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September 14, 2011

MARK BENNETT: Just another Terre Haute celebrity sighting

TERRE HAUTE — At some point, this stuff becomes routine.

First Hautean: “Isn’t that Will Ferrell shooting a commercial over there by the hotel?”

Second Hautean: “Yeah, I ran into De Niro at Square Donuts yesterday. You think the Colts will win a game without Peyton?”


Last month, actors Jesse Ventura and Tom Sizemore came to town to act in the Terre Haute-based movie “The Drunk.” Tuesday morning, film funnyman Will Ferrell showed up with a crew at various locations downtown, including the Crossroads of America at Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue, apparently to film a comedy sketch about Old Milwaukee beer.

Ferrell held an Old Milwaukee beer can as he spoke and the cameras rolled, and read from cue cards where the word “Milwaukee” was clearly visible, according to people who encountered the brief spectacle.

The film crew used multiple locations — besides the Crossroads of America marker next to the Max Ehrmann statue and plaza, in front of the Hilton Garden Inn-Terre Haute House, and near the railroad tracks at 10th and Wabash. For one take, Ferrell spoke into the cameras while walking through the Seventh and Wabash intersection, crossing from the Hilton toward Old National Bank.

Kids in a passing school bus spotted Ferrell and snapped cellphone photos. People working in the bank building, Boo’s Crossroads Cafe and the Vigo County School Corp. did the same.

“How often does Will Ferrell come to Terre Haute?” Vickie Wallace, executive assistant at ONB, asked rhetorically as she described the reaction of those who watched his short filming session. That’s a good question, but Ferrell breezed in and out of town so quickly, apparently unannounced, that no one heard whether he’d been here before.

An even more puzzling question is, why Terre Haute?

Sure, we’ve got a long history of beermaking, including the long run of Champagne Velvet and the once-massive Terre Haute Brewing Co. That all ended when the brewery closed in 1958, until a beer-making revival in the 21st century initiated by entrepreneur Mike Rowe and followed by Ted Miller and the Brugge team at the reopened plant.

Still, connecting that history to a Will Ferrell commercial for Old Milwaukee — now a Pabst Brewing Co. product — is a big stretch.

Maybe Will’s a fan of Larry Bird, “Desiderata,” Eugene Debs or Clabber Girl Baking Powder. Maybe his crew is stopping at scenic points along the Old National Road, U.S. 40. (Scratch that. With the state’s new road sign system, they’d probably end up at the airport.) Maybe Will wanted to rekindle some of Steve Martin’s Terre Haute magic, and show how Terre Haute, circa 2011, is light years beyond Steve’s 1978 “Nowhere USA” label.

Maybe they pulled off I-70 for gas and breakfast and wound up downtown. (After all, Ferrell and his crew eventually ate at Cracker Barrel shortly after leaving Wabash Avenue.)

As of Tuesday evening, the reason they picked Terre Haute remained unclear. Voicemail messages left with Ferrell’s publicist and the Pabst Brewing marketing staff were not immediately returned.

While the “why” is, for now, a mystery, the “what” may not be so murky.

A 2010 story in Businessweek explained how the Pabst new ownership was aggressively marketing its brands. Pabst Blue Ribbon — believe it or not — has become a hipster beverage, popular in Los Angeles and New York’s trendy places. (That’s a head-scratcher. Anybody remember that picture of Larry Bird in his Indiana State Sycamore days wearing a PBR ballcap?) That same Businessweek piece also revealed that the comedy website Funny Or Die, created by Ferrell’s production company, would produce sketches incorporating Pabst products.

That possibility might at least explain what they were up to.

In the meantime, we all can speculate where — and in what light — our city will show up in Ferrell’s comedic portfolio. Everybody who thinks he’s funny (and I do) has a favorite Will Ferrell movie.

“My kids love ‘Kicking and Screaming’ and ‘The Other Guys,’ ” Wallace said. “He’s just hilarious.”

Julia Madison, a receptionist at the Vigo County School Corp., who saw Ferrell’s crew pull up in two vehicles just before 8 a.m., likes “Elf.”

Jon Campbell, the cook at Crossroads Cafe who briefly left the grill to see if it really was Will Ferrell outside, said, “I love Ron Burgundy — ‘Anchorman,’ ” referring to Ferrell’s character in that TV news spoof. “ ‘Talladega Nights’ is a classic, too.”

Sarah Brinkman, Campbell’s co-worker, likes “Stranger Than Fiction.” That phrase sums up Terre Haute’s situation Tuesday. … Will Ferrell came to town, filmed some sort of Old Milwaukee beer sketch while wearing tube socks and sandals, and then took off in a van, stopping first to eat biscuits and gravy and grits at Cracker Barrel.

For Terre Haute, to quote “Anchorman,” this was “kind of a big deal.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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