Extremely cold in New England
21st January 2014
Tuesday Jan 21st 2014, Bridgeport, Massachusetts, extremely cold. Cold beyond compare, the air completely still, rigid almost. Fingers sore inside gloves, toes, when they can be felt at all, jangling with every step. Producer Nick Tanner sports a bright red nose and blows it constantly. Brave Michael Grade wears the sort of outfit wealthy men simply have in their wardrobes – a heavy blue overcoat and a cashmere scarf. Wisely awaits his close-up in the van, reading House of Lords things.
We’re in the cruelly exposed town cemetery to shoot the end of the story of Tom Thumb, the dwarf superstar and protégé of PT Barnum.
The two men are buried feet apart. Stratton went first, having designed his grave as a young man and modeled for the life-size statue atop a stele. Barnum saw all this and just went for a big statement in granite, tons of it, with his moniker in Times Bold Roman, at his death more a world-famous brand than a name.
After Michael’s muted PTC about the funeral of Tom Thumb, a two hour drive north that becomes three then four as we battle through gathering blizzards. Michael sits in the back sleeping between calls - Westminster shenanagins, business deals, acquaintances calling from New York having heard he’s around. In between, stories for us about Peter Cook, David Frost, days of yore at Channel 4. In a Dunkin’ Donuts (his favourite eaterie, always entering with a question for the bemused staff: “Is Dunk in?”) agents tales, acts, turns, greasepaint. It’s an education.
The Stratton Mansion in Middleborough, Connecticut, has never been filmed. It’s small of course, built to order, but imposing, like the owners, the millionaire celebrities Charles and Minnie. There’s a Frenchie-looking mansard roof, a wrap-around verandah, and inside, stairs with tiny risers. There’s a tiny bath and in the basement kitchen, a miniature cast iron stove. The current resident, Lucia, shows Michael the little boots she found in the wall, the grand piano the height of a coffee table, the photos found under the lino. Warm at last, we eat pasta and I shoot rostrum as the snow piles up outside in the dusk.
Dug in for the night at the Fairfield Inn, a jolly lodge without a kitchen but with vending machine snacks available for the weary and snow-blind. The manageress on the phone: “Hi there, it’s a great day at the Fairfield Inn, how can I help you?”