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When ‘The Exorcist’ Came to Town

During October 1972, “The Exorcist” filmed on location at Georgetown University for a week, part of a stay of about 20 days in and around Washington, D.C. William Peter Blatty, author of the 1971 novel on which he based the screenplay, and a 1950 graduate of the college, who heard of a possessed boy from Mt. Rainier, Md., and of attempts at exorcism at Georgetown University Hospital and in St. Louis, Mo., that occurred in the late 1940s. For the film, Georgetown students were recruited for various crowd scenes. Nuns in traditional habit were seen walking along 37th Street (not a common sight then as well as now) and Jesuit priests and professors were used as extras. Neighbors also got some bit parts. One 35th Street resident, Emerson Duncan, who routinely walked his two Scottish terriers nearby, was asked if his dogs could be used as extras. He himself was ruled out; he looked too much like an actor. Along with director William Friedkin, actors and crew worked inside and in front of Healy Building, where a student protest was part of the film within a film. Other campus locations included Healy Circle, the Quadrangle, the facade of Dahlgren Chapel, Kehoe Field and the Lauinger Library steps, which one of the priest walked down in the fog during a spooky scene. Elsewhere, the Mule Bridge over the C&O Canal was used, as was the courtyard of Christ Church on O Street. Other shots showed actress Ellen Burstyn walking along 36th Street to her home across from 1789 Restaurant. That famous house at 3600 Prospect St. NW was given a fake addition extending east towards the now-famed Exorcist Steps so that the window from which the priest jumped would be close enough for his fatal fall. When the shoot was being set up for the fatal tumble down the steps, between the possessed girl's house and the Car Barn, enterprising students monitored the gate to the Car Barn rooftop and charged admission for anyone who wanted to enter and watch from above. "The Exorcist" premiered the day after Christmas, Dec. 26, 1973 — and, yes, all hell broke out. Some moviegoers fainted, vomited or ran from the theater. Some religious leaders proclaimed that the novel and film conjured up demonic forces. A few years later, Rev. Robert Henle, S.J., president of Georgetown University during the 1972 filming, told editors of the student newspaper, the Georgetown Voice, that he regretted allowing the production on campus. While Henle may have disliked any negative image the film might have given of the university, the steps are now a Georgetown must-see attraction — and a favorite of walkers and runners. For those so inclined, they are also the perfect spot to meditate upon the deeper meaning of "The Exorcist."

Halloween Reigns in Our Town

It’s official, or it will be Oct. 30. That’s when a coven, you might say, of notables will assemble to honor the “Exorcist Steps” at 36th Street and Prospect Street with speeches and a commemorative plaque. The plaque marks the site where a horrific, violent scene from one of the most horrific, violent, scary and controversial films ever made was filmed in 1972. It was a scene from “The Exorcist,” adapted from the hugely successful novel of the same name by Georgetown University graduate William Peter Blatty and directed by Hollywood hotshot William Friedkin. In the scene, a disturbed young priest, participating in a particularly gruesome exorcism of a young girl in a Georgetown house, throws himself out a Prospect Street window and down the steps — a sacrificial act to save the girl from demonic possession. Ever since, of course, the steps have been known as the Exorcist Steps, and G.U. students, tourists and visitors from around the world flock to them. Built around 1896 as part of the massive and iconic Car Barn building and next to a retaining wall, the steps connect Prospect and M Streets. The ritual — and it is a ritual, if not quite as potent as an actual exorcism — is a year-round phenomenon, even more popular in this age of selfies, no doubt. The commemoration is being coordinated by Andrew Huff, together with the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development, the Executive Office of the Mayor and the Dupont Festival, as well as the office of Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, where Huff once worked as an aide. He will be joined by Friedkin at the top of the steps at 4 p.m. The plaque dedication — with William Peter Blatty on hand — will be held at 6 p.m. at the bottom of the steps, followed by an invitation-only screening of “The Exorcist” at the AMC Loews Georgetown. Presumably, there will be no reenactment of Father Damien Karras’s demise. The event, it should be noted, is being held one day before Oct. 31, also known as Halloween. Which is just about the biggest thing in the whole world, especially in Georgetown, where dark hordes and hosts of young adults — and people of all ages who like to dress up — will descend into the streets, funneling through Wisconsin Avenue and M Street in full regalia. Georgetown is not the only place where Halloween celebrations — costume walks, partying and daytime and evening trick-or-treating with kids — is a big deal in the city, what with an annual High Heels Drag Queen Race in Dupont Circle, events at cemeteries and festivities in many neighborhoods (see calendar). Halloween is an inexplicably huge boost to the economy nationwide, in good times and bad. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to spend $7 billion on Halloween gizmos and goods of all kinds: $2.5 billion on costumes — including $900 million on costumes for pets — and nearly $4 billion on candy and decorations. Be that as it may, you can trace the origins of Georgetown’s spooktacular in the streets to the 1970s, both to “The Exorcist” and its attendant steps and to restaurant and club entrepreneur Michael O’Harro, who began throwing costume and Halloween-themed parties at his pioneering disco establishment Tramps and then at Champions Sports Bar. This is Halloween for grown-ups, something singles bar king O’Harro said he learned going to parties at the Playboy Mansion. One Halloween crowd in 1985 reportedly totaled 150,000 in and around Wisconsin & M. It’s equally fair to say that the residual fame from the “Exorcist” film shoot in Georgetown, complete with movie stars, movie folks and scenes shot around the university, may have spurred a trend toward the embrace of Halloween as an occasion to socialize and party — big time — as opposed to trick-or-treating. Certainly, the huge success of the film made Georgetown a cool place to be on Oct. 31. Whatever the reason, there came a time when young adults in costume started streaming in en masse, dressed up in line with popular movies, shows and music, from “Thriller” to “Star Wars” to “Gremlins.” People took notice. Georgetown at Halloween had become, in today’s parlance, a thing, much to the consternation of older local residents who viewed the development with disdain. The practice persists today, if in a somewhat more controlled and organized fashion. What also persists is the local impact of “The Exorcist.” Many Georgetowners — including the editor-in-chief of The Georgetowner — remember the October 1972 filming (see sidebar). The movie itself was a high-end, Hollywood production for which Blatty — until then known more as a screenwriter of comedies (“The Pink Panther”) — penned the screenplay. With “The Exorcist,” Friedkin became one of the hottest directors in Hollywood, having preceded it with “The French Connection,” which had won him an Oscar. The cast was an eclectic crew. Ellen Burstyn, as the actress whose daughter (Linda Blair) undergoes an exorcism, was rising as a serious actress, culminating in an Oscar for “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.” Blair would do a sequel (“The Heretic” with Richard Burton), but never became a big star. Max von Sydow, an alumnus of high-minded Ingmar Bergman movies, played Father Merrin, the frail priest who first encounters the demon in Iraq. Jason Miller, also a gifted playwright (“That Championship Season”) was the troubled Father Karras. The great and aging actor Lee J. Cobb (“Death of a Salesman,” “On The Waterfront”) took on the role of a classic, gruff police detective. Oh, and there was Mercedes McCambridge (“All the King’s Men,” “Johnny Guitar,” “Giant”), supplying the voice of the demon. On its most serious level, “The Exorcist” was about a crisis in faith, believing in God and the devil (or not). But, in the end, it was its more thrilling and scary — if unappetizing — aspects like spinning heads, green bile, a sexual act with a crucifix and an unrelenting intensity that made it a blockbuster. We don’t even want to mention which sex act your mother was supposed to be doing in hell. For Blatty, now in his eighties, there were other books, but none as financially or critically rewarding. “Legion” was the basis for “The Exorcist III,” starring George C. Scott, also partially filmed in Georgetown. Friedkin’s career from that point was a mixed bag (“Cruising” and “To Live and Die in L.A.,” for example). He did marry well: Jeanne Moreau and former 20th Century Fox studio head Sherry Lansing, among others. On Oct. 30, the 75 steps will become an official Georgetown icon. The next night, there will be the usual thousands of suspects, a goblin here, a Trump there, the Kardashians and maybe all the Avengers and their nemeses. But the ghosts of the book and the movie are clearly in Georgetown for keeps. No need to say boo.

