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Nothing Could Be Finer Than Carolina

February 07, 1993|ANN GREEN

As Lauren Bacall's legendary blue eyes gazed around a packed art gallery, her rich, throaty voice dominated the room.

"Yoo-hoo, Gardner, where are you?" said Bacall in character. "Can you hear me?"

Gregory Peck, looking distinguished as Gardner, walked slowly toward Bacall and his daughter, Cecilia Peck.

The scene is from "The Portrait," the $4-million TNT movie about a New England couple facing the problems of aging. It was filmed last spring in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina.

Director Arthur Penn said he chose the location partly because of Duke University in Durham, which looks like an Ivy League school with its Gothic-style stone buildings.

"We needed a big, beautiful university," Penn said. "Duke was perfect for that. There are many attributes to North Carolina. One is the weather. If we had done the film in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, it would have been cold for the shoot."

In recent years, North Carolina has been the location for several feature films, including "The Last of the Mohicans," "Bull Durham," "Billy Bathgate," "Rambling Rose" and "The Handmaid's Tale."

This was the first TV movie for Penn. "It's like playing life at high speed," he said of the 22-day shooting schedule.

During filming, Penn paid meticulous attention to detail. At one point, he asked the crew to spray water on two actors who were moving furniture so they would appear to be perspiring.

"Arthur Penn is an asset to this picture in very special ways--the subtleties and his knowledge of human behavior," Peck said.

Sixteen different locations in the Raleigh-Durham area were used. (One exterior shot was filmed in New York.)

Much of the movie was set in a charming amethyst Victorian-style house in a historic section of Raleigh, the state capital. The two-story house, with its spacious front porch and gazebo, could easily be envisioned on a New England street.

An old warehouse in Raleigh was used for an art gallery scene. Seventeen Impressionist and realistic paintings by New York artist Gretta Sarfaty covered the walls. One of the most emotional scenes was filmed in a newly built hospital. Peck is seen lying unconscious in a hospital bed with tubes in his nose.

"If you have ever seen anyone you cared about in a hospital with tubes everywhere, it is a pretty scary sight and very frightening," said Bacall. "Seeing Greg gave me the shudders. You look at the man lying there and think one day, someday--hopefully, many, many years from now--all of us will be there."

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