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Photo by: Chris Shields
Saratoga, Unspooled
A brief look at a very happy long-term filmic relationship

By Shawn Stone

It’s not that our various local Capital Region communities lack the glamour, notoriety or historical relevance to be considered Hollywood-worthy, but it’s always a shock whenever there’s a mention of Albany, Schenectady or Troy in a movie or on TV. No matter whether it’s an episode of Will & Grace (Grace is from Schenectady) or a classic film, it’s a kick.

There’s a catch, however: The references usually aren’t very flattering. In His Girl Friday, Cary Grant can’t hide his sarcasm over his ex-wife settling down with her soon-to-be husband (and dear mother-in-law) in Albany: “That will be nice.” In Dames, Joan Blondell uses her need to escape the implied desolation of Troy to justify blackmailing a businessman out of his train compartment: “Have you ever been to Troy?” And Schenectady? Schenectady is the punch line of a Jack Benny wisecrack, or the place where a teenage murder victim is from on Law & Order. (At least the Electric City has Will & Grace.)

However, there’s no surprise when the reference is to Saratoga Springs. Being the home of the storied Saratoga Race Course gives mentions of the Spa City, whether in Ocean’s Eleven or Guys and Dolls, a certain cache. And more to the point, relevance—beyond busting on the upstate hicks, that is. Saratoga is danger (back in the day, when gamblers and gangsters came around) and elegance (way back in the day, and today, as a favored playground of the wealthy). And, of course, horses.

It’s a matter of glamour. Saratoga is the place where, on screen, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow fell in love for the last time, and Loren Dean danced Nicole Kidman around the beaux-arts glory of the Hall of Springs in Billy Bathgate. It’s where, in real life, Hollywood legends Fred Astaire and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. made their last film appearances, in Ghost Story, and Robert Redford directed Kristin Scott Thomas and Scarlett Johansson in The Horse Whisperer. (Where were you in 1997? The latter event made everyone—including the local reporters, print and TV—so giddy it was embarrassing.)

As a movie location, the other cities around the region have come into their own over the last two decades. Saratoga Springs has been popular with filmmakers since the very beginning.

Naturally, the thoroughbred track has been the most sought-after location. In 1914, Paramount sent a crew to the race course to film the climax to the racing melodrama His Last Dollar. The film no longer exists, but yes, the “last dollar” was bet on a winning horse—and you can bet he finished in the money. The track also figured prominently in The Homestretch, a 1947 release that starred Maureen O’Hara, and presented the race course alongside England’s Ascot as one of the best in the world. It has been featured in movies as separated by time as The Racing Strain (1918, lost) and the recent, much-loved Oscar-nominee Seabiscuit.

Once in town, however, director Gary Ross and his Seabiscuit crew took advantage of Canfield Casino’s nearby location for filming, too. Billy Bathgate, Robert Benton’s film about gangster Dutch Schultz, hit the trifecta, filming at the track, in the Hall of Springs and at various outside locations in the state park.

One of the folks who has helped this tradition continue is Linda Toohey, executive vice president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce, and longtime commissioner of the former Saratoga Film Commission (recently merged into the Capital-Saratoga Film Commission). The commission has successfully marketed the various facets of the Saratoga region, from the downtown architecture to the Saratoga Spa State Park, and from the Gideon Putnam to, of course, the track. Toohey has been involved in bringing projects to town and supporting them for 24 years.

With Seabiscuit, Toohey notes that they didn’t even use Saratoga as Saratoga: The race course served as a stand-in for a West Coast track. “We have the most architecturally realistic track,” she explains. Most other courses of the same or even newer vintage have been altered beyond recognition, but Saratoga’s race course is well-preserved.

“When there is a major motion picture,” Toohey explains, “we pretty much drop everything” to work on it. Does this mean there’s a bias against smaller films? No, she explains, the commission would like to support independent film production, too.

