'Creepy' atmosphere falls on Dallas as Oliver Stone begins filming 'JFK'

April 23, 1991|By Jeffrey Weiss | Jeffrey Weiss,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- This time, the president's seat was empty.

But the vacant place in the stretch limousine seemed to fit the surreal atmosphere. The replica of John F. Kennedy's presidential car joined other vintage vehicles for the first of what will be dozens of re-enactments of the assassination over the next two weeks.

Production of "JFK," a movie based on the assassination of President Kennedy, started last Monday. Workers unloaded the first equipment from trucks shortly before 7 a.m. The first rehearsal of the presidential motorcade started more than eight hours later -- along the same stretch of roadway where the president was killed Nov. 22, 1963.

"It's really creepy," Roz Cohen said as he watched the cars through a window of The Sixth Floor museum, only a few feet away from where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed the president. "It's like 'The Twilight Zone.'"

A few blocks away from the bloodless practice assassinations, special-effects experts repeatedly shot holes in an artificial head. Actors and crew members casually nibbled on breakfast and stretched nearby as the technicians tested their gruesome creation.

Dallas residents reacted to the moviemania with relative calm. Traffic snarls were annoying but not paralyzing. Gawkers numbered in the hundreds, not thousands. Mostly, people did what they usually do.

"Believe it or not, we're all trying to get some work done. It's Monday," said a secretary on the fifth floor of the Dallas County Administration Building.

More than 27 years ago, the building was the Texas School Book Depository. And one floor above, according to official accounts, Oswald stalked the president. That floor was converted two years ago into a museum called The Sixth Floor.

This day, the sharp pops of movie-set ersatz gunfire came through the museum windows, mingling with the grim background murmur of audio assassination memorabilia:

"Something is wrong here! Something is terribly wrong!" (Walter Cronkite emotionally announcing that the president has died.)

Down below, actors and vehicles moved in the pattern of shock and horror familiar to anyone who has watched films of the shooting.

Marvin James, a data processor for Dallas County, said, "It sure does bring it back like it was the day before yesterday," he said.

He suggested that the lack of hubbub from Dallasites indicated that residents retained their sensitivity about the assassination.

"I think you'll find a lot of people don't want to talk about it," he said.

Linda Mulhauser, in town from Washington, D.C., for a conference, offered either consolation or confirmation of fears held by the more sensitive. She watched the re-enactment from The Sixth Floor and considered her feelings about Dallas.

"Dallas is a much nicer city than I thought," she said. "I guess that I always associated it with the assassination."

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