PONTIAC, Ill. -- Like many other Midwestern towns its size, Pontiac has a stately courthouse in its square, a meandering river, cornfields on the outskirts and many hard-working, honest townsfolk.
For two months in the summer and fall of 1983 Pontiac dropped its identity as home of a maximum-security prison to become 'Grandview, U.S.A.,' a movie its producers hope will be in local theaters next summer.
It was produced by CBS Theatrical Films to be distributed by Warner Bros.
The producers say it is about any town in the Midwest, about growing up, dreams of far-away places and three lives that come together in one week -- a comedic, touching look at small-town life.
The story is about popular Tim Pearson, played by C. Thomas Howell, who is graduating from high school and wants to become an oceanographer. He has a brief romantic fling with Michele 'Mike' Cody, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, the beautiful tomboy-owner of the local demolition-derby track.
The movie is also about the derby's best driver, 'Slam' Webster (Patrick Swayze), whom Mike decides she has been in love with all along.
The picture has given Pontiac residents a chance at a brief, shining moment on the silver screen and the city's economy, a healthy financial infusion.
'It's really a boon to Pontiac,' said Mayor Dale Campbell, an insurance salesman who has a cameo role. 'We're getting on the map for something besides prison riots and floods.'
There were few signs of discord: A brief flap over whether the town should allow the film company to paint the trim on the courthouse and some griping about streets cordoned off for shooting.
Mostly, affection between movie company and town has been mutual.
'They've bent over backwards to accommodate us,' said co-producer Peter Rea, a native New Yorker. 'The people here have been sensational.'
Johnie Pence, manager of a motel where many movie crew members stayed, said the movie has not only been good business but also a pleasant experience.
'They're very nice and courteous,' she said. Minutes later, a bouquet of red roses arrived with a thank-you card signed by cast and crew.
Mrs. Pence's 15-year-old daughter, Kelley, was an extra in a gymnasium scene where the Grandview High School's senior prom was filmed, using students from Pontiac and other area towns.
'They were some of the most well-behaved kids we've ever worked with,' said Deborah Rosen of Rosen-Knutsen Casting Co., Chicago.
She said they weren't hiring skinny, beautiful people, they were looking for down-home, country-looking extras.
Their advice to the extras: Don't look at the camera, don't ask the stars for autographs and don't touch anything.
One day they needed a band, so they called the Pontiac High band director.
'He told the kids to go home and press their uniforms,' Ms. Rosen said. 'They were thrilled to have the band in the movie.'
One scene requiring many extras was the demolition derby. 'Cody's Speedrome' was designed by Jan Scott, a Los Angeles architect who designs movie sets.
Another scene was filmed at a local drive-in restaurant known to Pontiac residents as 'Bob and Annie's,' but to Grandview folks as 'Ruby's.'
Kim Williams, an assistant editor at the Pontiac Daily Leader, went to a casting call. He and his wife were extras in the restaurant scene.
For his paper, Williams interviewed scriptwriter Ken Hixon about the movie's plot and meaning. Hixon claimed the story does not place a heavy emphasis on sex and is not a put-down of small-town life.
'Yet, I wanted to bring up some of the aspects of feelings confined to a young man,' Hixon said, 'But I also wanted to balance it with other people like Mike and Slam who are very happy to live in a small town and are really working hard to have a good, meaningful life.'