In late April 1981, a cast and crew of more than 100 arrive in Port Townsend to begin filming the Paramount Pictures feature An Officer and a Gentleman. Directed by Taylor Hackford, the romantic drama stars Richard Gere as a would-be Navy pilot attending Officer Candidate School, Debra Winger as the local factory worker who becomes his girlfriend, and Louis Gossett Jr. as the school's tough drill instructor. For two months, Hollywood stars rub shoulders with Port Townsend residents on the streets, in local restaurants, and at after-hours parties. Movie scenes are shot at Fort Worden State Park, the Tides Inn, the Town Tavern, the Port Townsend Paper Mill, and other locations around the historic city on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The filming pumps some three million dollars into the local economy, results in a hit film for Paramount, and boosts the careers of its three stars.
Paramount's announcement that it would film a major feature in Port Townsend triggered a burst of excitement and activity. The company promised to spend at least $1 million (the cast and crew, receiving ample per diem expense accounts, would spend twice that) and money began flowing immediately. Three local lodgings got advance rent payments to spruce up so they could house the 100-person Hollywood contingent in proper style. Four hundred residents, 8 percent of the total Port Townsend population, responded to a casting call for extras.
Port Townsend's pride in being chosen for the movie was slightly tempered when the local paper revealed that it was selected only after the U.S. Navy refused to let Paramount use the actual Navy Aviation Officer Candidate School at Pensacola, Florida. Navy officials did not approve of how the Navy was portrayed in the script. One said:
"To be brutally honest, I didn't think it was much of a story, rather trashy, a lot of violence, sex and filthy language in it. And the characters were not characteristic of Navy men" (City of Dreams, 113).
Some Port Townsend residents also had misgivings about the story. The film takes place in "Port Rainier," a run-down mill town whose young women enter affairs with Navy officer candidates because marrying one is their best hope of escaping a dead-end life. Barbara Bogart, a Chamber of Commerce official who helped Paramount arrange the filming, recalled later that after reading the script she worried that "we were going to look like a backwoods hick mill town" (Worthley). Her husband, Lowell Bogart, who ended up getting a small part in the film, reassured her by predicting -- correctly -- that the movie would be a hit.
Once filming began, residents watched, and some participated as extras, while scenes were filmed on the parade ground and in historic buildings at Fort Worden State Park, in the Town Tavern on the ground floor of the 1889 N. D. Hill Building downtown, and elsewhere throughout the city. Nearly all the movie was shot in Port Townsend, with only a few scenes filmed on Whidbey Island and at other Western Washington locations.
For two months, local carpenters kept busy building and removing sets. Paramount paid for a local family to stay at the Manresa Castle (one of Port Townsend's many Victorian homes converted to elegant inns) for a week in addition to paying them several thousand dollars so that crews could use their house to film a scene in which Zach (Gere) has dinner with Paula (Winger) and her family. Stars and crew members dined on local salmon at the on-location catering truck and packed Port Townsend restaurants such as the Lido and the Water Street Deli. Extras and other residents mixed with Hollywood celebrities at parties where cocaine was plentiful and about which, according to one subsequent account, "there are many stories -- but few printable" (Worthley).
Paramount departed Port Townsend in late June 1981, placing a full-page ad in the local paper to thank the community. An Officer and a Gentleman premiered in 1982 with shows in Seattle and at Port Townsend's Uptown Theater. Many with bit appearances in the film were in the crowd, some dressed in tuxedos and arriving by limousine. A popular and critical success around the country, the film played the Uptown for a month and then spent several weeks at Port Townsend's drive-in theater. Nationally, it grossed more money than any 1982 film except E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, at the time the highest-grossing film ever.
All three leads garnered acclaim for their performances. Gossett won the Oscar for best supporting actor and Winger was nominated for best actress (losing to Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice). The movie's song "Up Where We Belong" also won an Oscar, and the film received several additional nominations.
Return to Port Townsend
In October 2006, Louis Gossett returned to Port Townsend to film an interview -- showing him strolling through Fort Worden and commenting on the film locations -- for a 25th anniversary DVD. Gossett spent three nights in town, reuniting and reminiscing with local residents, among whom he had been a cast favorite. Debra Winger, who had famously feuded with director Hackford and co-star Gere, did not participate in the anniversary DVD, but she had returned to Port Townsend a year earlier, when she and her husband, Arliss Howard, were the special guests at the 2005 Port Townsend Film Festival. Over the years, many fans of An Officer and a Gentleman have also visited Port Townsend in search of places shown in the movie.
An Officer and a Gentleman is not the only film to make use of locations in Port Townsend. Columbia Pictures spent 10 days in 2001 filming the Jennifer Lopez vehicle Enough in the city and, like Paramount two decades earlier, employed numerous local extras. Snow Falling on Cedars, based on the novel by Bainbridge Island writer David Guterson, and the 2002 U.S. remake of the Japanese horror film The Ring both featured scenes shot in Port Townsend as well as in Seattle and other Washington communities.