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SUMMER / FALL 2019      © 2019 812 Magazine

The Rat Pack prequels


When Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin arrived in Madison for the 1958 filming of Some Came Running, the stars aligned to form one of Hollywood's most famous crews.


Dean Martin stepped on the backseat of a convertible in front of the Madison's theater, pointed to the blushing 16-year-old Cynthia Bohn Hulse and sang "Volare" while the whole set watched. He just belted it without a single lick of music.

"Dean was just that kind of man, the charming kind that was completely opposite of Sinatra who had that constant 'get-away-from-me-kid' look," says Hulse, who was an extra in the film. "I remember when I asked Sinatra for an autograph, Dean had to smack him and say, 'Give the girl your autograph, Frank, it won't kill ya.'"

It was an era of plush Hollywood stars and illuminated Vegas lights. But in 1958, two of show business' biggest acts were far from the West Coast in the small Southern Indiana town of Madison to shoot the film Some Came Running. The town took hold of the Frank Sinatra and Martin duo in a way they could never imagine, nurturing a friendship that would later be key to the famous crew, the Rat Pack.

When Hollywood came to Madison

Hollywood names aside, the people of Madison say the best-casted role in Some Came Running was Madison itself as the film's hometown of Parkman, Illinois. With its majestic hills overlooking the Ohio River, the painted storefronts lining Main Street and the front lawn of the Lanier Mansion, Madison fit every detail author James Jones wrote in his 1957 novel, which would later become the feature film.

A story about a war veteran returning home to come to terms with his life and literary aspirations parallel the Midwest town's roots. In fact, it had been just under 20 years since the Office of War Information designated the town the "Typical American Small Town" in 1941. During World War II, the title represented Madison as "the value worth fighting for." The established concept only supported the idea that Madison would play the perfect Parkman. So, on July 11, 1958, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios of Hollywood, California, announced Madison as the shooting location for Some Came Running.

Director Vincente Minnelli told a Madison Courier reporter Madison was selected because "you have such breath-taking scenery, like the river and the hills and the beautiful homes. Your downtown is just what we were looking for."

MGM Location Manager Charles Coleman said the town had that certain something that made him feel like a native himself. While he might have felt like a part of the small town, no feeling could compare to the one only a true Madison native felt when they heard Hollywood was coming to town.

The Madison Courier printed daily articles on the filming and many of the townspeople were eager for nightfall as the majority of the shooting happened between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

The Indiana State Employment Service on the second floor of the Madison City Hall hired all of the extras, and the Courier printed that trying to get hired through soliciting would be a "fruitless quest."

Hulse said her entire family applied, and everyone was accepted except for her, but she wasn't going to let that stop her.

"The girl who lived across the street from us ended up getting sick, and I didn't tell anybody, but I went in her place," says Hulse, who still had a slight hint of concern in her voice that MGM was going to find out. "I guess no one cares now, but when they called her name, I said, 'Yes.'"

Extras were paid $15 a day for their work and were brought by bus to Brown Gym where they were served daily meals. But even between meals, Hulse never had a moment of hunger.

"Oh my yes, hot dogs and lots of cotton candy," Hulse said of the multiple takes of the film's carnival scene. "You think it would be simple, but they kept cutting and doing it again, and every time I got fresh cotton candy. I was sick to death with cotton candy."

Madison resident and film extra Pee Wee Lakeman said the entire town was in the carnival scene. In fact, it was one of the largest location scenes ever attempted by MGM. It was reported in the Madison Courier that the cable used for lighting stretched four miles around the downtown business district.

Hulse's friend Anna Nelson was also in the carnival scene, and though she cannot see herself in the movie's scene, she remembers exactly where she was.

"It's the little things I remember," Nelson said. "I remember the Ferris wheel was fake and didn't have actual seats, and I remember Shirley MacLaine skinned her elbows up in the shooting scene because they shot it so much."

Hulse remembers MacLaine and Sinatra walking in front of her. Nelson remembers Martin accidentally stepping on her. But most of all, it seems the entire town remembers where the three went after the cameras had stopped rolling.

The Hillside Inn could be seen as high as a star hanging over the town, so it only made sense for the three biggest stars to be kept there in a neighboring house. But despite the steep climb of the hillside, the secluded location couldn't keep away fans.

MacLaine said in an interview one determined woman broke through the barrier that had been set around the house at Sinatra's request, crashed into the hallway breaking two lamps and pinned Frank to the couch kissing him. The woman was followed by her husband who was said to rush after her yelling, "Helen, you don't even know him."

Once Sinatra broke away he escorted the woman to the door giving her an autographed photo. It was one of the few autographs Sinatra would give.

Frank Sinatra hated Madison

It was public knowledge that "Mr. Sinatra will not talk to the press!" He didn't talk to much of anyone. Frank Sinatra hated Madison.

"I heard adults saying that he made nasty-mood comments saying he didn't like Madison calling the town blankety blank blank," Hulse says. "He wasn't thrilled coming to a little town."

He seemed to fit his role of the alcoholic, bitter war veteran David Hirsh almost too well.

"I remember it was just pouring," says Hulse who was nervous about her naturally curly hair frizzing. "They moved us all inside and seated on either side of me was Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. I remember just thinking 'Oh my goodness, oh my goodness' and though Sinatra said nothing to me, Dean and I discussed the weather."

