Ben Stiller is getting rave reviews for his seven-part series based on the 2015 prisoner escape from the Clinton Correctional facility. The actor, director and producer spent nearly two years in northern New York researching and filming the series. Stiller discovered it’s a small world as WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley shows him a scrapbook she’s had for nearly 45 years.
In mid-November, reporters in the Plattsburgh area had the chance to interview Ben Stiller about his Showtime miniseries “Escape at Dannemora.” “It was uncharted territory for me and that’s always exciting and challenging and fun really because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do honestly. You know when you haven’t done something before sometimes there’s a naivety where you’re like ‘Oh I can do this, I can do that, I can try that.’ And until you‘ve done it or tried it you don’t know what doesn’t work. I remember that when I was younger when I was first starting out directing I thought ‘Oh I can do this’ and of course I had no idea what I was doing. And there’s something great about not know knowing what you’re doing because you’re kind of figuring it out for the first time and luckily I had an amazing crew and actors who were supporting me and I was working with and I trusted them and so that gave it kind of a fresh feeling. It was really fun.”
After considerable cajoling from the people in the building WAMC’s bureau is in, I took a deep breath and added the red scrapbook to my audio kit and camera bag.
I’m actually surprised that it’s survived for so long and is in good shape. I’m not really one for making scrapbooks but that was at a time of my life when I just didn’t meet celebrities.
In 1974, I was a student at SUNY Geneseo – not in journalism but in Dramatic Arts. At the time the college worked with the Corning Glass Works to offer a summer apprenticeship at the Corning Summer Theater – which no longer exists. It was professional summer stock and the students would rotate, working one week backstage and the next in the shop building sets. I collected the programs, some of the publicity photos of the celebrities starring in the plays, and for some of the productions cast and crew photos and autographs at the end of the weekly performances.
From July 15th to July 20th of 1974, Neil Simon’s “Prisoner of Second Avenue” was performed with Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. I was one of the apprentices backstage. At the end of the week a cast and crew photo was taken. I put the program with their autographs and the photo in my scrapbook. Below the photo I noted the names of the people in the picture – including Stiller, Meara and “son.” Yup, Ben Stiller was sitting on a sofa between his parents and oblivious to his future fame I am standing with the rest of the student crew behind the sofa!
For the past two years as production on “Escape at Dannemora” progressed, I debated whether Ben Stiller would be interested in seeing the scrapbook, since he must have thousands of items of memorabilia. But after some prodding from friends, I brought it along. "Before I go I hope I can get a picture of you and then I’d like to show you something too if possible?"
Bradley: "Okay, great."
Stiller first looked at his parents’ autographs and commented that it really was their signatures. He remembered traveling that summer and that he and his sister had practically memorized the play. He also pointed out their manager in the picture who had traveled with them. His production assistants and Showtime representatives in the room were excited to see the photo and he held the scrapbook for several pictures. He then took a pen and next to his parents’ signature wrote: “Thank you for keeping this.”