Film-goers take flight |

Film-goers take flight

by Gregory Crofton

Remember Ted Striker – the reluctant pilot with a “drinking problem” in the movie “Airplane!”

Sunday, Robert Hays, the actor who is Striker as far as movie history is concerned, took the stage at Caesars Tahoe to introduce the monumental comedy as part of the third and final day of the Lake Tahoe Pioneering in Film Festival.

“My first feature film, made 21 years ago, was the Airplane,” he said. “I was flying to Minneapolis on a plane when I read this script. There was something on every single page that made me laugh out loud, I’m not kidding.”

He later lent the script to a square stewardess on the flight and even she laughed. From then on he knew it was a part for him.

Making the movie, he met Leslie Nielson, an actor now synonymous with a genre of comedy spawned by “Airplane!” Hays said Nielson was a prankster and frequently hid an automated whoopee cushion on the set.

Hays spoke for about 15 minutes. Toward the end of his introduction, he asked if anyone had a question. Denise Sloan, executive director of the film festival, asked, “Are there any scenes we should be particularly looking for?” Hays replied: “Yes . . . I’ll leave it at that.” Clearly the actor is still a natural in the Ted Striker-world of comedy.

Hays left the stage with a friendly warning: “Buckle up your seats, put them in the upright position and get ready for a pie in the face and have a good time.”

And Sunday, the about 150 people in the audience seemed to be having a good time, many laughing loudly while Hays recounted the history of “Airplane!”

Festival organizers, Sloan and Mindy Johnke, were also more than satisfied with the weekend events despite an unexpected snow storm that ripped through the Sierra Saturday night and slightly decreased attendance.

“This weekend has been phenomenal . . . beyond belief,” said Sloan, who picked Saturday night’s celebrity tribute to Tab Hunter as a high point. “We did have some people who couldn’t get over the passes because they would have needed chains and snow tires. At some screenings we had more than last year; at others we had less.”

Johnke said a highlight for her was a dance with Hunter, an actor who starred in 55 Hollywood movies. “He is a charming and gracious man,” she said. “Tab’s been here since Thursday and stayed through Sunday and that has added a lot (to the festival).

This year, the second annual Lake Tahoe Pioneering in Film Festival, focused on great comedies. Other films screened during the weekend included “Blazing Saddles,” “Annie Hall,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Dr. Strangelove.”

The festival last year featured the greatest films of the century with the centerpiece being “Citizen Kane,” a picture many people consider the greatest movie of all time.

Sloane and Johnke said the focus of next year’s festival has not been decided.

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