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Making a Movie on the Mower Man

by Doug Moe
Capital Times (Madison, WI), September 10, 1998

A MAJOR new Hollywood movie that will begin shooting in Iowa and Wisconsin has some Madison connections.

``The Straight Story,'' starring Sissy Spacek and Richard Farnsworth, was written by Madison natives (and Edgewood High classmates) John Roach and Mary Sweeney and directed by Sweeney's longtime companion, David Lynch.

Lynch, creator of ``Twin Peaks'' and director of many feature films including ``Blue Velvet,'' has spent considerable time in Madison in recent years, including a rap session with students at UW-Madison last December. Maybe the Midwest is rubbing off on him. Roach and Sweeney's script is based on the true story of Alvin Straight, who in 1994 at age 73 road drove his John Deere sit-down lawn mower 240 miles on highway shoulders from Larens, Iowa, to Blue River, Wis., near Boscobel, to visit his ailing 80-year-old brother, Henry.

``It's a great story,'' the film's publicist, Gay Pope, said Wednesday. ``In David Lynch's hands it should be magical.'' Pope said the Wisconsin scenes will be shot around Prairie du Chien, adding that shooting should wrap in November.

The story is irresistible. Poor eyesight keeps Alvin from getting a driver's license, so he sets out on the mower. He camps along the way, is interviewed by local newspapers and occasionally waits for his Social Security checks to arrive so he can fix the ailing machine. The good news, in real life anyway, is that when Alvin arrived after six weeks on the road, his brother's health had improved. Alvin Straight died of a heart ailment in 1996. . . .

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