"I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST REMARKABLE - YOU LOOK AT IT AND IT WAS WEIRD; SOMETHING WAS WRONG WITH IT"
Did you know that Paxton Realty is named after the late actor Bill Paxton? According to a fantastic article today in Los Angeles Magazine, by Jared Cowan, Paxton worked on Carrie as one of Jack Fisk's assistants in the art department. 45 years after the release of the film, the article looks at the town where Carrie's house was located, and where some of the film's scenes were shot:
King’s novel takes place in the fictional town of Chamberlain, Maine. (A coastal village of the same name exists in the town of Bristol, Maine, but it’s not the location depicted in the novel.) The film, however, takes place in a small, unnamed bedroom community where everybody knows everybody.
“I had sort of conceived it as a town anywhere in America, one of those sort of all-American towns,” says production designer Jack Fisk, who had previously worked on De Palma’s 1974 cult horror musical Phantom of the Paradise. “What I like to do on films is make them universal when we can, so that everybody can appreciate them, and not be too specific about where it is. … [Carrie] seemed like such a universal story, you know, teenage revenge. That’s what Brian used to tell Sissy all the time: ‘It’s a story of teenage revenge.’” Fisk and Spacek met while working on Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973) and married in 1974.
While Carrie features only a dozen locations, Fisk says he put about 6,000 miles on his car driving around the L.A. region looking for spots to shoot the film. The hardest to find was Carrie’s house. Fisk says the problem in some of the usual places, like South Pasadena, is that over time the houses had gotten bigger as people added on to them.
“I wanted a house that looked like it was in a small town, and it looked isolated and it looked quirky, unusual,” says Fisk.
Taking into account Margaret White’s extreme Christian fanaticism, Fisk had the idea to model the Whites’ home after a type of uniquely Philadelphia row house. Known fondly as a Trinity, or a Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, it gets its name from three single-room floors that are connected by a steep, winding staircase. In the late ‘60s, Fisk lived in one such house with David Lynch during their time at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
One day, Fisk and his Volkswagen ended up in the Ventura County town of Santa Paula.
“I drive by this house and the dormer [window] upstairs is off-center and it looked so bizarre,” says Fisk. “It being off center, it’s like something an architect would never do,” he adds. “I thought it was just remarkable. You look at it and it was weird; something was wrong with it.” The house on North 7th Street between Santa Barbara Street and Main Street was one-and-a-half stories, not the triptych that Fisk had in mind, but it felt isolated and atypical. Fisk estimates that the house was only about twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet. “It was bizarrely small and singular.”
“It was a really old, beautifully done, wood frame house, and we couldn’t find anything like that [in L.A.].” says Dow Griffith, whose first location manager job was Carrie.
A 1981 Ventura County Cultural Heritage Survey of Santa Paula noted that the house was built around 1900 in the Vernacular Victorian style with Eastlake details. The survey rated the house in fair condition.
Santa Paula exteriors appear onscreen for about five minutes of Carrie’s 98-minute running time, but they set the tone of the entire movie. White picket fences, kids riding their bikes on sidewalks and Santa Paula’s Main Street all added to the small town aesthetic and mood the filmmakers were after.
“We basically modeled things on the Santa Paula location that we found for Carrie’s house and that sense of Anywhere, USA,” says Griffith.
Located along California State Route 126 just fourteen miles east of Ventura, Santa Paula wasn’t convenient in proximity to any of the film’s L.A. locations. Palisades Charter High School, the Hermosa Beach Community Center, the Cahuenga Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, Morningside Elementary School in San Fernando, and the gymnasium set built at the Culver Studios all made up Bates High School – named after Norman Bates. There are seventy miles between Santa Paula and the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon – where Billy Nolan (John Travolta) and pals acquire the film’s infamous pig’s blood. But, in terms of film production, what Santa Paula lacks in convenience it makes up for with an abundance of character.
In another section of the article, Cowan talks to "Santa Paula native and retired Santa Paula Police Sergeant Jimmy Fogata:
Fogata, who is also on the board of the Santa Paula Historical Society, was fourteen or fifteen when the filmmakers of Carrie shot a scene in the front yard of the Craftsman home built in 1911 that’s been in his family for about seventy years.
In the film’s opening, Carrie – scared and traumatized after getting her period for the first time – is tormented by her bullying classmates in the girls’ locker room. Carrie is dismissed from school for the day and walks home along a lush, tree-lined street, her school binder clutched to her chest. A boy on a bicycle weaves in and out of the tree line, taunting the demure teenage girl with the insulting nickname, Creepy Carrie. A quick, piercing glance in the boy’s direction sends him tumbling from his bike and onto the Fogata family front yard located at 601 East Santa Paula Street.
“I remember watching them shoot it. They must have shot it twenty times to get the fall right,” says Fogata.
This being before the days of star trailers and massive base camps, Fogata says that craft service was set up on his front porch and his mom opened up the house for the cast and crew.
“I remember John Travolta was sitting in my living room; Sissy Spacek was sitting in my living room. It was kind of their relaxing area,” says Fogata.
Over the years, Fogata’s house has been seen in numerous movies, commercials and music videos, he says, but he remembers Carrie being the first. The same trees from the aforementioned scene are prominent in the music video for Stevie Wonder’s Grammy-nominated, 1987 single, “Skeletons.”