Get Ready for Kids Euro Festival Oct. 24

They’re back. Kids. And clowns, and puppets, and dancers and musicians from over 28 European nations. It’s time once again for the eighth annual Kids Euro Festival—Oct. 24 to Nov. 8—described as a kind of local trip to Europe without the need for a passport. It means some 125 free events at venues throughout the Washington, D.C., area, with public performances, school shows (at school or with partnering venues), films, library activities, artist workshops, performances for hospitalized children, a full day of activities for children with special needs and professional development opps for teachers. “Kids Euro Festival continues to offer children and their families a unique opportunity to experience some of Europe’s best performers right here in Washington, D.C.,” said David O’Sullivan, Ambassador of the European Union to the United States. “As a joint cultural diplomacy initiative of the European Union embassies in the nation’s capital, it is also a wonderful celebration of European cultural diversity. It is my hope that every child and parent that participates in this festival will have a lasting fond memory of their European cultural experience.” Susan Lehrman, vice-president of the European-American Cultural Foundation, said, “Culture is a powerful force for bringing together people, families and nations. As the organizer of Kids Euro Festival, the E-ACF knows that the arts are more than just entertainment—they are a way to share cultures, create understanding and unite people from around the world.” Embassies participating in the festival are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany , Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal,  Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

General Assembly: Education for the 21st Century

What is deemed to be the conventional education route may not be for everyone, and adults are following a growing number of alternative paths. General Assembly is the latest innovation, bridging the gap for those seeking a convenient yet challenging way to continue their education and thrive in booming industries. The school, which launched in 2011, specializes in the fields of business, technology and design. Headquartered in New York City, General Assembly has fourteen different campuses spread across four continents, including a Washington, D.C., location at 1133 15th St. NW. “There’s a major gap when people graduate with really interesting degrees but without the course skillset to enter the professional workforce,” said Paul Gleger, regional director of the D.C. campus. General Assembly provides several programs to help students at all levels acquire a greater knowledge of the skills necessary to succeed in today’s world. Whether it be through full-time or part-time courses, topic-specific workshop sessions or special events, a General Assembly education creates a modern learning experience around the skills for advancing one’s career. “It’s 100 percent hands-on,” said Gleger of the teaching method. “The lecture component is very minimal.” For those without convenient access to a classroom, General Assembly’s online programs offer the same invaluable training, allowing students to take away an understanding of topics such as marketing, financial modeling and computer design. As for kickstarting a new career, there is a global network of organizations — Apple, Buzzfeed, Google and Spotify to name a few — that have hired alumni and continue to look for graduates. According to General Assembly, 99 percent of graduates from its Immersive programs — 8-to-12-week, full-time programs focusing on web development, user experience design and product management — are hired within six months of graduation. Beyond classes, the campuses hold information sessions and events that cater to many interests. “Any given night, there could be seven different events going on,” Gleger noted. “There’s a lot of opportunities.” General Assembly is a 21st-century creation that focuses on just that: the 21st century. With constant technological evolution, General Assembly is prepared to adapt and expand its course offerings to provide the vital skills that the professionals of today and tomorrow require. Summing up the school’s philosophy, Gleger said: “It’s all about understanding and analyzing the demand for certain skills. It’s very market-driven.”