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Mansfield celebrates 20th anniversary of 'Shawshank'

Mansfield News Journal

MANSFIELD — For the second time in 20 years, “The Shawshank Redemption” lit up the big screen at the Renaissance Theatre.
Friday marked the start of the 20th anniversary reunion of the film that placed Mansfield on the map.
“What makes this so exciting is all the fans and how excited they are,” said Jodie Puster-Snavely, group tour media director of the Mansfield/Richland County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “One girl came with her mother all the way from Texas. She’s just a huge ‘Shawshank’ fan. It’s just so cool to meet all these people and see how they’re reacting.”
A 35mm projector showed “Shawshank” on a 40-by-20-foot screen Friday.
Lydia Reed, who was mayor in 1993, said the night brought back many memories.
“I remember when we had our grand premiere here and I stood on the stage and said, ‘It’s the best feeling in the world to be the mayor of Mansfield tonight,’” Reed said. “This night really takes me back. It’s so exciting. It was just an awesome, awesome time.”
Theater Artistic Director Michael Thomas said more than 700 guests were in attendance Friday.
“I’m happily surprised at the large turnout,” he said. “It’s a movie that is so special to people here, but I think we forget that it’s a movie that is just as special to people all over the world.”
Although Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins weren’t in attendance Friday, three men were given the royal treatment by local fans.
After the film, Jim Kisicki (the bank teller in the film), Scott Mann (the golf pro) and Bob Gunton (the warden) signed autographs for a long line of excited guests.
“It’s almost impossible for me to put together two words about this,” Gunton said. “It is a pilgrimage back to one of the happiest and most challenging summers of my life — doing the project I am most proud of. To be back here 20 years later, still walking upright and still working as an actor is great. It’s one of those bellwether moments in my life.”
Kisicki, of Chesterland, Ohio, is still acting at age 71.
“It’s a movie about hope. It’s a very positive movie and there’s no gratuitous violence,” he said. “It’s a film of friendship.”
Mann, 51, resides in Cleveland and works in photography.
“People get different messages from it. For me, this is like a good meal or a good song. There’s just something about it I love. There’s something I feel when I watch it,” he said. “It’s a great movie, one of my favorite movies and not just because I’m in it.”
Mann said he was paired with the woman who played Robbins’ wife when he auditioned, and both were cast. He said neither knew each other ahead of time.
“They didn’t even tell me it was a Castle Rock production,” he said with a laugh. “I was cast and they said, ‘By the way, Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins are in this.’ It was a little scary, but it was a great feeling.”
Lillie Givand, 71, of Mansfield, played the second landlady.
During her one day on set, Givand said, she spent a good amount of time with Freeman.
“He was such a wonderful man,” she said. “He was the only one I really got to see while I was there. We had some really nice conversations. I’m really glad I came back tonight. This is such a beautiful thing.”
Jim Cobb, 71, of Ontario, made a prison shirt to wear Friday.
Cobb was one of the first to receive autographs from the three.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Cobb said of Gunton’s autograph. “I see him every month on TV and here I am shaking his hand. He was really super. I’m thrilled.”
Janet “Kelly” Irey, 91, of Mansfield, said she went with her friend to the audition 20 years ago as a favor.
“I got a part and she didn’t,” Irey said with a chuckle. In her lap was a screen shot of herself sitting on the bus in front of Freeman. “It was quite the experience. I’ve had a lot of fun with it over the last 20 years.”
Kisicki said he hopes many more fans will come out this weekend for all the reunion festivities. “Enjoy it, have fun and keep watching the movie,” he said. “It’s going to live long after we’re gone.”

