Elvis, Meet Grisham

When we were house-hunting in Memphis, our realtor drove us past some interesting homes in the area we’d chosen.  One was Elvis Presley’s first purchased home, the one after the boarding house and apartments but before Graceland.  It was a 3,000 sq. foot ranch house on a pretty street near a park, bought with his early record royalties.  He lived there with his parents and his grandmother.

Fortunately and unfortunately, Heartbreak Hotel hit No. 1 on the record charts the month after he moved in,  so the quiet street became a midway of frantic fans and tourists as well as a frequent police presence, summoned there by frustrated neighbors.

The Civil War historian Shelby Foote lived in the area, too, but the house I remember most was the pretty cottage which had awaited fresh-faced, innocent attorney Mitch McDeere and his pretty wife,  Abby (Tom Cruise and Jeanne Tripplehorn) after he accepted a position with the sinister Bendini, Lambert & Locke, better known as The Firm.

Not long after we moved there, Matt Damon and Claire Danes came to our part of Memphis to film another Grisham story, The Rainmaker.

Dearly Beloved and I didn’t recognize the street where the dying Donny Ray Black and his parents Dot and Buddy lived,  or Miss Birdie’s home where the young attorney Rudy Baylor stayed in her garage apartment, but we were quite familiar with the Great Benefits Insurance Company dumpster into which Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito) dove, looking for evidence.  It was a few yards from the covered parking space assigned to us when we’d lived in a corporate apartment in the adjoining building while house hunting.   The Great Benefits name remained stenciled on the dumpster long after the crew left.  Perhaps it still is.

We’d made several visits to the jewelry store where Kelly Riker (Claire Danes) worked.  One had to ring a doorbell to get past the iron security door in real life.

Even the beauty shop I visited monthly was chosen for a scene in the movie.  Mike, the guy who cut my hair, was ecstatic.  He was a big fan of Danny DeVito and often joked that he caught a Taxi every morning.  He didn’t mean a cab, but a rerun of the old TV series in which DeVito played the funny but nasty cab dispatcher.  It ran weekday mornings on one of the local stations.

The night before the shoot, someone called Mike and asked him to bring several changes of clothing, nothing white or red.  They wanted him to have a speaking role.  Thus, the hairstylist became an actor playing a hairstylist who cut DeVito’s hair.

Although the story took place in Memphis, the beauty salon scene was supposed to be in Cleveland, home of Great Benefits.  Shifflet had been dispatched there to hunt for ex-insurance claims clerk,  Jackie Lemancyck, to testify about the company’s denial of Donny Ray’s treatment.

Although hair stylist Mike had lived in Memphis over 30 years, he had come to the US from Palestine’s West Bank, so his accent played as well in a Cleveland setting as it did in Memphis.   The conversation was to be unscripted–a casual exchange during the haircut.   They moved Mike to a booth in the middle of the shop so that the cameramen could maneuver more easily, even taped his cat Sammy’s picture to the mirror of his temporary station.

The first take, in this “CLEVELAND Hair Salon”, began like this:

“Cleveland’s a nice town,” DeVito said.

“My brother lives in Cleveland,” Mike answered.  “I go there a couple of times a year.”



After that, Mike slipped into his role easily, even suggesting that Shifflet might like a little color, making shop small talk.

The filming went on there for five hours.  DeVito had to leave to catch a plane, but the rest of them continued filming,  doing tight shots of Mike as he washed an imaginary head and responded to an off-camera voice.

The crew gave Mike a video of the taping and it’s a good thing, because otherwise, people might not believe him.  The entire scene never made it out of the cutting room.

Not only that,  his cat Sammy had a sick spell that very same day and the vet bill took Mike’s entire check and more.

DeVito, at least, flew back to California with a free haircut.


4 thoughts on “Elvis, Meet Grisham

  1. It’s so much fun to look again at the buildings and places where movies were made. So many have been done in Savannah and I used to stand around and watch some of them being made… although it usually took hours just to get a 3 minute scene on film.

  2. Fun story Mary Lee! I never knew you once lived in Memphis. The Spike Lee film “Jungle Fever” was filmed in my neighborhood of Brooklyn. It was interesting to see how they transformed a few old avenue stores to look even more vintage. I didn’t care for the movie that much.
    My husband is in the background of a scene in the original “Wall Street” movie. He was standing outside a building in Manhattan waiting for the filming to be completed so he could go inside t see a client ( the scene was all of 5 seconds of Michael Douglas walking out of the building) and he is in the background looking very impatient..lol!
    We often see film crews in Manhattan and we joke that when my husband retires we are going to join actors equity and start turning up for calls to be movie “extras”

    1. And indeed you should! Especially now that your husband has a film resume. 🙂 A daughter and two grandsons appear as extras in the Hallmark Hall of Fame move—The Lost Valentine–on CBS on January 30. Just look for the cutest kids and the prettiest young woman. They were filmed in several different costume changes–I hope they survived the final editing!

  3. Ooh, guess I will have to tape that and hope the film editor didn’t get cut happy.
    Memphis sounds like Hollywood south. We haven’t had any movies in my tiny town but John Grisham’s parents live here.

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