Finally, alone of all the local cities, Saratoga has a film named after itself. (Obviously, the recent epic Troy doesn’t count.) Saratoga, made by MGM in 1937, is a frothy comedy about a gambler (Clark Gable), an old coot (Lionel Barrymore), the old coot’s lovely daughter (Jean Harlow) and the old coot’s race horse. Though mostly made in Hollywood, the race scenes were indeed filmed at the track. And though a hint of sadness is attached to the film—Harlow died near the end of production, and a double was used to complete some scenes—Saratoga still managed capture the elegant spirit of the city.



CONGRESS PARK (Saratoga Springs, 587-3241). Tue: Robanic Reggae (7 PM).

SARATOGA PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (Saratoga Springs, tickets: 476-1000). Sun: John Mayer, Maroon 5, DJ Logic. Mon: Rush.



THE ALLEY BAR (Long Alley Road, Saratoga, 587-9766). Sun: karaoke with Wayne from King Entertainment. Tue: karaoke with Mark the Shark.

BAILEY’S (Phila and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs, 583-6060). Thu: Rick Bolton, Dwyer Sisters. Fri: Acoustic Circus. Sat: Stylus Groove. Sun: Richie Ortiz. Wed: Torey and the Rough.

BRINDISI’S RESTAURANT (390 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-6262). Fri: the Bluz House Rockers. Sat: Johnny Rapp. Sun: Fletcher’s Band. Mon: Al Bruno.

CAFFE LENA (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-0022). Thu: open mic (7 PM). Fri: Adirondack Night. Sat: Camille West. Mon: Magpie.

CLUB CAROLINE (13 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0155). Thu: Bipolar. Fri: karaoke with DJ Chris. Sat: Springfed. Sun: karaoke with DJ Chris. Tue: karaoke with DJ Chris. Wed: Thirteen Four.

THE CLUB HOUSE (30 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 580-0686). Fri-Sat: DJ Daniel Van D, hiphop, club mixes.

HORSESHOE INN (1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909). Thu: the Smooze (6 PM). Fri: the Burners U.K. (6 PM). Sat: Blue Hand Luke (6 PM). Sun: Tom Healey Band (6 PM). Mon: Jeff Walton (6 PM).

THE INN AT SARATOGA (231 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1890). Sat: the Ria Curley Trio.

KING’S TAVERN (241 Union St., Saratoga Springs, 584-9643). Fri: Somebody’s Closet. Sat: Empire State Troopers, the Let Downs.

9 MAPLE AVENUE (9 Maple Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-CLUB). Fri: Jazz Factor. Sat: Tim Reyes and Friends.

ONE CAROLINE STREET (1 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-2026). Thu: Joe Gitto (6 PM); Mike Dimin, Brian Mellick. Fri: Dave Payette (6 PM); John Sauer, Mike Delprete. Sat: Darren Lyons (6 PM); Darren Lyons Quartet. Sun: Lee Shaw Duo (7 PM). Mon: Rob Lindquist Duo. Tue: Masters of Nostalgia (7:30 PM). Wed: Chuck D’Aloia Duo.

THE PARTING GLASS (40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-1916). Fri: Captain Squeeze and the Zydeco Moshers.

PEABODY’S SPORTS BAR (Phila Street, Saratoga Springs, 583-4214). Sat: SubZero.

SARATOGA SPRINGS BREW PUB (14 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-3209). Thu: Kevin Mullaney and Electric Life. Sat: the Sean Rowe Trio.

SARATOGA WINNERS (Route 9, Latham, 783-1010). Fri: King Size, Day Glow Suns, Alliance, Watching the Neighbors. Sat: It’s Already Taken, Huge Earnest.

SIRO’S (168 Lincoln Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-4030). All shows at 6 PM. Thu: Walter “Wolfman” Washington and his Roadmasters. Fri: New York Players. Sat: the Burners U.K. (6 PM). Sun: Soul Session. Mon: Boot the Owl. Wed: Blue Hand Luke.



Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Arts Center of Saratoga, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. The Center Players present a staged reading of the 1976 play. 8/11, 7:30 PM. $5. 584-4132.


