How could we have known that when Whitney Houston visited Portland in February, 1996, she was at the top of her game?
Just 32, she’d dazzled audiences with The Bodyguard and seemed to have an unlimited future. According to our clip file of local media coverage, over 6,000 hopefuls jammed into Cumberland County Civic Center to compete for a part in her new film The Preacher’s Wife, a remake of the 1947 classic The Bishop’s Wife, starring Loretta Young and Cary Grant.
By the time Houston, director Penny Marshall, and co-star Denzel Washington arrived to shoot the famous skating scene at Deering Oaks Park, freakily warm temperatures had turned our fresh native ice into slush.
Meanwhile, the city was buzzing. Over 100 extras got close to the stars and earned $50 per day. Leah Lawrence of Portland, daughter of Maine District Court Judge Rick Lawrence, was one of the lucky skaters:
“I was seven. All our moms were lined up to watch us. I heard a bunch of them gasp, my mom included, when they saw Denzel walking down the hill.” After shooting, “I heard Whitney say, ‘Someone take these shoes off my feet,’ and that tickled me because she was talking about her skates! My sense [a seven-year-old’s telling intuition] is that Whitney complained a lot, while Denzel was on a more even keel.”
Today, the Houston file has a wistful feel. She stayed at the Regency, Denzel at the Eastland. When she wasn’t hanging out at J’s Oyster Bar (multiple visits), Marshall stalked Maine antiques. Elizabeth Darling of Portland’s Economic Development Department revealed to the Press Herald’s Shoshana Hoose that Marshall spent $51,000 in just one day. Assistant location manager Sam Hutchins let slip that it took “quite a few Land Cruiser loads” to bear her treasures back into town after her shopping meltdown!
Mid-shoot, Houston and Washington ordered takeout: “veal parmigiana, veal piccata, and linguine with marinara sauce” from the former G’Vanni’s of Wharf Street. Other favored restaurants: “Street and Co., Bella Bella, DiMillo’s, and Back Bay Grill.”
According to a Press Herald story near the bottom of our file, the following was overheard by an extra as Houston and Marshall joked about the dangers of a crack in the ice. “‘Whitney, you’re skinny, but not skinny enough to fit through that.’”
Sadly, she was.