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The Utah-filmed truth behind the gritty story of murderer Gary Gilmore

Film » Lawrence Schiller, the controversial character who directed the Gilmore film, returns to Salt Lake City for Norman Mailer-inspired workshops and a screening.



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Smith suspected something was up and asked Baker directly if she was planning to commit suicide. Baker revealed that she and Gilmore had a suicide pact, and agreed to let Smith print a story after the execution. That permission seemed casually granted from a woman who had worked so hard to avoid reporters, and Smith realized the couple’s plans were set for the morning of his scheduled execution date (which would be stayed). "On the day of my story, she thought they would both be dead," Smith says.

Smith told her editors, and they alerted authorities. Smith worked through the night drafting her stories, then learned through a brief on the wire that Nicole and Gilmore had each attempted suicide and were recovering at different hospitals. Smith broke the news of the suicide pact in copyrighted accounts, filled with quotes from Gilmore’s letters, published in the Deseret News on Nov. 15 and 16, 1976. ("They did stop the presses," she says.)

At a glance

Screening the truth of Gary Gilmore’s story

The Norman Mailer Center is holding summer writing workshops in Salt Lake City in honor of the setting of Mailer’s 1979 book, “The Executioner’s Song,” about Gary Gilmore. As part of the programming, the Mailer Center and the Utah Film Center are holding a screening of the 1982 TV film adaptation, which was shot on location in Utah. It stars Tommy Lee Jones, Rosanna Arquette and Christine Lahti. All events are free.

When » Wednesday, July 16: pre-film panel at 2 p.m., screening at 4 p.m., post-film Q&A with director Lawrence Schiller at 6:30 p.m.

Where » Utah Valley University Library 120, 800 W. University Parkway, Orem

When » Friday, July 18, 7 p.m.

Where » Salt Lake Main Library, 200 E. 400 South

Also » A post-film discussion will be hosted by KUER’s Doug Fabrizio with panelists: former Salt Lake Tribune editorial-page editor Vern Anderson, former Associated Press Bureau Chief Bill Beecham, former Deseret News reporter Tamera Smith Allred, Gilmore’s attorney Robert Moody and film director Lawrence Schiller.

The Mailer Center Faculty Readings

Jeffery Renard Allen, Quincy Troupe and Lawrence Schiller, writers and faculty members of the Salt Lake City workshops of The Mailer Center’s On the Road program, will read from their works.

When » Thursday, July 17, 7 p.m.

Where » The King’s English Bookshop, 1510 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

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Shortly afterward, Smith, now Allred, left the paper and moved to the Pacific Northwest, where she married and had six daughters. She freelanced and wrote a weekly newspaper column, but went on to become a therapist. "I went from reporting stories to helping people work through their stories," she says.

Over the years, Allred heard sporadically from Baker, who had found her way to a more stable life, initially due to money she received from Schiller and Mailer. Allred cooperated with the writer but wasn’t thrilled with the title of the chapter about how she gained Baker’s trust: "Sob Sisters."

It took Allred years to understand how deeply she had been affected by her small role in the story. "Covering the Gilmore story exposed me to a very dark side of life, resulting in reoccurring intrusive thoughts, despair, and after the story was over, depression," she says. "It also triggered memories and feelings associated with the death of both of my parents while I was young."

Getting the tattoos right » As a period piece, "Executioner’s Song" reveals remarkable access in scenes shot on location at the Utah State Prison, the Supreme Court, the Board of Pardons and Parole, and at the murder scenes. "It smells better, it feels better, it comes alive," says Schiller of the art of reality.

For the film, Schiller hired local crews and extras to work under noted British cinematographer Freddie Francis, who had recently shot "The Elephant Man." Utah film crews were able to make contributions to a staff that included British and Hollywood filmmakers, Reed Smoot recalls.

That state officials were willing to cooperate with the film crew was in homage to Mailer’s book, Schiller says. "They were saying he treated us in a literary manner that was proper, and they were going to treat the film in the same way."

Several prison guards played themselves in the movie, as did Gilmore attorney Bob Moody and Roman Catholic prison chaplain the Rev. Thomas Meersman. Allred was an extra in one of the scenes of scrums of reporters, and she remembers playing Old Maid with other extras as they waited on set at the prison.


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Here’s an example of the filmmaker’s attention to accuracy: One of Gilmore’s buddies was hired as a consultant to the film, but he couldn’t remember which arm held Gilmore’s tattoo. If the man’s best friend couldn’t remember, why would it matter? It mattered to Schiller, who admits that his ego was involved in shooting his first film. So Tom Lefler, who worked for the Utah State Film Commission, was sent to the Medical Examiner’s office to view autopsy slides of Gilmore’s body.

Brian Sullivan, a local filmmaker who also worked on the second camera crew, recalls the setup of a scene where Jones, as Gilmore, is playing poker. Schiller launched into a tirade because the actors were holding the wrong cards, even though the camera wasn’t recording the cards.

"I’ve made a lot of movies, and I’ve never seen anybody get so particular about every little detail," Sullivan says.

Shooting on the location of murders, just five years later, made some of the Utahns on the set nervous while the filming opened up barely closed wounds for neighborhood residents. "Many times," Smoot says, "it felt like I was working on a documentary, rather than a scripted narrative film."

ellenf@sltrib.com

facebook.com/ellen.weist



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