Editor’s note: In light of recent developments in the criminal investigation into the drowning death of actress Natalie Wood, The Daily Gazette looks back at a story that ran on Sept. 24, 2007, on the 50th anniversary of the local filming of “Marjorie Morningstar.” The movie starred a then-19-year-old Wood and Gene Kelly and scenes were filmed in Schroon Lake. A Gazette reporter and photographer were on the scene. Wood’s eventual husband, Robert Wagner, appeared on the set during filming. Wood and Wagner had just started dating.
Many members of the swimming and suntan set had left Schroon Lake by the time actress Natalie Wood arrived.
The 19-year-old actress was not on vacation: It was the late summer of 1957, and she was filming scenes for “Marjorie Morningstar” in the Adirondacks.
Other Hollywood stars were on the grounds — and in the water — of Schroon Lake’s pleasant Scaroon Manor resort in the town of Chester. Gene Kelly, Ed Wynn, Martin Milner and Carolyn Jones all were ready for their close-ups.
Wood played Marjorie Morgenstern, a young Jewish college student from New York City who explores romance with actor and playwright Noel Airman. Kelly, then 45, played the love interest and provided Marjorie with her “Morningstar” nickname.
As much as the movie was about the Marjorie-Noel relationship, film historians say, it was also a commentary on models of social behavior and religious behavior expected by New York Jewish families in the 1950s. Marjorie hopes for a different way of life. Part of that life involves Noel, whom she meets at the “South Wind” resort in the Catskills — the Adirondacks in the movie.
That’s what brought the 150-person crew to Schroon Lake, and the Manor: Beach, water, golf, handball, tennis, shuffleboard, steak dinners, orchestras, an open-air theater and horseback riding were all attractions at the 327-acre jewel with 8,350 feet of shoreline. “Scaroon Loves You” was the resort’s company line.
“In watching the filming of several of the South Wind scenes, it was easy to see how a production company manages to spend $100 a minute on multi-million dollar films,” wrote Schenectady Gazette reporter Dick Lewis, who traveled to the set with newspaper photographer Charles B. Sellers Jr. “While two actors are performing a 30-second take, 100 others from the director on down are carrying on the numerous behind-the-scene tasks, which range from quieting down the hotel guests encircling the set to running the giant multi-reel motion picture cameras.”
Some difficult shots
The crew had some difficult shots to secure for the silver screen. Some involved Wood and Jones, who played Marjorie’s friend Marsha Zalenko. Jones, then 28, had recently received great notices for her role as a fast-talking Greenwich Village “existentialist” in “The Bachelor Party.” She would later earn an Oscar nomination for her work.
“For one sequence in which Marjorie and Marsha paddle across the lake in a canoe, the entire filming outfit was equipped with auxiliary power generators and moved to a raft in the middle of the lake,” Lewis wrote. “The manor was strung with artificial lighting from beach to rooftops and the hotel guests herded away from the beaches and tennis courts. While the cameras [rolled] and the girls paddled valiantly for the shore in a red canoe that was equipped with its own lifeguard hiding in the bottom, two special-effects men in a motor boat situated out of camera range squirted homemade morning mist across the path of the canoe. On the set, it was a calm early evening — in the movie, after film processing, it will be an eerie 1 a.m.”
In addition to the cast, another Hollywood type was in town. Robert Wagner, then courting Natalie Wood, spent time water-skiing while his girlfriend was on set. And if people look closely at “Marjorie” today, they will see folks who lived in the Schroon Lake area during the late 1950s.
Ann Breen Metcalfe of Schroon Lake, who has researched and written about the film production, said Ed Wynn’s “Uncle Samson” participated in a mock, comic bullfight near the end of the movie.
“There were bleachers full of people watching. They were meant to be guests at the hotel and they were largely from Schroon Lake, Chestertown, Pottersville, Minera,” Metcalfe said. “They were all brought together by a woman named Aletha Haley; she was the secretary of the chamber of commerce here and a very big figure in town — one of those people who knew everybody.”
After leaving Schroon Lake, the “Marjorie” crew traveled to New York City for several weeks of shooting in Greenwich Village. The finished product was released during the spring of 1958.
The movie featured actors who later would become popular on television. Besides Jones and Milner, who starred in “The Addams Family” and “ Route 66,” respectively, during the 1960s, Edd Byrnes and George Tobias also won fans in their respective 1960s programs. Byrnes became a teen idol as Gerald “Kookie” Kookson III on “77 Sunset Strip” and Tobias was Abner Kravitz — long-suffering husband to nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz on “Bewitched.”
Scaroon Manor was eventually sold to the State of New York, Metcalfe said, which sold some buildings on the grounds. Others eventually were burned.
The once-popular resort was closed for many years, from the 1970s through the early 2000s. It officially re-opened as a day camping area in July 2006, giving people a chance to travel the same waves once splashed by Marjorie Morgenstern.