In November of 1984, Hollywood descended on the tiny fishing town of Astoria to shoot a mysterious movie about pirate treasure and something called a Goonie. Thirty years after its release, the movie is one of the most enduring cult films of all time, and people from all over the world travel to the Oregon Coast for a glimpse at their childhood.
But what really happened when a film crew took over the small town for a few weeks? We talked with a handful of Astorians, plus folks who worked on the film, and discovered that everything from fake apes to real guns factored into making the classic. These are their stories. (Find a full interview with Jeff "Chunk" Cohen online at wweek.com/chunk).
The Goonies Take Astoria
While the stars of The Goonies were unknown, producer Steven Spielberg and director Richard Donner weren't the only famous folks on set—star Sean Astin's stepfather, John Astin—aka Gomez Addams—and bona fide movie star James Brolin were there to take care of their kids, who set up camp at the Thunderbird Hotel, which eventually became the now-closed Red Lion Inn.
"All the local guys would be down at the [Thunderbird] and drink coffee. It was the only good hotel in town, so the important people were staying there. I remember the kids were real bratty. They were spoiled knotheads. They'd act up like kids and spill things. There was one old waitress there, and they exasperated the hell out of her. Nobody gave a shit about those kids because they weren't famous. They were busy looking at James Brolin and John Astin and the famous people. Now that's all changed."
—Jim Furnish, fisherman
"John [Matuszak, who played Sloth] and I flew up, but were only there for a few days because there were some major problems with the makeup for Sloth. So there was nothing we could really do in front of the camera. I don't drink, so I would escort John to all the bars so I could get him home. I was the John wrangler. I'd drink Coca-Cola and make sure he didn't beat up the whole place."
—Randell Widner, Sloth stunt double
"One day they were up filming at the Goonie house; I was at the bottom of the street for crowd control. There was nobody there, really. John Astin came walking up and introduced himself. He was a super-nice guy. We stood there and chitchatted. School let out, and a whole crowd of kids came out. There was over 100 there in a matter of a minute or two. One girl stood in front of us and said, 'Damn, not one movie star anywhere.' I looked at Mr. Astin, and he said, 'Don't ever get old.'"
—Dave Johnson, officer (retired), Astoria Police Department
"We'd be hanging out on the dock, and John Astin would walk by, and we'd go, "Doodle-dee-doo, snap snap." He didn't think that was very funny. Honestly, I would have rather seen [Astin's then-wife] Patty Duke."
"I was recovering from the chickenpox. We kind of kept that to ourselves. I didn't want to get kicked out of the movie. One of the earlier scenes I shot was the Truffle Shuffle. If you look, all my belly, I have chickenpox, and they had to put makeup on it."
—Jeff Cohen, actor, Chunk
"[Matuszak] was a big kid with very few limitations about how he conducted himself, but he was a little too big to play rough with people. I have a black belt in five different forms of martial arts. When we first started working out, he tried some stuff and I smacked him in the big chest. From that point on, if I told him it was time to go, he'd go. He was taking painkillers, and when you put a gallon of wine on top of that, you have trouble controlling yourself at times. He was like a lost child in a lot of ways."
Astoria Life vs. Hollywood Life
Hollywood may have slowed traffic in town but it didn't slow down Astorian life, often resulting in hilarious culture clashes.
"I was in the restaurant in the Thunderbird. There was a commotion, people looking out the window. The L.A. people were freaking out. It was a hunter who had come back, and had a deer he had shot strapped to his car. He was proud of it. It was a good deer. And all the L.A. people were like, 'What the fuck? Get that out of there.' Dick Donner is such an animal lover. It was interesting to see these cultures clash. It's like, 'I'm proud, I shot this 10-point buck,' and all the L.A. people are like, 'Get that fucking car out of here. What's wrong with you, you murderer?'"
"One morning, we had a shooter. There was somebody shooting out of the window of a house. We had people calling in on 911 that car windows were blowing out, and they realized they had a shooter up near the Goonie house. They put Spielberg in a patrol car and put him down in the backseat and got him out of there. It was two young children, 8 or 9 or 10 years old. Mom and dad had left to go to the hospital because she was pregnant. [The kids] got dad's .22 rifle, and were up shooting out the bedroom window. Just shooting randomly. They could not understand why we were so upset. They shot out two or three car windows, and there was a little, old man mowing the lawn, and they kept shooting at him and making the dirt come up from behind him, but couldn't hit him. The [police] chief was so angry, trying to explain that it wasn't a BB gun, that you could get killed by a .22. 'No, it's just a BB gun.' That was the big stand-the-hair-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck moment."
