Starring Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, “Pleasantville” (1998) tells the story of David Wagner (Maguire), a kid obsessed with the fictional ‘50s sitcom television show, “Pleasantville.” Everything is simple in Pleasantville—a place where all citizens live in harmony—until David and his sister, Jennifer (Witherspoon), are given a mysterious remote control from an eccentric television repairman. The remote transports them into Pleasantville and they become characters in the show, living as typical high school students in the 1950s.
An iconic scene in “Pleasantville” shows Maguire in a basketball gym, which was shot at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach. In the scene, the Pleasantville high school basketball team collectively miss shots—part of the upheaval that occurs when actual, real-life people in Maguire’s and Witherspoon’s characters, visit Pleasantville.
“There was a certain look production wanted for the basketball scene,” remembered “Pleasantville” location manager Robert Karpman. “Everything had to be of a certain kind of ‘50s look, and so it was really important that the places we were going to looked like that time period. I remember the St. Anthony gym, the windows were up high, the whole gym felt like a 1950s gym—you could believe it.”
Karpman, then a Long Beach resident, played a large part in showing the St. Anthony location to director Gary Ross and the film’s production team. He explained that on a movie shoot, location managers work directly with the production designer and the director to select the best location for a particular scene. Then, when a location is selected, there is a technical scout with all movie department heads—makeup, costume, set design etc.—who work out all the details of the shoot.
“I tried to shoot Long Beach whenever I could, not just because I lived there, but because I thought they were great locations that weren’t seen as often as locations in LA, so it’s still fresh,” Karpman said.
Karpman also remembered the film crew personnel traveling to Long Beach via a giant bus.
“I remember we had narrowed [the ‘Pleasantville’ gym location] down to where we had five basketball gyms picked out,” Karpman said. “When we narrowed it down to St. Anthony’s gym in Long Beach, I remember on the tech scout, we all went out for dinner on Second Street.”
In addition to living in Long Beach for a time in the ‘90s, Karpman says he has a special place in his heart for the city, as his mother came over to the United States from London on the Queen Mary.
“I remember as a kid growing up going to see the Queen Mary a lot,” said Karpman, who has also worked as a location manager in television, bringing shows like NBC’s “Chuck” and Fox’s “Melrose Place” and “Party of Five” to Long Beach.
“A lot of scenes from the pilot of ‘Chuck’ that we did in Long Beach, we shot at the Westin [Long Beach Hotel], and on the streets in the downtown area,” Karpman recalled. “I mean, there are so many great locations in Long Beach, so why not take the opportunity to shoot in your own backyard?”
Other films such as “American Pie Wedding” (2003) and “The Longest Yard” (2005) were also filmed at St. Anthony High School.