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Boston Globe - Friday, June 3, 1983

Norman Atkins Contributing Reporter

A couple of Bill and Margaret Perry's kids were married in the family's quiet, 100-year-old wood-shingle Quincy home, but not until this week has there been such a public commotion on Baxter street.

When CBS rolled eight trucks and a bus up to the Perrys' front door Wednesday morning, out poured a production crew of 50, a string of caterers and a cast of actors, including "Little House on the Prairie" star Melissa Sue Anderson.

They were there to begin shooting a made-for-TV movie. The Perrys and their neighbors crowded around the set, curious, anxious and a little awestruck. After all, this is normally a calm, quiet residential neighborhood, far from Hollywood or network television.

Crew members hauled camera and sound equipment into the upstairs bedroom of Peggy Jane Perry, 23, adding a filled bookcase to provide a collegiate feel, but they left the rest of her furniture for a homey touch. Producers decided the room, with its hardwood floors, flowered wallpaper and bedspread and white priscilla curtains, provided the look they wanted in the film.

However, the only view most Quincy spectators got was of a giant flood light perched atop a 20-foot-high stand, facing the bedroom window. Everything was happening inside.

Margaret Perry stood under one of the many maple trees across the front lawn. Among her neighbors gathered around the house to watch the filming, she was something of a celebrity.

One day earlier this spring a CBS location scout had knocked on the Perrys' front door and asked if she would be interested in having a film made in her home.

"I was thrilled and surprised that they would use our home for their movie," Perry said.

Sister Mary O'Brien from nearby St. Joseph's School brought nearly 30 sixth-graders out of their spelling class to view the shooting. "I think it's educational for them to see how a film is being made," she said.

Most of the students, autograph books in hand, stood in a neat line across the street, waiting for Anderson - known to them as Mary Ingalls from "Little House" - to emerge from the home. During her breaks, she took time to chat with some of the fans and sign their autograph books.

"In Los Angeles, people are very blase about movies being made. But here people are impressed because they haven't seen many films produced," said

Judith Parker, coproducer and screenplay writer of the TV film, "Freshman Year," scheduled to air on CBS in the fall.

Parker, a Brookline native who studied for a while at Boston University, spent a week at Harvard hanging out in the pubs, unions, and classrooms to do research for her script.

The plot centers around Anderson as an innocent young woman from Omaha, Neb., who wins a scholarship to Harvard, where the rigorous academic pressures and competition for a spot on the school paper, the Crimson, are more intense than she expects.

And soon she finds herself in a tricky affair with her English professor's husband.

The professor is played by Loretta Swit, known for her boisterous portrayal of Margaret (Hot Lips) Houlihan from "M*A*S*H," who will be in town for the shooting next week.

"We're going to do some very angry scenes together," said Anderson.

She said she accepted the role partly because she gets to play an intelligent Harvard student, "a character with many dimensions."

The Harvard scenes will be shot on campus later in the month, with several students in bit roles.

For the scenes filmed Wednesday, the producers say they would have liked to shoot in authentic Omaha. But they settled for Quincy.

It was a decision designed to keep the film's production costs down, said coproducer Andy Gottlieb. The budget for the film is already between $1.3 million and $2 million, he said.

To make Quincy look like Omaha, a row of Omaha newspaper mailboxes were set up on every front lawn along the Baxter street block.

As neighbor Meridia McGroarty, who had been watching the filming for several hours, said, "This street could probably be any street in the country."

Still, the Perrys said they never thought of their home as having that Omaha look. "But then again, I've never been there so I wouldn't know," said Mrs. Perry, who raised seven children and helped rear 14 grandchildren here.

Many of the onlookers seemed preoccupied with Anderson. And whenever she came out of the house for a break, the autograph hounds formed a single-file line behind her.

One young man said he was "disillusioned" to see Anderson smoking a cigarette during a break. "Her TV image is a lot cleaner," he said.

"I think we doubled the population of the neighborhood in one day," Perry said. "But I imagine some of the neighbors are going to holler at me tomorrow for tying up the street."

Perry, who took the day off as general manager of the Hopedale Coal and Ice Co. to watch the shooting, wouldn't disclose how much money CBS was paying for use of their home, but he said, "Believe me, it was worthwhile."

The money is not the reason Perry and his family relinquished their home for the day. They did it because "we were thrilled that they picked our house as a site for a movie," he said.

Producers also plan to film scenes at the Piano Building in South Boston, Grendel's Den in Cambridge, Andover and Exeter.

The final scene will be shot in late June at the Harvard Crimson office on Plympton street, where several Harvard students, including the newspaper's editor, Jacob Schlesinger, will appear as extras.