One flame on Lombard just can't be extinguished

Travolta at filming is a very hot topic

April 30, 2003|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Did you hear the two ladies on the stoop on East Lombard Street during the filming yesterday of the firefighter movie Ladder 49?

"At 11 a.m., I saw John Travolta. He waved and smiled at me. He looks like he lost some weight," says Anne Smith.

"He looked good," says Janis Bradley.

Smith holds a grocery bag of fried chicken. She drinks orange soda and smokes a "cheapo" cigarette. Bradley isn't holding, smoking or drinking anything. The neighbors live in the 1800 block of Lombard St. - the scene of a movie funeral procession for a fallen firefighter in Ladder 49, starring John Travolta and an actor who sort of resembles another famous actor.

"At 7:12 a.m., I saw Samuel Jackson standing on the corner. Samuel Jackson. I can't believe he was there.

"He looked good," Bradley says.

"I'm trying to see Samuel Jackson myself," Smith says. Well, she's going to have to get up earlier in the morning to do that. That and the fact Samuel L. Jackson isn't in Ladder 49 - but rather Morris Chestnut.

By mid-afternoon, everyone is waiting around and no Samuel L. Jackson, Morris Chestnut or John Travolta to be seen yet. Firefighters - real ones from the city, county, state and entire country - line Lombard Street. The word is they declined the $65-a-day paid to movie extras.

"It's an honor just to be here," says Nick Catalano from the Bladensburg Volunteer Fire Department. Hey, it's about time they made a good firefighter movie, says his wife, Lisa Catalano, with the same fire department. Not that silly Backdraft movie years back with Kurt Russell firefighting inside burning buildings without wearing a face mask. It's also moments like these - fire people and trucks and ladders all over the place - when one might wonder what happens if a there is, say, a real fire somewhere.

"Oh, we're covered," says Lisa.

Ever forward, then. A black SUV splits the crowd on Lombard. The man from Grease steps out. John Travolta, with his movie-gray sideburns and in his lint-free, firefighter's dress uniform, is one handsome devil. Anne Smith and Janis Bradley, assumed to have been permanently affixed to their stoops, move with Ray Lewis-agility toward Mr. T. As she runs, Smith holds tight to her grocery bag.

Now, this being a funeral procession, Travolta looks very sorrowful. He straightens his firefighter's dress cap. A member of the crew removes more lint from his suit. Between takes and the piping of a bagpiper, Travolta signs autographs and waves. A knot of people encircles the actor, as he tries to focus on the upcoming scene. The ladies from the stoop are near him but have forgotten to bring paper to get an autograph. The omission does not ruin the experience.

"My heart is going thump, thump, thump," Smith says.

"He looks so good,' Bradley says.

Now, it's polite to leave actors alone between scenes, but Travolta, after all, is in our back yard. How can people help themselves? Take this tall, friendly dude named Jerome Blackwell. He didn't come out to Lombard Street yesterday to chat with Travolta about scientology or actingology. Blackwell, waving a dollar bill, somehow gets Travolta to sign the one-spot. The two make meaningful eye contact.

"Thank you, sir! Thank you, Jesus. We love you, John! We love you!" Blackwell hollers at Travolta, who flashes one of those money smiles that separate actors from the rest of us.

Blackwell shows off the dollar bill to a star-struck crowd; Blackwell himself is a star for the moment. What a nice man Travolta is. Such a nice personality, Blackwell says. You know, he says, "I've lost a couple of dollars in my day, but I got this one," he says, waving the signed dollar bill.

The funeral procession scene has to be shot again. That's the way it is with movies. The bagpiper does his thing again - that mournful, timeless sound. Back on her stoop, Anne Smith says every time she hears bagpipes, she wants to cry. She might cry now. "Then I realize, this isn't real."

Oh, but it's real enough.

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