Philadelphia Native Returns In Glory Steven Kampmann Steals Home For The World Premiere Of His Movie.

Posted: August 12, 1988

Picture this: A down-on-his-luck, middle-aged Hollywood actor holes up in an apartment in the land of broken dreams and writes a screenplay in which the hero pines for the innocence of boyhood, baseball and old Philadelphia, his home town.

Improbably, the script, "Stealing Home," attracts notice. Our hero wins a titanic struggle with Hollywood moguls for control of the film, installs

himself as director-producer, films at his mother's house in Wyndmoor and casts his wife, his children and his old school's headmaster, athletic coach, baseball team and a score of lifelong friends as characters. They are all on hand, cheering wildly, when he returns home for the world premiere in Society Hill, where the prodigal son kisses the lovely actress Christine Jones, joshes with star Mark Harmon, is feted by Mayor Goode . . .

Steven Kampmann, the Philadelphia-born Hollywood actor who turned this fantasy into celluloid reality by co-writing and co-directing Stealing Home (with Will Aldis of Chicago), stood in the middle of his world-premiere party Wednesday night, marveling at the scene before him.

There was Harmon - who portrays Billy Wyatt, the luckless minor-league baseball player who returns home to Philly to face his past in Stealing Home - stealing hearts in the Society Hill Sheraton ballroom. There was half of Chestnut Hill, the people he grew up with and made quasi-famous by giving them roles in the film. There were swarms of TV cameras, photographers, Entertainment Tonight, such Phillies and ex-Phillies as Von Hayes and Tug McGraw, and so many red, white and blue balloons, it looked like the setting for the Republican convention. There were generations of grads from Chestnut Hill Academy (Kampmann's alma mater), the co-beneficiary with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of the $100-a-ticket benefit. And there was Kampmann saying he dreamed of owning Philadelphia the way Woody Allen owned New York.

"It's my turf," Kampmann said.

Yeeaaaaah!

"This is a big night. I'm tremendously proud of the movie," said Kampmann, a lean, wavy-haired, fast-talking fellow who looks younger than his 40 years. Sporting a seersucker jacket, navy tie and Phillies pin on his lapel, the director added, "It feels like my wedding. Everybody's here. Both of our parents are here, all the people that didn't come to our wedding. It's like the wedding I never had."

You never had a wedding? Kampmann had been famous for half an hour and already the media invasion of privacy had begun.

"Of course I had a wedding." (His wife, Judith, plays Mrs. Applebee, a minor role in the film.)

Your parents didn't go to your wedding?

"Don't get too nosy."

Right. Sorry. This was not a night to ask tough questions. (Like how did Kampmann manage to get his nose broken by a ground ball when Harmon was pitching batting practice at the Vet for the big baseball scene? Or how did he get dropped from the hit television show Newhart after two years of playing Kirk Devane, owner of the Minuteman Cafe?)

It was a night to see and be seen, a night to be a Philadelphian and be proud of it. "I'd like to stop all the bad raps Philadelphia takes. You know, W.C. Fields and all that," Kampmann said.

STEALING THE SHOW

"My father-in-law went to the University of Pennsylvania," bragged 23- year-old actor William ("I don't like baseball. Is it OK to say that?") McNamara, who steals the show as the 16-year-old Billy Wyatt.

"My in-laws, the Lipscombs from Haddonfield, are extras," said Christine Jones, who plays Jodie Foster's mother.

It was a night to gawk at the city's celebs before seeing a movie with more Philadelphia twists than a pretzel.

Hayes, the Phillies first baseman, left the side of his date, actress Page Turcot (of the soap opera Guiding Light), for a moment, giving Joanne Brown her opening.

The 34-year-old Center City legal secretary asked Hayes to "stand near me so it looks like we're together," while her date snapped a picture. Hayes obliged with a big smile.

"He's soooo good looking," Brown said blushing. "Do you think it looks like we're together?"

There was ex-Phils pitcher Tug McGraw, out of Hayes' earshot, offering his opinion on the summer's plethora of baseball films: "I'm glad. It's better to watch baseball in a movie than to watch a bad baseball team like the one in Philadelphia."

There was Larry Christenson, another ex-Phils hurler, reminiscing about that other land of broken dreams - the minor leagues - and benefit co-chairman Bill Giles, the Phillies president, saying, "Our record speaks for itself."

"Hey, guys," Harmon said, approaching Hayes, McGraw and Christenson with a maroon AMC Cinemas jacket he'd just been given by the theater. "I'll trade this for a Phillies jacket."

Later, McGraw, the man who pitched the Phillies to a world championship, was spotted in the lobby with a handbag slung over his shoulder.

"My date saw Mark Harmon and went away with him," McGraw joked. "I'll be stuck holding the bag and I have to pay all the bills, too."

Not everyone swooned over the former star of St. Elsewhere.

"Who's that?" whispered a white-haired man in the crowd, as Mayor Goode presented Harmon with a miniature Liberty Bell.

"That's Tom Harmon's boy," his friend said. (Football star Tom Harmon was the 1940 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Michigan.) "Remember Tommy?"

"Oh, I remember Tommy."

LOCAL COLOR

Harmon was saying that Philadelphia gave strong local color to the movie, far preferable to filming "on a back lot in Burbank."

"I'm really Mark Harmon's father!" the irrepressible McGraw called out

from the audience. (McGraw had tried out for the part of Billy Wyatt's father, but didn't get past the reading. "Relief pitchers have trouble reading, and I didn't have a catcher to help," he said.)

Kampmann took the podium next, to say that Philadelphia was a terrific place to film because of great cooperation from the city, the inexpensive labor costs (the movie cost $6.5 million, a third of what most Hollywood productions cost, he said), and the availability of untapped local talent.

Stealing Home features the city skyline, Chestnut Hill, the Jersey shore, Veterans Stadium, Bob's Diner in Roxborough, the Phillies, the Phillies losing.

It was Chestnut Hill that stole Kampmann's heart.

He put Thacher Goodwin, a sixth-grader at Chestnut Hill Academy and grandson of City Council member W. Thacher Longstreth, in the film, playing Billy Wyatt as a 10-year-old. He put the academy's baseball team on the field as Billy's Carlton Academy team and the opposition.

He ticketed players such as John Talbot, 17, for minor stardom. Talbot and his teammates came to the premiere proudly wearing their baseball uniforms.

"I got paid $50 to be an extra," Talbot said. "My dad got paid $500. He had a speaking part."

His dad, Jim Talbot, is the academy's athletic director. Talbot plays the third-base coach who cheers Billy Wyatt as he hits a triple before stealing home. Alas, Talbot's only line - "Way to go, Billy!" - ended up on the cutting room floor.

"They cut my line," Talbot said mournfully.

"They cut my head off," said a more cheerful Barnaby Roberts, headmaster at Chestnut Hill Academy, whose appearance in the film was edited down to a mere background figure whose face isn't even in the scene.

But that was all right with Roberts. At a world premiere, just having your torso appear in a movie was something to be proud of indeed.

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