Friday Flashback #180

I’ve written about this before.

But every so often, a reader discovers a 35-year-old video about Westport. And sends it to me, as if I’ve never seen it.

If you lived here in 1985 — as I did — you know it well.

That year, the Marketing Corporation of America gave the town a 150th- anniversary: a 30-minute film.

MCA is no longer around. Westport is no longer the “marketing capital of America.”

But after 3 1/2 decades, “Westport’s Got It All” is the gift that keeps on giving.

The video is filled with celebrities who lived here. Strangely — or, perhaps, understatedly and on purpose — none are named. Jim McKay reads a newspaper by the river. Harry Reasoner sits near a tennis court. Joanne Woodward has a cameo.

ABC's "Wide World of Sports" anchor Jim McKay sits on the banks of the Saugatuck River, in the town he called home.

ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” anchor Jim McKay sits on the banks of the Saugatuck River, in the town he called home.

Okay, so Rodney Dangerfield cracks, “The town of Westport has my respect.” But that’s the closest anyone comes to identifying him or herself.

The video opens with a cheesy, “Westport’s Got It All” song (including the line “Kids hanging out at the Dairy Queen…”). It’s sung by former Westporter Dara Sedaka — Neil’s daughter.

But the pace quickens. There are shots of Main Street, the Playhouse, Staples, Compo, the downtown art show, Longshore, Cockenoe, the Levitt and the Memorial Day parade (ending at Jesup Green).

Most look pretty much the same today. But there are plenty of other places and things that are long gone: Remarkable Book Shop. The White Barn Theater. Mohonk House. Hay Day (in its original location, opposite Carvel). MCA.

And, of course, restaurants: Manero’s, Chez Pierre, Ships, Peppermill, Three Bears, Allen’s Clam House, Connolly’s … and on and on.

I found the voiceovers fascinating. Mason Adams, Alan Parsell, Herb Baldwin, Claire Gold, Julie Belaga, Dick Leonard, Cary Pierce — I recognized the voices of so many former politicians, educators, students and others.

Crusty Yankee Alan Parsell was 83 years old when he was interviewed for the 150th-anniversary video.

Crusty Yankee Alan Parsell was 83 years old when he was interviewed for the 150th-anniversary video.

Here are some of the things they said:

  • “Nothing goes on here that people aren’t concerned about. For every issue, there are at least 10 sides.”
  • “I’m worried the town is losing its mix of a variety of people.”
  • “Westporters have extraordinary aspirations for their children. And they’re willing to pay for it.”
  • “I work 2 jobs, 90 hours a week, to keep my head above water here.”
  • “Westport has the sophistication of New York, the exuberance of a California town, the quaintness of New England — and a sense of humor.”
  • “We do have latchkey children, as more and more parents go off to work.”
George Weigle conducts the Staples Orphenians. They sound great in the video.

George Weigle conducts the Staples Orphenians. They sound great in the video.

  • “It’s a very loving community, in many ways.”
  • “We draw people into town, to go to the theater and movies.”
  • “The Post Road is a disaster. But every town has its Post Road. This one looks better than many.”
  • “Commercialization has really changed this town. It’s been good and bad.”
  • “It’s a generous, gregarious, outgoing town. You can dress any way you like. You can be anyone you want to be. That’s the uniqueness of the community.”

That was Westport, 1985. Thanks to MCA, we’ve got a video record — promotional, but still pretty honest — of who we were.

What’s happened in the past 35 years? Are we better, worse, just different — or the same — as we were back in the days when big cars roamed Main Street, the Church Lane YMCA was still new, and people came from out of town for the movies?

Click on the video below (then wait 10 seconds to begin). Then click “Comments.”

11 responses to “Friday Flashback #180

  1. As it was in 1985 it is now and hopefully ever shall be Wonderful Westport the place we enjoy, love and complain about, talk about, and the place we proudly call home.
    Thanks Dan

  2. Ruth Kalla Ungerer

    The letter from Niah Michel in WestportNow is quite disturbing. I don’t see how we can celebrate “Wonderful Westport” in the same breath. I don’t have children in our schools, but I am appalled that the students there feel so isolated and feel that their issues are being ignored. We can and should address their concerns.

    It takes more than the act of posting signs around town saying “hate doesn’t have a home here.” We should be teaching our children to treat students and individuals of color with dignity and respect. Let’s forgo any celebrations until everyone among us feel welcome and respected members of our community.

    • Thank you, I just read Niah’s letter myself & also find it disturbing & very sad. Although I kind of expect this type of thing in Greenwich or Darien, I certainly thought that Westport had become more progressive since I attended Staples. I’m angered as a human being to learn that once again, children are being disrespected in this way. Children of color. And white kids are are being permitted to view & learn this distorted way of the world from adults who work at Staples in positions of control. Disgusting. I’m so glad I recommended against a friend sending her child (white) to Westport’s Staples for the Arts programs. Where is art without diversity? I will happily view the video for the 80’s memories. Thank you, Dan.

  3. Anything any article about a video that no one realizes you’ve seen before needs to include mention of the satire video as well. Don’t you think?

  4. Nina Streitfeld

    Marvelous. What memories we have off this era, preserved in this video.

  5. My favorite was the two dancers downtown!

  6. Hahahahahahaha those Staples kids are dead on in that spoof video!!!
    But sadly certainly echoes the unfortunate letter the Staples student just wrote. History unfortunately repeating itself.

  7. Carissa Simon Baker

    Brought me right back to growing up there. Loved seeing George Weigle conduct again….he was the best! Thank you for this!

  8. Thanks for my birthday present today. Westport is held in my heart & will always be my home no matter where I live.

  9. Theresa Kovacs

    It was so great to see this video again and see all the places we use to have, the music and dancers were great and love seeing the people I recognized! I’m still here and love Westport for almost 80 years!

  10. My family lived in Westport from 1955-62 and I was in school here from 2nd-8th grades. The first black person I ever came in contact with was Matt Rudd, the librarian at Burr Farms–which opened when I was in 4th grade. I don’t recall giving it any thought to the fact he was black–everybody loved him. I had one black classmate in 7th grade–the only black classmate I ever had before college, and while I didn’t know her that well, she seemed to have friends. My mother, who was generally progressive, was upset when she came to pick me up after a sock hop and I was dancing with her. The only other black person I had contact with was Mr. Douglas, who taught crafts at Long Lots Jr. High. Unfortunately, having him after the legendary Scott Wright was a letdown, but I never heard a word spoken about his race.