So this has nothing at all to do with dementia. A fairly big-budget movie is being filmed here in Providence, and I’ve run into it on several occasions over the past couple of months. It’s a live-action version of the old cartoon called “Underdog,” which I missed altogether as a kid, my cartoon days having ended with “Rocky and Bullwinkle.” But I’m kind of curious about “Underdog” now, having seen all the effort that’s being put into making it. A location often involves at least four 18-wheelers, a large catering truck, many smaller vans and box trucks, and dozens of people with cables and klieg lights and, yes, the camp chairs. A couple of times one of the streets I take to work has been closed off, and I’ve had to detour, grumbling, around the set.
I can’t really imagine “Underdog” having much to do with the East Side of Providence, which is a beautiful neighborhood of Victorian and Greek Revival homes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. For a few weeks, “Underdog” was filming around the Athenaeum, an early 19th-century private library whose claim to fame was as the setting for Edgar Allan Poe’s infatuation with local poetess Sarah Whitman. I’ve heard that Jim Belushi is in the movie but I’ve never seen him, or any other human actor (that I’ve recognized, which isn’t saying much). On my walk from the parking area to the library one morning, however, I DID turn a corner and almost bumped into a very life-like, nude, (anatomically-correct) male mannequin that was leaning, face first, against the side of one of the equipment trucks. At first I thought it was an “extra,” surreptitiously relieving himself, except that he looked a bit stiff and not quite embarrassed enough. No one else was around, which made the whole encounter even creepier.
But I think my best celebrity sighting was today. Again, the location was an unlikely one (unless they’re filming a historical version of “Underdog,” set, maybe, in the 18th century). Every morning I drive up College Hill past the First Baptist Church, as genteel a structure as you can imagine. Lately it’s been surrounded by trucks, cables and the overall atmosphere of busy-ness that clutter creates. This morning I was stopped in traffic on Waterman Street, alongside the church. A large black SUV pulled up alongside me and parked in a no-parking zone. Its windows were tantalizingly tinted, and before I had the chance to even guess what famous name might appear before me–right on Waterman Street, beside the bus tunnel–all four car doors opened and a cadre of hurried people spilled forth, clutching cell phones and clipboards and duffel bags, all of them looking late and worried. I recognized none of them and was about to give up when the final occupant emerged: the snowiest, cleanest, pouf-iest little poodle I’d ever seen, like a little cloud with a red collar and a black nose. I knew immediately that this was not just a camp-follower–this was a star.
They disappeared before I could get a better look, but at a meeting later that morning I shared my experience with some co-workers. One of my co-workers had been lunching down the hill by the courthouse a week earlier and had seen “Underdog” himself (like a beagle, she told us, but not as distinctly colored) rehearsing a scene in the park across the street. We then surmised that the airily-coiffed poodle being ferried into the church must be Underdog’s love interest in the film. I’m now a little more interested in the whole enterprise, having seen at least one of its stars in an informal moment.