Springfield hits a Homer
By Susan Smallheer
Herald Staff | July 11,2007
JON OLENDER / RUTLAND HERALD
Patty Chaffee, executive director of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, reacts as she finds out Springfield will host the premiere of “The Simpsons Movie” on July 21.
SPRINGFIELD — Who would have thought!
Springfield and Vermont on Tuesday won the right to host the premiere of "The Simpsons Movie," beating out 13 other Springfields across the country.
A video featuring a large pink doughnut, a Homer Simpson look-a-like, and hundreds of enthusiastic Springfield residents chasing Homer chasing the doughnut convinced thousands of people to vote for the Vermont video, in a contest sponsored by USA Today.
Just before 2 p.m., Patty Chaffee, executive director of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, was nervously refreshing the USA Today Web site, hoping for the impossible — that Vermont's Springfield would get to host the yellow-carpet premiere.
With the now-famous giant pink doughnut (think gaudily painted inner tube) next to her for good luck, Chaffee waited for the announcement.
"Patty? Need a Valium?" asked her secretary Linda Merriman, joking.
It was finally a call from a friend at the Holiday Inn that told her the big news — that Springfield had done the impossible and beat out big, professional videos done by cities 15 times its size for the right to host the premiere.
"She said we won — by 700 votes!" Chaffee shouted to reporters. "Omigod, we won, we won. I'm not lying, we won."
Vermont's Springfield beat out towns in Illinois, Oregon, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, New Jersey, Colorado, Nebraska, Michigan, Louisiana and Florida. While Vermont wasn't the smallest Springfield, at just over 9,000 people, it was much smaller than its closest competition.
Vermont had been initially left out of the promotional plans of 20th Century Fox, which had asked 13 other Springfields to shoot a video, explaining why they should host the premiere. Chaffee heard about the contest on the news, and contacted the movie studio. "We were always the underdog," Chaffee said.
Word spread fast in downtown Springfield, which had closed its Main Street a month ago to accommodate the filming of the video, a collaboration of Chaffee, the Vermont Film Commission and more than a couple spirited volunteers.
"It's the little engine that could," Martin said, noting that Springfield has had more than its fair share of troubles and bad news in the past 20 years, as the town lost thousands of jobs as the machine tool industry lost the race with overseas competition.
Martin said it didn't bother her that The Simpsons, the famous cartoon family of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, was famously dysfunctional.
"I think it's great. It's put a lot of smiles on faces for at least a day," Martin said. "Would you have thought it in 100 years?"
"I'm really proud," said Toni Streeter, a Springfield resident who stopped by Martin's store for a copy.
The news brought a USA Today reporter to downtown Springfield. Marisol Bello said she got up at 3 a.m., but still didn't know which of the Springfields she was headed to.
Bello said she had booked flights to four different Springfields, finally heading to Vermont from Washington, D.C., by way of LaGuardia and Manchester, N.H.
Back at the chamber office, Chaffee was busy fielding telephone calls from the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, MSNBC, and there are plans for an appearance on ABC's Good Morning America, along with lots and lots of Vermont media.
Gov. James Douglas, who had done his part Monday by voting for the Vermont video, said he was proud of Springfield and its partners.
"I congratulate the entire community of Springfield for their Herculean efforts to overcome tremendous odds and bring "The Simpsons Movie" world premiere to Vermont. This is an exciting, exhilarating moment for Vermonters. Perhaps more importantly, it proves there's really nothing a giant doughnut can't do," the governor said.
The governor, famous for a dry wit, couldn't resist a little Simpson humor. "To all the other Springfields, I say, 'Don't have a cow, man.'"
Tim Kavanagh of Burlington, who works at WCAX as a sales representative as well as hosting a local talk show, played Homer in the video. He said the governor called him to congratulate him earlier in the day. The message left on his answering machine started, Kavanagh said, "Mmmmm, doughnuts …"
Kavanagh and others attributed the Vermont video success to its originality and its community spirit.
"You're talking about a pretty big, fancy premiere," Kavanagh said.
Kavanagh said the Vermont premiere had been moved up by the movie studio to July 21, and it will be held at the downtown Springfield Theater.
He said the 13 other Springfields who didn't win would get to hold "mini-premieres" on July 26, the day before the national release of the movie on July 27.
Kavanagh was going to be interviewed by the BBC Radio Tuesday evening, and he said the British are fascinated with all things Simpsons — the reverse of the American fascination with the British royal family.
"They told me, 'We've learned a lot about America from the Simpsons,'" Kavanagh said.
Chaffee said she believed the Vermont video won because it didn't take the route other Springfields had taken, which made a mock documentary about how their town was actually home to the fictional Simpsons.
"We never tried to do that," Chaffee said, while noting that Springfield did have a pub, a prison, and a nuclear power plant 'just down the road' in Vernon. Homer Simpson works at such a plant.
Brock Rutter, associate director of the Vermont Film Commission, who appeared in the video as Bart, said he had watched "The Simpsons" since he was in middle school and was a big fan.
"It's been fun. It will bring a lot of attention to the state for a little bit, and getting there was a real accomplishment," said Rutter, a student at Vermont Law School.
Rutter said Homer was his favorite character. "He is so innocently well intentioned, yet stupid," Rutter said. "I think there's a lot of Homer in all of us."
Contact Susan Smallheer at firstname.lastname@example.org.