News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

February 6, 2008

MARK BENNETT: Filmmaker exploring long-lost connection between Steve Martin, Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE — Thank goodness Americans pinched their buttocks correctly.

Otherwise, Terre Haute could’ve been forever immortalized in a movie called “Manure for the Millions.”

If you understand those two sentences, Gary Wood and his cohorts want to talk with you. (Counselors may, also.) The Indianapolis independent filmmaker is exploring the bizarre, long-lost connection between comedian Steve Martin and Terre Haute. Soon, Wood intends to begin filming a documentary called “One Wild and Crazy City” right here.

Many of you are probably still hung up on those first two sentences, so let’s clarify it all.

On Nov. 18, 1978, Martin rode a wave of rock-star popularity into Terre Haute for a comedy concert in Hulman Center. A throng of 7,348 fans laughed along with his wacky arrow-through-the-head, banjo-playing routine. Steve, though, apparently didn’t enjoy his stay. A few months later, when a Playboy magazine interviewer asked Martin to pick the most nowhere city in America, he answered, “Terre Haute, Indiana.”

Why? How could he say such a thing?

Well, Steve had a long list of gripes. When he ventured out of his hotel room, he found no shops or restaurants open downtown. When he returned to the hotel, he tried to watch TV, but the horizontal hold was on the fritz. Even after it cleared up, Martin couldn’t get used to seeing fertilizer commercials. “They say you can always tell that you’re somewhere when they have manure ads on TV,” he told Playboy.

Terre Haute responded by inviting Martin to return for a full-fledged tour of the city. He accepted, and on Dec. 7, 1979, it happened. Then-Mayor Bill Brighton led Martin — joined by a Playboy entourage — from a meal at the Shuffle Inn diner to a tour of CF Industries (a fertilizer plant), a ride in a jalopy through a car wash, a visit to a tractor supply shop (where he received a toy fertilizer spreader and a birdhouse), and an appearance at City Hall before 2,000 Hauteans (waving signs like “Welcome, Billy Martin” and “Stan, We’re Your Biggest Fans”).

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