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Locals remember working with Hepburn, Peck

Mel Norrick remembers Katharine Hepburn like yesterday. Julia Tucker's memories of Gregory Peck are vivid as can be.

Norrick, of near Rogue River, worked as a river guide with Hepburn and John Wayne on river scenes in the 1975 movie Rooster Cogburn. Tucker, of Ashland, then a Hollywood script supervisor, worked on television commercials with Peck.

Hepburn died Sunday at her home in Connecticut at age 96. Peck died June 12 at his Los Angeles home.

There was one big rapids scene they shot a lot, Norrick, 69, says of Rooster Cogburn.

— They'd run their raft through with the doubles and shoot from a distance, then put it on the back of my big pontoon boat. We had to turn it around in the rapids. They had a camera set up where they could get close-up pictures of Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne.

The pontoon is 22 feet long, and it had big sweeps (a paddle that serves as a rudder). She was so excited when we got through it she said, 'Let's do it again.'

Norrick spent several weeks shooting on the Rogue and on the Deschutes River near Mount Bachelor in Central Oregon. The Hepburn he remembers was like her on-screen persona: strong and witty, with a mind of her own.

She kind of set John Wayne straight once in a while, he says. They joked back and forth a lot.

Hepburn seemed to fall in love with the river.

She loved those little inflatable Tahitis, he says. Anytime she wasn't being photographed she'd be out paddling around. They told me, 'Don't you let anything happen to her. We've got a million-dollar insurance policy on her.'

Filming was in early September 1974, in the Hellgate region and near Indian Mary park, downstream from Grants Pass. Norrick says Hepburn was keenly interested in the environment.

She was pleased the river was so clean, he says.

Like anybody I've ever boated, she said, 'We'll come back.'

As far as I know she never did.

Tucker's work with Peck took place about as far as you can get from Josephine County and still be on the West Coast: in a TV studio. It was the late 1970s, and Peck was doing spots for The Travelers. The director was George Gomes, whom Tucker had worked with in New York City.

George called, and I said yes, she says. I had loved him (Peck) from afar my entire life. It was quite something to meet him.

He was every moment a complete gentleman. He had tremendous presence, film presence, but also presence as a person. Charisma.

You can hone it in acting classes, but I think you're born with it. What was sweet was that he understood the effect he had on people.

When a take was over length, he saw me whisper to the director.

He said, 'You can speak to me.'

I said, 'I only speak to the director.'

He knew I wasn't going to go up to him and say it was a second-and-a-half over.

Norrick worked on a Peck picture, although he didn't meet the actor. It was 1969's star-studded Mackenna's Gold. Omar Sharif, Telly Savalas, Keenan Wynn, Julie Newmar, Lee J. Cobb, Raymond Massey, Burgess Meredith, Edward G. Robinson and Eli Wallach were the other stars. But none was here for shooting.

Second unit shots were done above Robertson Bridge downstream from Grants Pass. One scene called for Peck's double to cross the river pursued by Indians who cut a rope, causing him to shoot off out of control.

The raft wouldn't drift fast enough, Norrick says. So they put a Caterpillar tractor out there with a long rope, and it would pull the raft down the river.

The Indians shot and lost so many arrows in the scene that the production company had to send out for more arrows, he says.

A scene of a raft going over a falls was shot at Rainy Falls with a scale model raft.

Tucker came within one film of working with Hepburn not long after she worked with Peck. It was 1980, and she had decided to leave the film industry after 24 pictures in 20 years.

I was burning out, she says.

She got a call from director Mark Rydell, with whom she worked on The Rose. He wanted her to work on a film with Hepburn.

I said I would love to, but I had finished my last film, she says.

The picture was 1981's On Golden Pond.