New Haven Register
June 1983

Tourism promotion picks up steam in Essex

ESSEX - Dressed in a conductor's uniform, movie and television star Art Carney Thursday told the crowd, "and away we go" as he boarded the steam train at the Vallery Railroad and launched state's new television advertising campaign promoting tourism.

Carney is one of many celebrities who live in Connecticut and have volunteered their time and talents to filming of the 30-second segments that will begin airing as public service announcements this fall.

According to Carol Wallace, co-executive producer along with band leader Skitch Henderson, also a state resident, said the train will serve as the basis for the commercial.

Carney's rendition of the conductor, who meets or recognizes various other celebrities abroad the train or at locations along the way, is "exactly the way I visualized it," she said.

Between shots, Carney went over his lines in the warm parlor car while a makeup woman mopped his brow. He chatted with people who had come along for the ride.

"Ed Sullivan, oh yes, a really wonderful man," he told Carl Candels, chairman of the Governor's Vacation and Travel Council.

"How's my old friend? Oh, you mean (Jackie) Gleason. He's good. Doesn't listen to what the doctors say." Carney said.

"Why am I doing this? Because they asked me," he said in character as Ed Norton, the "subterranean sanitation engineer" he played on the television series, "The Honeymooners." His response drew chuckles from the crowd.

"No, no I do love it here in Connecticut," said the Mount Vernon, N.Y. native.

"I live here down by the water. We bought a home in 1956 (in Westbrook) and later winterized it. This is it. Connecticut is home base"  he said.

In the commercial, Carney introduces himself to his television audience as he walks through the parlor car, punching tickets. While he points out the advantages of a visit to the state, he stops, suddenly recognizing a celebrity.

The train format allows the versatility of shooting at different times in different locations, such as a lobster dinner with Governor and Mrs. William O'Neill in Noank, or a chat with Paul Newman at the Lime Rock race track.

The campaign, which highlights the state motto "Better Yet Connecticut" is supported by the Governor's Vacation and Travel Council and the Department of Economic Development but funded with donations from industry and area businesses.

With the exception of the $27,000 production cost for the first three spots, the time and talent of cast and crew, as well as support services, are donated. There is no way we could afford to produce the commercial otherwise," said Wallace.

Other notables who will be featured in segments depicting various parts of the state include designer Oscar de la Renta, film critic Rex Reed, actress June Havoc, television producer Dick Ebersol and his wife, actress Susan Saint James, Governor William O'Neill and his wife, Nikki, former hockey player Gordie Howe, author Robert Ludlum and 1983 Miss Connecticut, Dakieta Vanderburg.

According to Barnett D. Laschever, director of tourism for the state Department of Economic Development, once the commercial is made, the General Assembly will be asked for funds to purchase air time out of state. New York, which provides 75 percent of the state's tourists, its the primary target.

"Tourism in Connecticut is a growth industry," said Laschever. "It has grown over the past few years from $650 million to $1.8 billion." The goal in tourist dollars for the state this year, spurred by the television commercial campaign, is $2 billion, he said.

Art Carney is barker for Nutmeg State

A hot and tired Art Carney quickly left the Essex Steam Train after a morning of exhausting filming.

The quiet, unassuming man headed for a cool, air-conditioned mobile trailer parked near the train, while several excited fans waited outside hoping for a quick look, a photo, or an autograph.

While he didn't mind giving his time for the state tourist promotion, "I would really have preferred a much cooler day," he said with a laugh.

Carney does not particularly like interviews, but agreed to participate in the filming of a commercial to promote his home state of Connecticut.

As fans milled about and photographers lined up to catch a photo of Carney, he tried to be cordial. Those who know the man, know that he greatly values his privacy. After many years of being in the limelight, he appreciates a quiet life by the water.

One woman who wanted Carney's autograph, left without approaching him. Disappointed for not getting the autograph, she was nevertheless grateful for the opportunity to see the Academy-Award winning actor.

Carney's wife, Jean, said he agreed to film the commercial to promote Connecticut because he loves the state. She said it was particularly difficult for him because he dislikes the heat and the train was very hot. But he made the commitment to do the filming and would never renege on an agreement, she said.

The Carneys live in Westbrook in a modest beach house and prefer to be left alone. "We go to great lengths to protect our privacy," said Jean Carney.

She recalls anxious moments when she has had to flee from hordes of press people on back roads or had to resort to creativity to avoid aggressive photographers.

Although he has done a few television commercials for worthy causes, he has turned down more interviews during his acting career than he has agreed to do.

He is most known for his role as Jackie Gleason's sidekick in the television series "The Honeymooners," but is still actively involved in filming. Recently, Carney finished a movie in New York for NBC television, "A Doctor's Story," which is set to air in the fall. He also filmed a 30-minute show for television in Chicago about the life of O. Henry, titled, "The Last Leaf."

He soon will appear in the third Muppet Movie in a short segment, which he said "was short work but a lot of fun doing."

Jean Carney often travels to film locations to be with her husband when he works.

Ask shoreline residents who know the Carneys and they'll say the Carneys are warm and friendly people, who have worked hard to serve their community.