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On Location: OK Everybody Out of the Pool

3 minute read

The swimming pool is empty except for a man who is drifting around in an inner tube, a martini glass in his hand, a party hat on his head. He is stoned. Into the pool plop Neddy Merrill and a bikinied blonde. They shake the man awake. “Know what day this is?” The drunk couldn’t care less. Neddy and the blonde swim the length of the pool, get out and move on. Neddy Merrill is Burt Lancaster, the girl is Starlet Janet Landgard, and the scene is from a movie called The Swimmer, now being filmed in Connecticut’s Fairfield County, a quaintly sybaritic suburb of New York City. The picture is an adaptation of John Cheevers short story about Neddy’s attempt to drown his troubles with what he thinks is a lark — a nine-pool, cross-country swim and portage to his home. But the real lark is for the Fairfield gawkers to watch a film com pany at work in their own backyards.

Hydrophobia He-Man. The producers chose the Connecticut location, says Director Frank Perry (David and Lisa), chiefly because it matches Cheever’s Eastern setting. Hollywood pools are not right anyway. Burt Lancaster, for example, has a little $30,000 layout in Bel Air, with a heating system, a waterfall and a tributary running into the living room. It was too splashy for Cheever country, so Lancaster & Co. had to go East. To add insult to imposition, Hollywood He-Man Lancaster was required to take three months of swimming lessons first to cure his mild hydrophobia.

By the time shooting was ready to begin last month, the producers had chosen most of the private pools for Lancaster’s swimathon. The homeowners went along for fees of about $500 a day and assurance that the film crews would use mobile toilet facilities and not go traipsing into people’s houses. A single exception was the star, who one evening appeared in a terry-cloth robe at one back door and asked: “Are you the lady of the house? I’m Burt Lancaster. May I have a vodka martini?” He got it.

Hush Money. Apart from pool rentals, the studio enriched the Connecticut economy in several other ways. A buzz-saw operator whose activities were marring the sound track was paid $200 to knock it off for the day. This in turn sent everybody and his mother out into the yards for miles around with everything from compressors to power mowers, looking for further hush money. This week 175 members of the Lake Club of New Canaan are scheduled to share the loot as extras. It’s not that they need the $5 a day; it’s the glimpse of glory. Cheever himself was offered the part of the floating souse, but he turned it down. “If I’m only going to be in one movie in my life,” he said, “I’m damned if my grandchildren are going to see me drunk in a swimming pool.” Instead, they will see Granddad playing a bystander in a smaller if more decorous role, which has already been filmed. “All I did,” says Cheever, “was say ‘Hi,’ shake Lancaster’s hand, and kiss Janet Landgard, which I liked.”

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