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Jun 10

Attica–The TV Movie

Some of you may remember or have heard of the 1971 prison riot at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York. Initiated by prisoners’ demands for political rights and better living conditions, about 2200 inmates took control of the prison and held 42 individuals hostage for four days. In the end at least 43 people were dead, including ten correctional officers and civilian employees, and 33 inmates.

So why the interest in the 1971 Attica prison riot?

Late in 1979 ABC filmed a TV movie about the Attica Prison Riot. The movie, entitled Attica, was filmed at the Lima State Hospital, in Lima, Ohio, where my dad was employed as a security guard at the time. He worked at the Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for 23 years, from 1959-1983. When they filmed the TV movie Attica my dad was there, right in the thick of things. He was even able to get Joe and me a pass into the prison one evening to watch some of the filming. We got to see Charles Durning and a couple other actors film a scene.

Herb Miller at Lima State Hospital, 1968.

Herb Miller at Lima State Hospital, 1968.

He said they chose the Lima facility because it had an enclosed courtyard like the courtyard at the Attica prison.

Courtyard at Lima State Hospital during the filming of Attica, 1979.

Courtyard at Lima State Hospital during the filming of Attica, 1979.

While going through some old papers recently I came across some photos and other items that my dad saved from the filming of the movie Attica.

Attica starred Charles Durning, Henry Darrow, George Grizzard, Joel Fabiani, and Morgan Freeman, to name a few.  I am able to identify Charles Durning, Henry Darrow, and George Grizzard in the photos my dad had.

Actor Charles Durning during filming of Attica, 1979, Lima, Ohio.

Actor Charles Durning during filming of Attica, 1979, Lima, Ohio.

 

Actor Henry Darrow, filming of Attica, Lima, Ohio, 1979.

Actor Henry Darrow, Attica, Lima, Ohio, 1979.

Actor George Grizzard, Attica, Lima, Ohio, 1979.

Actor George Grizzard, Attica, Lima, Ohio, 1979.

ABC hired a lot of local men from the area as extras and I knew at least one man from St. Marys who was hired as an extra.

In addition to the photos, my dad saved some other interesting items from the filming. I found copies of two checks written to my dad. I doubt that he was in the movie, but I suspect he did some extra security duty from 1-3 November 1979.

Check from Attica Production Account, Nov 1979.

Check from Attica Production Account, Nov 1979.

Check from Attica Production Account, Nov 1979.

Check from Attica Production Account, Nov 1979.

He also saved the Call Sheet for Saturday, 3 November.

Attica Call Sheet, 3 Nov 1979.

Attica Call Sheet, 3 Nov 1979.

He had a copy of the movie script. I watched the beginning of the movie on YouTube and it is definitely the script.

Attica script, ABC TV movie, 1979.

Attica script, ABC TV movie, 1979.

Inside the cover of the script is the following introduction. A map of Attica Prison is on the following page.

This is the story of the most violent prison revolt in the history of this country. It took place at Attica State Prison in upstate New York during four days in September of 1971.

Blue Ribbon Commissions have studied Attica, and many of the participants on both sides have written about it. One of those was Tom Wicker, then an associate editor of the New York Times, who was one of a group of observers invited to the prison by the rebelling inmates to monitor the negotiations.

This is the story of Attica as seen by Tom Wicker.

First page of Attica script, 1979.

First page of Attica script, 1979.

The following letter to my dad, dated 14 November 1979, was from the Superintendent of the Lima State Hospital:

To: Herb Miller, Security
From: Ronald E. Hubbard, Superintendent
Subject: Letter of Commendation

Please allow me to take this opportunity to thank you individually for your outstanding work and cooperation during the filming of the ABC movie “Attica.” Please be assured that during the long days and nights, your work did not go unnoticed.

Your extreme loyalty, dedication and hard work made this difficult task an easy one. The ABC film executives were astounded and could not believe that such an undertaking could be accomplished.

I wish to take this opportunity to make you feel assured that this job could not have been done without your help. I appreciate your participation and your hard work.

Thank you very much for an extremely hard job done extremely well.

REH: gem
Cc: Personnel File

It was probably quite an undertaking and risk to film a movie at a prison where inmates were incarcerated at the same time.

The TV Movie Attica aired in March 1980 and was an hour and 37 minutes long. It won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Limited Series or a Special. The movie actually had five Emmy nominations: Outstanding Film Editing for a Limited Series or a Special; Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or a Special (Charles Durning); Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special; Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing; and Outstanding Directing in a Limited Series or a Special.

The movie was written by James S. Henerson and Tom Wicker, who wrote the book. It was directed by Marvin J. Chomsky.

I remember my dad telling me that one of the actors really liked his Chatt Bar jacket and so my dad gave it to him. I wonder what ever happened to that jacket. Is floating around somewhere in Hollywood today?

 

Sources:

“Attica Prison Riot,” Wikipedia.com

IMDb.com   

6 comments

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  1. Mary Anne Bollebacher

    WOW, didn’t know we had a ‘movie star,’ in our midst!! I remember this, but wasn’t aware that the movie was made at Lima, Oh.

    1. Karen

      Amazing, isn’t it. I wonder if they would make a film in a correctional institution today with inmates still there. I guess they were trying to make it as authentic as they could.

  2. Miriam

    Interesting. In my job, I went to the state hospital every week for many years. Not sure if I remember seeing you dad there (maybe I didn’t know him then), but I do remember seeing Norval and Deedee sometimes when I’d go through security or there would be a shift change. There was a “trusty” prisoner who was always cleaning the hallway – his name was “William Willie” (they didn’t know his actual surname) who had been there since the 1920’s. Every time he would come up for parole, he would hide – he didn’t have anywhere else to go and didn’t know anyone on the “outside.”

    1. Karen

      I remember my dad talking about William Willie! If you saw Norval and Deedee my dad would have most likely been there, too. They all rode to Lima together for years. Early on my dad was stationed in one of the guard towers. Later he was in Security inside. They worked second shift. I also have a painting that was painted by one of the inmates. Some were quite artistic.

  3. Phyllis Goodwin Brockmyer

    I visited the Lima State Hospital when doing an architectural for the State around 1980 and met your father when he was on duty. I was very impressed that the facility was the largest reinforced concrete building in the U.S. until the Pentagon was built.

    1. Karen

      I did not know that. That is so interesting! Thanks for writing.

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