Dysfunctional Divas, Saratoga Arts Council Theatre, 320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. Nancy Timpanaro-Hogan and Laura Roth star in a cabaret spoofing divas old and new. Through 8/28. $25. 793-8442.


Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs. 8/5, 8:15 PM: Charles Dutoit conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra and violinist Leonidas Kavakos. The program includes Berg’s Violin Concerto, Schubert’s Overture to Rosamunde and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1. $57.50-$15. 8/6, 8:15 PM: An Evening in Old Vienna with the Philadelphia Orchestra and conductor Erich Kunzel and soprano Jami Rogers. Featuring music of the Strausses, Lehár, Haydn and more. $62-$15. 8/7, 8/15 PM: An all-Beethoven program with the Philadelphia Orchestra. $57.50-$15. 8/11, 8:15 PM: The Tchaikovsky Spectacular with violinist Rachel Barton and the Philadelphia Orchestra. $62-$15. 587-3330.

Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs. 8/8, 2:15 PM: Saratoga Chamber Music Festival presents Vienna in Songs. Works by Schubert, Zwilich, Schoenberg, Brahms and Korngold. $33.50-$28.50. 8/9, 8:15 PM: SCMF presents a Celebration of Dvorák’s Centennial. Works by Dvorák, Zwilich, Zeisl and Beethoven. $33.50-$28.50. 587-3330.

Museums And Galleries

Beekman Street Artists’ Co-Op, 79 Beekman St., Saratoga Springs. 366-6706. Streetwide artists market, featuring live music, ethnic food, and works by more than 30 artists. 8/8, noon-6 PM.

Gallery 100, 445 Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 580-0818. Saratoga Springs & Beyond, featuring paintings by Nadia Rymanowski and others. 8/5-31. Reception 8/7, 6-8 PM.

Farmers Markets

Saratoga Springs Farmers Market. High Rock Park, Saratoga Springs. Saturdays, 9 AM-1 PM; Wednesdays, 3-6 PM.

Saratoga Race Course

Open daily through Sept. 6, except Tuesdays.

Location 267 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-6200.

Admission $3 grandstand, $5 clubhouse; children under 12 free; seats are $6 and $7, respectively.

Parking $10 per car at the track side and $5 across Union Avenue at the Oklahoma Training Track. General parking is free.

Racing Nine or 10 races a day; pari-mutuel wagering on every race.

First Race Post Time 1 PM (except Travers Day, Aug. 28, when it’s 12:30 PM).

Major Stakes Races The Whitney Handicap (Aug. 7); the Jim Dandy (Aug. 8); the Sword Dancer Invitational (Aug. 14 ); the Alabama Stakes (Aug. 21); the Hopeful Stakes (Aug. 21 ); the Saratoga Breeders Cup (Aug. 22 ); the Travers Stakes (Aug. 28).

Saratoga SHOTS
By Martin Benjamin

Hockey legend Bobby Hull made an official appearance at the Saratoga Racetrack’s National Hockey League Race on Sunday (Aug.1), but it was tough to care when the Hanson Brothers (pictured below), stars of the 1976 film Slap Shot and role models to millions of violent younsters on skates, turned up. Fans—like security guard Mike Verro (pictured, with hat)—were thrilled to see the Hansons, though there was some tension during the nation anthem. One of the brothers is reputed to have quieted a restive audience member with the warning, “I’m listening to the fucking song!” OK, that last part’s a lie—but wouldn’t that have been great?

Spotted in Saratoga
By Ashley Hahn

Where: Craft Fair in Congress Park; Tuesday (Aug. 3)
Who: The Weinmans of Just Sticks
From: Albany
What are you doing here?: Selling furniture
What’s the best part about Saratoga?: Vicki likes the atmosphere and says “it’s fun to come down and walk around on the streets.”
“I think there’s a happy creativity going on,” Paul says. “People are very open about just being here, you see it on their faces—unless they lost money on the horses.”
If Saratoga was a movie, what would it be called?:
“Get on the Horse and Ride with a Smile”

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