‘Nosey Parker’ Triumphs at Savoy

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Arts / Mar. 19, 2003 11:00pm EST

‘Nosey Parker’ Triumphs at Savoy

The late George Lyford of Chelsea pairs up with professional New York actress Natalie Picoe in John O'Brien's latest Vermont film, "Nosey Parker." The photograph is by Jack Rowell.The late George Lyford of Chelsea pairs up with professional New York actress Natalie Picoe in John O'Brien's latest Vermont film, "Nosey Parker." The photograph is by Jack Rowell.

John O’Brien’s newest film, "Nosey Parker," is billed "A love story about a friendship."

Starring the late George Lyford of Chelsea and a professional New York actress named Natalie Picoe, the story features the friendship that develops between a Vermont hill farmer and a newcomer who moves, with her psychiatrist husband, into a million-dollar home on a Tunbridge hill.

In its essence, "Nosey Parker" is a universal tale about the power of tolerance, curiosity, and good humor to forge connections.

We’re all Nosey Parkers—including "fly-on-the-wall" directors, and audiences who get the chance to peer into other’s lives, the Tunbridge filmmaker said this week.

The film is also an elegy to the remarkable George Lyford, and a generation of Vermonters like him, who are too quickly passing from our lives.

Lyford, a much-loved Chelsea farmer, died in December, 1999, following a year-long battle with cancer.

His death was a personal loss to O’Brien, who was a close friend. Lyford’s illness and death—which occurred before filming for "Nosey Parker" was finished—also knocked the production off its tracks.

Three years after Lyford’s death and almost six years since O’Brien started shooting the film, "Nosey Parker" opens this Friday at Montpelier’s Savoy Theater. It has already had a well-received premiere at a film festival in Texas.

It wasn’t the film he originally planned, O’Brien told Lyford family members and friends gathered at the theater Sunday morning for a special, closed screening.

Originally, he said, "there was more of a plot, with a Hollywood climax." In the end, O’Brien continued, "Nosey Parker" became something simpler, and more real—"about George and his relationships—a study of two people."

"I like it better this way," he added.

Huge Applause

So did the admittedly biased —and emotional—crowd, which gave O’Brien a huge round of applause at the end of the film.

The entire family was there, noted Lyford’s granddaughter, Ashley Lyford Lincoln, this week, with the exception of her sister, Shelley, who was in California. Everyone was pleased with the results, she said.

"It was so great for me to see Gramp looking that good and to hear his laugh," Lincoln added. "He had such a kind heart. He always went out of his way to help anyone; he always took the time for all of us—he was never too busy."

In the movie, Lyford, a nosey lister who becomes the newcomer-couple’s hired hand, takes time to befriend the wealthy, stylish—and lonely—Natalie. He dispenses, along the way, his trademark jokes, lessons in driving a tractor and other practical arts, and gentle lessons in tolerance.

"He was just a good, good man—all of the time," Karen Lyford said of her father-in-law this week.

Lyford, a heavy smoker who favored worn plaid shirts, work pants, and a cap, also had extraordinary on-screen charisma, an natural sense of comedic timing, and an unending supply of jokes, O’Brien says.

"Nosey Parker," the final film in O’Brien’s "Tunbridge Trilogy," follows "Vermont Is for Lovers," and the 1996 "Man with a Plan," starring Tunbridge’s Fred Tuttle. The films, all unscripted docu-comedies, are O’Brien’s tribute to a vanishing small-town Vermont.

"Nosey Parker" marks the first time that O’Brien used professional actors, along with local talent. It allowed him the opportunity to work intensely dramatic scenes into the film, O’Brien explained.

It turned out, he said, that improvising, without a script, was harder for the pros than for his local cast. (The playlist, incidentally, reads like the Chelsea-Tunbridge phone directory.)

"Lots of actors do improvisational workshops with each other, but very, very rarely improvise on film," he noted.

Locals, O’Brien added, have the built-in advantage of playing themselves; the professionals needed to remember their characters throughout their unscripted scenes.

Working alongside New York City actors, of course, never fazed George Lyford.

"As far as he knew, everyone put their pants on the same way—that was the way he lived," grinned son Doug Lyford this week. "I guess he was a wise old cuss—he loved life and lived it to the fullest."

By Sandy Cooch

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