One “Term of Endearment” from Born to Run by Ivy Harper Ch. 7

July 9, 2012

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The Paramount Pictures movie trailer was parked in front of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, directly across the street from Lincoln’s stunning, limestone state capitol building considered one of North America’s architectural wonders. With tinted window-shades drawn, the truck displayed a large sign that read: PLEASE DO NOT KNOCK ON WINDOWS OR DOORS, THE ACTRESS IS ON A BREAK AND NEEDS QUIET.

At 12:30 p.m. the streets were crowded with Lincolnites eager to watch the filming of Terms of Endearment. By 1 p.m., actor Debra Winger was running from her co-star, Jeff Daniels, and the massive cameras were rolling. Back and forth she would run in her flowered, mid-knee-length dress and flat shoes. Time after time they repeated the scene until, finally, a man just slightly taller than the small-framed star stepped out of the sidelines and embraced her, patting her on the back: “Great job, great, great, great.”

For James Brooks, the screenplay writer and director, shooting was over. The crowd clapped and watched as Brooks walked away with Winger. Cornhuskers rushed at her, eager for an autograph, but Brooks implored: “No, she’s exhausted; later, please.” Shoulders were shrugged and autograph seekers acquiesced, missing what they were certain was their last chance to see the celebrated star.

Only later would that day’s onlookers realize that there would be many opportunities to meet Miss Winger. (“Wingi” sightings, as the late, great political reporter Thomas A. Fogarty dubbed them.) Only later, during the March Academy Awards ceremony, would that day’s witnesses learn that they had observed the filming of the year’s “Best Picture.”

No one observing the filming that airy April day could guess that their Governor, then holed up in his private office, and the young actress would forge a lasting friendship. No Lincolnite had a clue that day that their Chief Executive, a formal Naval Officer and sometime gentleman, and an urban cowgirl christened Mary Debra Winger would fall wildly, passionately in love. Within weeks, however, Winger was the Governor’s girlfriend. Within months, she would return to Lincoln and live in the Governor’s mansion.

In retrospect, their meeting seems pre-ordained, for despite all their obvious dissimilarities, the two had much in common. Like Kerrey, Winger was raised in a middle-class household with a businessman father and a working mother. Kerrey volunteered for extra-hazardous duty with the Navy SEALS; she endured several months of military training upon applying for Israeli citizenship after early graduation from high school. He faced death at twenty-six in Vietnam and recovered from war wounds for nine months in a naval hospital; she faced death at eighteen after being thrown from a moving truck, and recuperated in a California hospital, where she nearly died from a cerebral hemorrhage. He emerged from war with a physical challenge – a right leg amputated below the knee; she suffers from a punctured eardrum that prevents her from flying. He used the near-death experience as a springboard to jump-start his life; she called her close encounter with a death a “huge hunk of grace” and thereafter stretched life to what some observers suspected was almost a breaking point. He showed leadership tendencies and a thirst for adventure even before his brush with death; she exhibited rebellious leaning and a lust for life long before her accident. He is roundly hailed for his intelligence and drive; she is praised for her intellect and dedication to her art.

That the couple would meet in Lincoln while she was filming the story of a young mother who battles cancer in Lincoln could not have been a more endearing and intense introduction had it been arranged by a shadchan. Later, in a Vanity Fair interview, Winger would say: “I told Bob when I met him and we had fun together, I said, ‘Wait. You don’t really know me. You think you know me but this isn’t really me.'” She went on to describe how the person Kerrey was enchanted with was being filtered through the fictional woman in the movie.

Winger, by her account, almost passed up her to go out with Kerrey. He had barely finished his first 100 days in office when Brooks and company arrived in Lincoln to shoot the movie version of Larry McMurtry’s beloved book. Residents had been awaiting the arrival of the stars and crew with great anticipation, as a Paramount movie scout had earlier prepared folks for a “three-ring circus.” Nebraska’s State Film Office accommodated Paramount throughout their month-long stay, happy that Lincoln’s local economy would be boosted by more than one million dollars.

To be continued: Monday afternoon, July 9, 2012

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