By Tony Wade
On March 18, 1977, when I was a seventh-grader at Grange Intermediate School, a rumor went viral (old school word-of-mouth viral) that Farrah Fawcett-Majors from “Charlie’s Angels” was coming to Fairfield. Nearly everyone ditched class and showed up at the Kmart parking lot, hoping to get a glimpse of Farrah and her famous feathered hair, but instead only saw Budweiser’s colossal Clydesdales. Adding insult to injury, one of the huge horses deposited some poop right in front of me that was as big as a Ford Pinto. Actually, even having Anheuser-Busch’s trademarked equines in Fairfield was a pretty big deal, but then again no one had a poster of them on their wall.
Numerous celebrities have come to Solano County over the years. How many knew legendary rocker Fats Domino came to Suisun City in 1959 and played a smokin’ set at the M&M Skateway (where the Athenian Grill now sits)? Nanciann Gregg remembers it not because she danced to “Blueberry Hill” or “Ain’t That a Shame,” but because she was working as a carhop at Sid’s Drive-In that night.
“I was the only one working, so when the show was over I served 250 cars that night!” Gregg said. The M&M Skateway later became the Pioneer Ballroom and in 1966 featured concerts by then-popular groups Love, the Sir Douglas Quintet and even the Grateful Dead. In the late 1970s, the March of Dimes walk-a-thons featured celebrities to cheer on participants walking the 20 miles from Fairfield High to Vacaville High and back. In 1977, Donny and Marie Osmond waved from their limo’s sunroof. The following year, Bee Gees younger brother/heartthrob Andy Gibb flew into Nut Tree airport and did the limo thing. And in 1979, “Mork and Mindy” comedian Robin Williams landed in a helicopter at Fairfield High. “I remember getting a ‘nanu-nanu’ from Robin Williams and also being bummed about missing
Donny and Marie, but we ran into them at the gas station by Muffin Treat!” Mary Stukey Cader said. “It was so exciting and Donny showed us his purple socks!” In 1975, Max Baer Jr. — Jethro on “The Beverly Hillbillies” — filmed a movie called “The McCullochs” in Fairfield and other parts of Solano County. Last year, I watched the film with the aforementioned Nanciann Gregg and another longtime Fairfielder, Keith Hayes, to help me spot familiar places. With all due respect to local folk who were in the movie as extras, I enjoyed the company of the two Solano County amateur historians much more than the wretched film. Another movie with parts filmed locally was 1986’s “Howard the Duck” — widely considered one of the worst ever. It received Golden Raspberry Awards for Worst Screenplay, Worst New Star, Worst Visual Effects and tied with Prince’s putrid “Under the Cherry Moon” for Worst Picture. Not all films made here were forgettable. “All the King’s Men,” partially shot in Rio Vista and Fairfield, won three Academy Awards in 1950: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Picture. Other Solano County movies include “Air Force One,” “Sphere,” “Patch Adams” and “50 First Dates.” Left to right–Suisun City sheriff A.C, Tillman, John Derek, John Ireland, Broderick Crawford in All the King’s Men. The following locals sighted other celebs: Paul Shelley: Lou Rawls at the grand opening of Anheuser-Busch. Estelle McNeice: The Village People at Skateland Roller Rink for a skate-a-thon. They performed “YMCA” and autographed a record. Clif Wilson: Parliament/Funkadelic creator George Clinton at Gordon’s Music downtown. Donna Ingram: Jon Voight in Fairfield and Donald Sutherland in Vacaville, both campaigning for George McGovern for president in 1972. Denise Marie Torkelsen Lazzara: Pop-rock band Night Ranger at Scandia in 1984 as publicity for the arcade’s launch of MTV. Now, everyone wasn’t always thrilled when a celebrity came to town. Here’s a remembrance from my brother Kelvin Wade. “As a rather stout youth at Grange Intermediate in 1979, I endured taunts of ‘Rerun,’ the portly dancer of TV’s ‘What’s Happening!!’ fame, so imagine my horror when on my way to lunch I noticed a commotion in Mr. Jones’ room,” my brother said. “I walked in and saw Fred Berry strutting back and forth and kids losing their minds. Mr. Jones comes up behind me and says, ‘Hey, we got two Reruns in here.’ While I loved ‘What’s Happening!!’ I went to lunch thinking, ‘Why’d your fat butt have to show up at my school?’”