The rain had put Sinatra in an even nastier mood, and three days into filming, Sinatra refused to work, telling Minnelli that he was sick. However, the truth soon came out.

"One of the most nastiest times of Frank Sinatra was when he made one of the producers fly out from California because he refused to work after he found out that his character was going to be killed," film-dedication site, Madison Came Running, founder Robert Cline says. The uprising was short-lived as the producer and Minnelli quickly agreed to alter the plot killing MacLaine's character instead. Frank told MacLaine that she would get an Oscar nomination if they killed her instead. And though MacLaine was nominated for best leading actress for her tragically fickle role, MacLaine said to reporters that it didn't matter if the idea for the switch was good or not -- they would have listened to Frank.

Cline describes Sinatra, in the nicest terms he could muster, as a pain in the neck.

Cline says Sinatra often had to be chased back into the taverns by Sheriff Harold "Jug" Raisor for stumbling down the sidewalk with alcohol--and that was just the beginning of the star's troublemaking.

"Sinatra struck some problems with people that landed the hotel owners and others in a lot of ruckus," Hulse says. "With Sinatra, there was always situations and ruckus."

He was said to have a ruthless disregard for property and feelings. So much so that after a hotel employee complained of the noise level, Sinatra punched him.

"If you're going to fight, do it on the other side of the room," Martin had said -- he was always the sugar coating to Sinatra's tart persona.

Dean Martin loved Madison

Dean Martin was Sinatra's friend, but with one major difference-- Dean Martin loved Madison.

In a book written by Martin's daughter Deana after his death, she says, "Dad loved making that movie. He once told me he had more fun on that set in Madison, Indiana, than on any other film he ever made."

Born to Italian parents, Martin was from the Midwest town Steubenville, Ohio, which some say is the reason why he loved Madison so much.

"I think Madison made Dean feel like he was back home," Hulse says. "After all, he was from a small town life himself."

Martin was quoted in the Courier as saying Madison was much like his hometown and that it was a "friendly town."

Hulse couldn't say it enough, "He sure was a charmer."

It seemed the entire town thought so. The Madison Courier reported that Martin was friendly and cordial to spectators and, along with most of the other stars, busied himself in his spare moments by "delighting autograph speakers."

"I think it was because of his charming personality, that he was good-looking and the fact that he smiled a lot really made him seem like a good guy," Hulse says.

Looks and charm complemented the actor's devotion to his character, Bama Dillert, a gambler who settles in Parkman and befriends Sinatra's character. In fact, Martin was so dedicated to his character that when it called for him to wear a hat, Martin made the accessory part of his life.

In the Madison Courier, Martin was quoted "That hat is part of me in this picture; it goes wherever I go and I go wherever it goes, it doesn't come off." Martin wore the hat while shaving, gambling and even in the hospital. When the hat did come off in a fight scene, Martin told an actor not to "ever touch his hat."

What became of it all

Some Came Running was the duo's first film together. And though the two were friends, Madison only brought them closer.

It was no secret that the two stars would often go up-river to party in Cincinnati or to gamble. "Loose women" were reported coming in from Louisville and alcohol bottles littered their front room, but in the close quarters of that house on the hill, the two established a new relationship of mutual respect.

"It's behavioral science," Cline says. "Frank and Dean are almost opposites but they later sold together as the Rat Pack."

The Rat Pack, including Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop and Sammy Davis, Jr., would later be one of the Hollywood's most popular groups. Along with Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson and Juliet Prowse, Shirley MacLaine would eventually be considered a "Rat Pack mascot."

But they got their start in film in Madison. Some Came Running was nominated for five Academy Awards. It was MacLaine's first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, and she was awarded a Golden Globe for her performance. She said it was in Madison where she first recognized her potential as an actress. For Martin, his time in Madison served as a humble reminder of his roots, and for Sinatra, it would possibly be the first time someone stood up to him.

"I think it was those things they did here together that formed a link between them that would eventually create what they would one day become," Cline said.

The 1985 Some Came Running article in the Madison Courier said the bitterness Frank Sinatra left behind remained for 25 years. And though the harsh view of Sinatra might have melted in the memories of Madisonsians over the generations, to some the movie memories continue strong as if 1958 were yesterday.

"A lot of people were glad to riddance a goodbye to Frank Sinatra," Hulse said. "But I have so many fond memories. And even after all of these years, they show the movie for free at least once a year."

Ohio Theater owner Tony Ratcliff said if you walk down Madison's Main Street, right in front of the theater, a sidewalk star lies polished with the names of Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin sketched below the title Some Came Running.

Nelson says not much has changed in the town since. There's now angle parking in front of the storefronts as to parallel, but all of the buildings are still standing and the town still lies beside the river.

"What's my favorite thing about Madison, hun?" Nelson asks her husband, Dwight, before laughing and saying, "Well, I'm just awfully glad I live here."

The couple has spent their entire lives in the town, and still attend the local high school basketball games. Occasionally, Nelson will watch Some Came Running and point out all of the familiar faces.

"I guess I'm a little old fashioned," Nelson says.

Lakeman says Madison has a hospitality and charm that can't be found anywhere else in the world--it's the reason he has spent 70 years of his life there. And though the Hollywood stars might be long gone, the small river town of Madison lives on.