Written by Jami Kinton

Shawshank Reunion brings Hollywood to Mansfield

Richland Source

In 1993 Scott Mann was a sometimes model, more oftentimes bartender in Cleveland.  One day his agency called and asked if he was up for doing a nude scene in a movie and they needed him to drive down to Mansfield immediately.
“I wasn’t doing anything that day, so I said, ‘Ok, where’s Mansfield?’ and I drove down for the audition,”  he explained. When he asked about the movie he was told that it was a horror flick.  “Odds are they didn’t even read the thing, they must have seen Stephen King and assumed,” said Mann.
His audition was so convincing that the casting crew cut it short, they weren’t quite sure how far Mann was going to go. He accidentally shut off the lights in the room while performing the role of Glenn Quentin, the golf pro and lover of Linda Dufresne, who meets a sticky end in the opening scenes of the film.
James Kisicki was already an accomplished actor in his own right before being cast as the bank manager.  In 1975, Detroit Free Press theater critic Larry Devine created the James Kisicki award which is given annually to the “most versatile actor” of the year in the greater Detroit area.
Warden Samuel Norton is the kind of character that audiences love to hate and actors dream of playing; and Bob Gunton is forever indebted to this roll for his ongoing success after the film.  “Bigger names than mine were considered; I got roles as a direct result of this,” he said.
Locals also had the opportunity to shine on the silver screen.  Janet Kelly Irey, now 91, was 71 when her friend invited her to go to the audition.  With an impish grin Irey said, “I got the part and she didn’t.  Folks at Kroger call me the bus lady.”
The nickname comes from the scene in which Irey sits prominently in front of Morgan Freeman on a bus.  Irey wasn’t intimidated by the movie experience; she claims she was accustomed to being bold.  As the first female bank officer in Richland County, Irey developed a strong sense of self and is happy to dispense advice to young women, “Whatever you want to do, try it.  Whether you fail or win, just try.  In the end you’ll win.”
Charles “Bud” Miller was in his jewelry shop downtown when some movie executives came in to replace a watch battery.  They struck up a conversation about the photograph of Bud’s 1936 Plymouth Coup that hung on the wall.  Bud’s car ended up being a key focal point in the film.  “It didn’t pay well, but it sure was fun,“ said Doris Miller, Bud’s wife.  The couple drove up from Claremont, Florida to take part in the festivities and the car made several appearances around town throughout the reunion weekend.
The actors that visited Mansfield and the homegrown talent were all impacted by the experience of being in the iconic film.  Mann remembers that he was in a theater on a date when the preview for The Shawshank Redemption flashed across the screen.  As soon as he got home he called his mother, who promptly went to see the same movie, just to see the trailer.  Gunton reminisced that over and over he meets people in his travels that are deeply moved by the film, “It’s almost like I’m a priest of this cult,” said Gunton.
Life after the film’s release and exponential growth to cult status has been varied for the actors.  Gunton credits the role in the film with putting his career on a decidedly more successful track, and he isn’t shy about the residuals he receives either.  Kisicki continued to be successful on stage and as a voice actor and is forever grateful to be a part of the legacy that is Shawshank.  Mann has retired from modeling and now works on the other side of the camera as a photographer and artist in Cleveland.
What about our locals?  Miller’s jewelry is now in the Appleseed Center and run by their son, and Janet Kelly Irey keeps an active social life as Mansfield’s “bus lady.”

by Tracy Graziani

Shawshank Redemption still resonates after 20 years

Richland Source

Prior to 1994, redemption was a concept left for Sunday services and theologians. That all changed when a Catholic author, better known for his horror fiction, wrote a short story that became an enduring classic in its film adaptation. Stephen King's Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was adapted for the screen by Frank Derabont and became The Shawshank Redemption, the #1 movie of all time according to IMDb user rankings. To date the film has generated an estimated $58,500,000 worldwide.  The fans, though, will be the first to tell you that it isn’t about the money. This movie has power of its own.

This weekend, thousands of Shawshank fans made the pilgrimage to Mansfield to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the filming.  On Friday night, the Renaissance Theater hosted a screening of the film with box office numbers of 673.  Following the film, actors Bob Gunton, who played Warden Samuel Norton, James Kisicki, the bank manager, and Scott Mann, Glenn Quentin (Linda Dufresne’s lover), signed autographs in the lobby.  The actors were contracted to sign autographs only until 10:30 p.m. However, the line was still 39 people deep at 10:50. The actors stayed in place until each autograph was signed.

 Britt Lockhart drove almost 2000 miles round trip from Yukon, OK to visit Mansfield several times over the years, all to connect with a place that has become dear to him through film. “It’s hard to express in words—the hope, the friendship. It’s a powerful guy movie,” said Lockhart, who was joined by his entire family.