"Before they started filming [in Cannon Beach's Ecola State Park], they set up a job shack—a small trailer with desks and phones and stuff—and they put it on the northwest edge of the parking lot facing east and west. I said, 'You guys think you might want to turn that so it's north to south, or get some wires to hold it down? About the time you're filming, the wind's going to be coming up that bluff.' 'Well, why would we do that?' 'Well, the wind's going to blow over your trailer.' 'That'll never happen.' Well, I came to work one day, and the trailer was flopped over on its side."
—Phillip Lines, former ranger, Ecola State Park
The Big Chase
The film's chaotic opening—featuring a jailbreak and a chase through Astoria and Cannon Beach—was initially way crazier than what made it to the screen.
"During the chase, early on, a circus wagon gets tipped over, and some apes escape. Their shtick is to drive little red cars. So they end up trying to steal my golf cart in a scene that went on the floor. And they steal my kid's Mustang. The apes were really well done. I feel sorry for the stunt guys who had to live in those suits, they were really good."
—Curtis Hansen, actor, Mr. Perkins
"There were two gorillas in a Mustang convertible. They wrecked a brand-new car, but it was never part of the movie. And there was a part on the dock. During the big car chase, they were supposed to come flying down the dock. One police car was supposed to go through the railing and land in a boat. Somebody screwed up, and the jeep they were driving—a rental they'd gotten in Portland that they weren't supposed to mess up—somebody mistimed and the police car hit the back of it. The police car landed on the boat, where it was supposed to. Donner goes, 'Somebody get me a car, I gotta go fire somebody.'"
Astoria on Film
Astoria wasn't just a location. The production put the city to work. Police officers pulled traffic duty and even appeared in the film. Local lumberyards and body shops became prop shops. And aspiring filmmakers got a chance to excel behind the camera.
"I was 19 and a college student studying film and television production. At that point, I had been making short films for about five years, but had never spent any significant time on a professional movie set. I was also a huge admirer of Steven Spielberg's films and longed for the opportunity to watch him work. I approached location manager Tony Amatullo about the possibility of becoming involved somehow. It was from him that I learned that Richard Donner was directing, not Spielberg. But that was good, too. My most treasured memory on the set of The Goonies was Richard Donner introducing me to Steven Spielberg as a "fellow director." To this day, that remains one of the highlights of my life as a filmmaker and storyteller."
—Mick Alderman, filmmaker and author of Three Weeks With The Goonies: On Location in Astoria, Oregon
"The famous breakout scene from the jail, Steven Spielberg directed that. One of the ladies who worked at the courthouse gave us her memory of that scene being filmed. She said, 'My only memory of Steven Spielberg was this scruffy-haired kid in a ball cap who kept coming into the courthouse with a pocketful of quarters to use the pay phone to check the weather."
—McAndrew Burns, Clatsop County Historical Society director
"The police cars came in the middle of the night on a car carrier. It was hysterical: They were all Hazzard County Sheriff cars from The Dukes of Hazzard. They hired one of the paint shops in town to paint them. They tried to spend money in town."
"When they came to town, they scouted locations, and a certain amount of time went by. When they came back, the McDonald's was built. They were going to scrap the scene [with Chunk watching the chase from the bowling alley] because the McDonald's was there in the window. Donner was upset because it was throwing things off, and somebody said, 'Have Chunk put a slice of pizza up there, and we won't see the sign.' And that's why there's a slice of pizza up there."
"When they're breaking out of the jail, before they leave they pour gasoline around the jail and set a fire so people can't follow them. That was actually contact cement that we sold them. It's pretty flammable. We never knew what they were doing. They'd buy fence posts and stuff for the inside of the house, including a staircase. It was pretty obvious they were from the production. They opened a store charge account for Amblin [Entertainment]. We knew who they were, but we didn't know in detail what they were doing. The film business is great business. It's great for guys like us."
—Jeff Newenhof, co-owner, City Lumber Company