Mrs. Doubtfire lives on in Danville memories
Almost 20 years later, Bridges Restaurant patrons still ask about the movie
Drinking elbow to elbow with Hollywood's hairiest and handsomest stars might have been a highlight of Mike Doyle's tenure in Danville Town Council, but these memories aren't exclusive to the life of a Danville public official.
Knowledgeable fans of 1993's "Mrs. Doubtfire" might be curious as to why the movie, set in San Francisco, filmed one of its most memorable scenes 30 miles inland at Danville's Bridges restaurant. Or, for that matter, why the uber-posh, most likely San Francisco-centric Miranda Hillard (played by Sally Fields) regularly dined in a bedroom community.
While location scouts were unable to be reached for comment, it's safe to assume that Bridges' idyllic location and willingness to be closed for a month were instrumental in the Hartz Avenue restaurant being chosen for the now infamous bait-and-switch scene. That, and then-Councilman Mike Doyle's insistence on being in the film.
"When I heard (the crew of 'Mrs. Doubtfire') was coming to town, I called them up and said, 'If you want to film here, I have to be in the movie!'" Doyle chuckled.
While dozens of extras were recruited for the eight-minute Bridges scene during the late summer of 1992, Doyle was perhaps the most prominent. The blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo featured Doyle walking out of Bridges with a "beautiful woman" on his arm just as the protagonists walked in.
Doyle and other extras expressed amazement at the lengthy occupation of Bridges, which had to be covered with tarps to achieve a nighttime effect. Filmmakers spent nearly two weeks in town and extras were often on set for 10 to 12 hours a day.
Despite lengthy days and sore derrières, John Chilcott, a world history teacher at California High School, said filming "was sort of fun to do and it was interesting to see how they make a movie."
Chilcott was about 22 during filming and came from San Francisco with a few friends to take part in background casting.
"I was supposed to be a busboy and I had to go for a fitting of clothing to look like I was working in the restaurant," he said. When Mrs.Doubfire/Daniel Hilliard (played by Robin Williams) puts cayenne pepper in "nemesis" Stu's (Pierce Brosnan) dish, Chilcott is in the background, "pretending to move dishes around."
Staff from Bridges were also offered paid extra roles in the scene, in addition to compensation for lost tips and wages.
"A few original staff from Bridges were in the kitchen or the dining room as a customer or servers," said Ryota Sugitani, whose father, Kazuo, owned Bridges at the time.
Despite being closed for almost a month, "Mrs. Doubtfire" doubled Bridges' business.
"After 10 years, people still come by just because of the movie," Sugitani said.
Lesser known, however, is the fact that Williams, Brosnan, cast and crew regularly frequented Elliott's, Faz and the Veterans Hall, which was used nightly for screenings.
"Robin would act up every day," Doyle said. "It took him five hours to get his outfit on" but Williams was often seen trudging up and down Hartz Avenue in costume, signing autographs and joking with people.
But the entire cast wasn't always so amicable, said Noel Erler, now owner of Chez Noel Coiffures on Hartz Avenue.
Sally Fields would often disregard the hordes of people standing behind the set asking for autographs.
"People would come up and ask her for an autograph and she'd bypass them and say, 'I'll get back to you,' but never came back," said Erler, a seasoned extra, model and actor. There are also no reports of Fields tossing back a drink at Elliott's.
Memories of a terse Fields aside, Erler has only good memories of the filming. Some which might have become better in retrospect.
During filming, Erler was sat at a table next to the Hillard family and began to notice a foul smell.
"Someone in the restaurant had taken a pot of prawns out of the refrigerator and put them up on a shelf near a heater or fan and the wafting smell was unbearable!"
The crew finally found the crustacean culprits -- four days later.
In addition to the fame, glory and résumé potential "Mrs. Doubtfire" brought, Erler made a very important business connection while on set.
"One of the best things was working with Mike; if it weren't for him, I wouldn't be in this salon," Erler said. "I met Doyle through the set and became friends. When we were looking for a spot in Danville seven years ago, he talked to quite a few people and got us in the salon."
Almost 20 years later, "Mrs. Doubtfire" remains well entrenched in the cannon of feel-good family movies as well as in the minds of locals, who may never see a cross-dressing English grandmother again.