attentive to what was about a 25-minute video masterfully put together by Tom Fitzgerald. It was all about Mingo’s connection to the film — scenes where it was shot, including Welsh’s Lounge, and local people in it.
The stars of the video, though, were Mingo’s own John F. “Boom Boom” Buchmelter III, who was a bar patron in the movie and was in the wedding scene, too, and Orin Diomedi, newly retired from his longtime Mingo business Orin’s Auto Sales and Service and one of the evening’s community award recipients.
The two shared stories as they reminisced about the movie being made.
Diomedi was kept busy repairing cars wrecked during the filming; helped recruit extras, even drafting two of his mechanics last minute for the final bar scene; surrendered his “filthy dirty” mechanic’s cap to be worn by De Niro in the movie; and after the film got a chandelier he never hung and a bar that ended up as firewood.
Buchmelter is in several scenes in the movie, including one where he is seated next to De Niro. It’s one of the scenes captured on the new mural/kiosk as it’s called. Buchmelter endeared himself to the cast and crew members and even had private script-reading time with De Niro. How to order a beer and what kind to drink — Rolling Rock — constituted some of the valuable information he was able to provide for film authenticity.
Buchmelter also was recruited to be part of the wedding scene filmed in Cleveland and had his own private trailer with his name on the door.
The video notes several music scenes stand out, among them the one in Welsh’s where the friends are having a good time shooting pool, drinking beer and listening to Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
“This could be a scene representative of good friends gathering in a Mingo bar on any given night,” the video notes.
Another local connection mentioned the wedding of Vasil and Karen Oblokovich where movie cast and crew members showed up to observe how an Orthodox ceremony was conducted to authenticate the wedding scene in the movie.
And there was Frank Devore of Mingo Junction mentioned also. His conversation with a stranger at Hillsboro Tavern — a casting director — ultimately got him movie time in “The Deer Hunter” as a bartender and friend of the movie’s male leads.
The owner of Isaly’s had hoped, according to the video, that De Niro would come by her store, which he did in a movie scene, stopping to shake hands with movie extra Jack Scardino, a retired millworker. They exchanged greetings in English and Italian, the video notes.
Meryl Streep bought a scarf in Weisberger’s, its owner remembering her as “very nice and interested in local lifestyle.”
The movie’s premiere at the Fort Steuben Mall brought an invitation for representatives of Mingo’s band to take coats and keep the tips from it — what amounted to $5,000, according to Angelica. “We chose four seniors, and they had the mall closed and through the whole center of the mall there were tables lined with food, drinks, champagne, tons of everything. Every theater was ‘The Deer Hunter’ that night,” she says in the video interview.
“The movie ran eight weeks in the Fort Steuben Mall and received numerous awards and nominations,” Fitzgerald comments in the video.
“For five weeks in the summer of 1977 Mingo was alive with a newfound excitement, for many a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Crews packed up and left us behind, but we were never quite the same.
“This day 40 years later, people still visit here just to see the location where ‘The Deer Hunter’ was filmed. Now we can show off a beautiful mural.
“We are forever synonymous with ‘The Deer Hunter.'”
(Kiaski, a resident of Richmond, is a staff columnist and community editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)