Derickson is pretty enough to be taken for an actress: As she walked with a springy step into the studio's Blue Room for lunch wearing a bright lavender-and-white dress, guests at a nearby table spotted her and whispered: "That must be Lindsay Wagner!"
"Quite frankly, it was not my idea to make a movie," Derickson said easily. "I'm not a movie-goer myself." And as for TV, she said she watches "very little of it."
"I'm an oddball when it comes to that," she said with a laugh. "I'm a nature lover, so I do a lot of animal watching. . . . We have a bit of wildlife in the Delaware National Park, and our vet does a lot of the tagging of the bears in order to study their habitat . . . and I like to mountain climb."
While the docudrama is subtitled as her story, it is hardly the full account. Born of Sudeten German parents in the summer of 1944, she was evacuated with her parents to East Germany a year later. As a child she remembers hunger and "taking away the potato peelings from the rabbits to eat."
In 1950, she and her mother escaped to the West, sleeping in haystacks by day, making their way stealthily to the border by night. Her father followed six weeks later. "I remember not making the wrong move. . . . All the experts, the psychiatrists seem to think that my childhood gave me something that I maybe drew from (on Flight 847).
"After I realized a movie will be made," Derickson said, "I thought I would like to not have a fairy tale made out of it and (would go with) whoever guaranteed me--up to a point--some input to make sure it was done more or less the way it happened."
Of course she found it "a very strange, eerie experience to see somebody else do something that you had actually lived through, to see the actress and everybody else involved re-create something that you had experienced.
"I'm not known to be a person who stays back and looks at things. I kind of take actions most of the time in my life. I handle things. And so sometimes you're tempted to step in there and say, 'This is really how it went' . . . little details, not necessarily inaccuracies. They have to take dramatic licenses to make it work better for a movie."
One of them involved a key point. According to Derickson, a major factor in her dealing with the hijackers, who were in their early 20s, was the fact that she "could have been their mother. I felt this. Therefore, I used my experience in life. These were two young boys, really, and I realized that somehow I am going to get to them. Also, no matter how difficult it was, I always looked upon them as human beings. If you don't, you might as well give up."
In the docudrama, the hijacker called "Castro," with whom she had more contact because he spoke German, is played by Eli Danker, an actor with salt-and-pepper hair who looks like a contemporary of Derickson.
"We tried to stick to the facts as closely as possible," said Kennerly.
"We had a lot of drafts and she looked at every one," said Calio.
"Reality is really quite boring," said director Robert Wendkos with ease. "You heighten it quite a bit.
"We did stick to the truth pretty accurately," Wendkos said. "The concept on the movie was to really tear the skin off the plane and let the world know what went on behind it. We were determined to make the audience feel like they were hostages themselves--the fear, the terror, the outrage . . . the ordeal of not being allowed to go to the bathroom when they wanted. . . . "
On the choice of Danker, Wendkos said he had to "go a little older. I needed an actor who spoke Arabic and German fluently, and he was a superb actor."
As technical adviser, Derickson helped modify Norman Morrill's script during filming. "We got a lot of color and emotional nuances from her," said Wendkos. "She would remind me what she did. When she stepped over (Kurt) Carlson (a beaten passenger), she said she leaned down to feel his pulse, which was not in the script, so we incorporated that."
Wagner said that she too checked emotional reactions with Derickson and "sometimes an anecdote would come out, and we would improvise on the spot. Like when they (the hijackers) gave her a big jar of aspirin to pass out to keep the passengers cool when the air conditioners were not going on the ground. We had just been talking about how she was in front of the passengers because there were times when her hands were shaking, when she was crying, and she said, 'I tried very hard to remain calm and collected. . . .' "
Wagner continued: "Then she paused, and said that when she was passing out the aspirin, she must not have been as cool as she thought because one woman said to her, 'Honey, I think you should take some too.' "
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