Bowladrome Lanes owners reflect on 40 years in the businessBowling alley owners fondly recall the time Hollywood rolled into Struthers
Published: 6/23/14 @ 12:00
By EMMALEE C. TORISK
Marge Janosik never expected that almost four decades later, she’d still be talking about the day that Bowladrome Lanes was recorded in film history.
She can, without pause, recall her one speaking part, a line that required her membership in the Screen Actors Guild for the day and was directed toward a character played by Robert De Niro, dressed as a Green Beret: “Michael, it’s on the house.”
She also can point out the barroom post that De Niro leaned against.
And she can remember, too, the lanes that Meryl Streep bowled on. (They were 3 and 4.)
Years later it became apparent to Marge that the State Street bowling alley hadn’t been recorded in just any film — something that is evident even today, as people continue to stop by out of curiosity to see the place where parts of “The Deer Hunter” were filmed. The Bowladrome’s being selected to appear in Michael Cimino’s film, which would go on to win five Academy Awards and be ranked by the American Film Institute as the 53rd greatest movie of all time, was just “so fun for the city,” Marge said.
“It was nice that the business was brought here,” she added.
The film centers on a young man, De Niro’s character, who grows up in a small, working-class steel town south of Pittsburgh and then goes to Vietnam. Other shooting locations included the St. Theodosius Russian Orthodox Cathedral and Lemko Hall in Cleveland, and various spots in Mingo Junction, Ohio, and Weirton, W.Va.
Not a whole lot has changed at the Bowladrome since July 13, 1977, the day of filming, though the city around it certainly has.
At the Bowladrome — which opened in 1946 and is run by the 70-year-old Marge and her husband, 76-year-old Thomas Janosik — synthetic lanes have taken the place of wooden ones, and automatic scorers have replaced the task of scorekeeping by hand. The bar area, where film crews installed shelving and added liquor bottles, has moved from one wall to another, and the picture panels across the row of bowling lanes are different.
Despite the handful of cosmetic changes, the Bowladrome retains the feel of “a typical steel city recreation center,” the words used in a July 14, 1977, Vindicator article describing what setting directors had been looking for in the location, which was suggested to them by the Ohio Film Bureau. The slight modifications to the bar were the only adjustments required for filming, noted Thomas, who took over the bowling alley in 1974 and said he forgets how many hours he worked — a lot — in those days.
Thomas added that the Bowladrome was always a place where he knew everyone who walked in, so when several rounds of strangers came in early 1977 to scout out the bowling alley, it was a most unusual situation.
“They liked the place,” Thomas said. “They liked the atmosphere.”
According to the Vindicator article, the day of filming began with a four-hour delay in the shooting schedule. The delay didn’t, however, “hamper the excitement and good times of 30 persons from the Youngstown area who appeared as extras in two scenes of the film.” Those scenes took place at the bar and at the bowling lanes.
Julie Butch Amicone, 72, who lives in Boardman and was a children’s bowling coach at the Bowladrome at the time of filming, was one of those extras. Amicone remembers the day well — and especially her interactions with the set decorators, who outfitted the barroom shelves with her children’s trophies and filled beer and whiskey glasses appearing in the scene with yellow- or brown-colored water.
She also remembers not recognizing De Niro when he stopped in to visit the bowling alley a few days beforehand, even after he introduced himself. He was “a very personable man” and “just a human being who is a very good actor,” she said.
Amicone added that she made something like $25 for 12 hours of shooting — the female extras “were asked to bring clothes reminiscent of 1973 winter apparel,” and “were told to make conversation with each other quietly,” the article says — but the money wasn’t the point.
She looks fondly back upon her day of filming and on the Bowladrome, which at that time attracted “a lot of hometown people” and serves as a good representation of “hometown living ... when the steel mills were running good” in “The Deer Hunter,” a movie she saw not long after its 1978 release and loved.
The Vindicator article notes also that five of the Bowladrome’s bowling teams, of which there were many, were chosen to bowl in the film. Marge explained that people today are too busy, “with so many different directions they’re pulled in,” that the Bowladrome’s bowling programs, such as its daytime and nighttime bowling leagues, just aren’t as big as they once were.
The closing of the steel mills also had a significant impact on the bowling alley.
It’s a lot quieter now. The Bowladrome is open this summer on Tuesdays from 6 to 9 p.m.
“Our business is not anything like it was,” Marge said. “There were people here, and they had money to bowl.”
But the Bowladrome still stuck around, even after the city’s industry didn’t. Now, though, as Marge and Thomas explained, it’s time to move on. The day-to-day operations of the business are a bit too much for the couple now, and they put the bowling alley up for sale just last week.
They’ll let go of the piece of city and film history for $149,900.
Both would like to see someone build up the business again. After all, remarked Marge, the Bowladrome is “a nice place, a nice family center,” where, as in the TV show “Cheers,” everybody knows your name.
“It’s been a fun time,” she said.