 Jake Wells of La Pier, Michigan was only 6 years old when The Shawshank Redemption premiered in theaters, but the 25 year old man was so profoundly impacted by the film that he has the iconic oak tree tattooed on his right leg.  Wells has visited Mansfield and each stop on the Shawshank Trail three times now over the years. When asked about his devotion to the film he said, “What moves me is the message, the hopeful ending; that good can come from bad.” This was Wells’ first opportunity to see the film on the big screen.

None know with greater certainty the message of hope and redemption more than Larry Lorton of Wadsworth, Ohio.  Bob Gunton and Larry Lorton served in the 101st infantry unit together in Vietnam. Until this reunion weekend Lorton and Gunton had not been able to reconnect. Lorton remembers that many of his comrades would talk about their hopes and dreams as a distraction from the war.  One time, a few guys in the unit poked fun at Gunton claiming he couldn’t be an actor, “Right there in the middle of the jungle he just went into some Shakespeare,” Lorton reminisced.  “He’s a good caring guy, they put him in a bad area [chokes up] I just can’t imagine. I didn’t think we’d see him again.”

Gunton was offered what he thought was a promotion so he had made a point to go around and thank the guys in the unit and let them know that he never meant to leave them behind, only after his chopper took off did everyone realize that instead he was being sent to a fire base in a volatile area.  When asked why he was so moved by seeing Gunton after all these years Lorton said, “You have to understand.  All those guys, we had big dreams, hopes, plans, but none of us did it.  No one realized their dreams, no one but Bob.  He’s a good man.”

Redemption is a concept that resonates with people regardless of their religious predilections, and that quite possibly is the magic of this film.  The human experience is complex, sometimes unfair, and often sad.  There are consequences real and imagined that shape our destiny, but in the end, hope is a priceless commodity for our survival.  We all need to know that there is a bright future that we are loved, and The Shawshank Redemption reminds us of that.

James Kisicki and Scott Mann were discussing the film together and at moments each had tears well up in their eyes.  Mann shared that over the years he has lost friends to suicide, only to turn on the television at random and catch the film partway through.  “It always gives me hope; it reminds me of what my mother taught me," he shared, "Hey, what’s done is done.  Move on, life is too short.”

by Tracy Graziani

Iconic reformatory celebrates film that made it famous

Richland Source

On Saturday, The Ohio Reformatory hosted 1,716 visitors for tours before their sold-out cocktail reception of 300 guests. According to Executive Director Paul Smith it was the biggest weekend in the history of the reformatory.  He was quick to give all the credit to his staff and volunteers. He credited Mary Cabrera Kennard, program director, with the overwhelming success of the evening’s festivities.  “I’m telling you, 100 balls in the air.  She is amazing.”

The cocktail party was 1940s -1950s themed and the staff, as well as guests, got into the spirit of the evening by dressing the part. Volunteers dressed as prison guards or housewives and even an Andy Dufresne look-alike circulated amongst the crowd.

The evening began with a ceremony jointly hosted by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Ohio State Reformatory. Dan Seckel presented a one-of-a-kind artisan trophy with the key to Shawshank Prison as a token of thanks to Bob Gunton, who played Warden Samuel Norton in the film.

Both Jim Kisicki, who played the bank manager, and Scott Mann, the golf pro/lover, were presented replicas of the key mounted with an image of the original movie poster as tokens of gratitude as well. All three actors expressed gratitude for the warm reception they have received in Mansfield.

Party-goers were able to mingle with the actors, enjoy hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, and tour the prison. Tracy Logar volunteered most of the day Saturday, “It’s phenomenal, I’ve loved every minute,” she said. According to Logar visitors from all over the country passed her way, “It seemed many were from Virginia and Michigan,” she said. Apparently the most common question for the volunteers is the whereabouts of Andy’s cell; however the cell scenes were actually filmed on a set created in a warehouse in downtown Mansfield.

Stephanie and Matthew Krumbach traveled from Williamston, Michigan for the weekend.  Stephanie stumbled across the Ohio State Reformatory website online and once she learned of the reunion weekend she began making plans to attend. When asked about her favorite part of their trip, without hesitation she said, “The [cocktail] reception, we had so much fun planning and shopping for our outfits.  This party has been so fun.”

Tracy Graziani