CORRECTION, BUT REALLY A STORY Carol Ferchak-Anater, Hazel Drive, called to tell us how much she enjoyed Bob Taylor’s March story on Pittsburgh Movies. But there was an error, she said. In the “Staff Picks” section, where one member of our staff chose Robert Cimino’s epic Vietnam war drama The Deer Hunter, set in Clairton, as her favorite, we noted that it had been excluded from the main list because none of the scenes were filmed in Pittsburgh. But Ferchak-Anater knew better. A native of West Mifflin, she said, the famous funeral scene in The Deer Hunter, which won five Academy awards including Best Picture in 1978, was filmed in neighboring Duquesne on an empty lot that had been turned into a makeshift cemetery.
The filming was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in town, she recalled, in part because nationally-known poet and screenwriter James Ragan, who was born in Duquesne to Czech parents and grew up in Pittsburgh, served as a consultant—“It was so cool that a local man had made it big”—but also because local people were involved with the shoot. Her friend’s father, a truck driver, transported equipment to the set and had his picture taken with the stars, including Meryl Streep, Robert DeNiro and Christopher Walken, and the school district stored the vehicles that were used for the scene. She remembers that DeNiro talked with steelworkers to prepare for his role. And there was media coverage, she says, including some by the now defunct Pittsburgh Press and lots by the McKeesport Daily News, which ceased publication in 2015.
Communications consultant Robb Austin of Austin Communications, confirmed Ferchak-Anater’s recollections in a 2014 article. A cub reporter for the McKeesport Daily News at the time of the filming, Austin recalled that it took some fast talking on the part of Cimino to convince Clairton Mayor Lloyd Fuge, who had demanded a meeting, that the film was “about relationships” and would not present the mill town in a bad light. Austin covered the filming of the funeral scene in Duquesne for the Daily News and at the end was invited to interview both DeNiro and Streep. The Deer Hunter, Austin said, “put both actors on the map, and the City of Clairton, too.”
Ferchak-Anater and her friends couldn’t wait to see the movie, which did not disappoint. But they were disappointed when the credits rolled to find that Duquesne’s hospitality was not rewarded by a mention. Perhaps that omission in the credits is why no one knew the funeral scene was filmed there. Well, now we do.