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The Lexington in the south Pacific during World War II. (U.S Navy Photo)
Bringing 'Pearl Harbor' to Corpus Christi

Fans Visit USS Lexington For Glimpse Of Disney's World War II Film In The Making

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Aug. 1, 2000) -- Michelle Brooks and Cheryl Terrett didn't mind paying $4.50 apiece -- half the usual admission fee -- for their July 27 tour of the decommissioned aircraft carrier Lexington. But the two Navy wives were more interested in movie stars than military history.

They were among dozens of visitors who showed up recently at the floating museum in Corpus Christi Bay, which this week was transformed into a movie set for the upcoming historical action movie "Pearl Harbor."

"We were looking for the movie stars," said Brooks, whose husband is a career counselor at nearby Naval Station Ingleside. "But they said there were no real stars here today, only the extras."

"We're on our way now to look for them somewhere else," Terrett said.

The Disney Touchstone Pictures production is the latest in a series of Hollywood hits about World War II. "Pearl Harbor," which will star Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Josh Hartnett, is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer ("Armageddon," "The Rock") and directed by Michael Bay. The $145-million movie is a love story about two pilots (Affleck and Hartnett) who fall for the same woman, an Army nurse played by Kate Beckinsale.

Ship Plays Dual Roles

Filming on the Lexington, one of the war's most distinguished carriers, will continue through Aug. 4. The ship will portray a Japanese carrier during part of the filming this week. In preparation for the filming, rolled mattresses were strapped across the front of the ship's bridge -- used during the war to protect against shrapnel -- and a Japanese flag could be seen flying from the flight deck. Next week, the Lexington will also pose as the American carrier Hornet, from which the famous Doolittle air raid on Tokyo was launched. Image
The Lexington was given an angle-deck modification in the 1950's. As the longest serving carrier from the Essex class, she recording 493,248 arrested landings in nearly a half century of service. (National Archives)

Some war veterans have expressed outrage that the Lexington is being used to portray a Japanese warship in the film. However, museum officials said there have been no protesters at the ship.

Throughout the eight days of filming, the carrier museum will remain open to the public, but parts of the ship will be closed off, according to museum officials. On the first day of filming, the ship was only open half a day, with the flight deck and bridge closed, and visitors paid only half the normal admission fee. Display aircraft usually seen on the flight deck have been transferred to the hangar bay, and vintage planes, including a Japanese Zero and B-25 bombers, have been brought in by barge.

Still, there were plenty of admission-paying visitors to the ship, most of them looking to catch a glimpse of the filming. "Business is booming," said Donna Loth, museum human resources manager. "It's been steady today, but this has also been a banner July."

Where Are The Stars?

Loth said most of Thursday's visitors had two questions: They wanted to know if stars Affleck, Baldwin or Gooding were on board, and if they could watch the movie-making process. The answer to both questions was no. The set is closed to the public and the stars weren't scheduled to arrive until this week, Loth said.

Stars or not, many visitors were thrilled just to watch the production from the nearby beach. Jane Barry of Mesa, Ariz., who was visiting family in Corpus Christi, said she hoped to see some aircraft landing and taking off from the museum flight deck. Image
The Lexingon leaves her last home port of Pensacola, Florida for student flight operation in the Gulf of Mexico, three years before she was decommissioned. (U.S. Navy Photo)

"If they did that, I would be in heaven," said Barry, who so far had seen only a couple of helicopters. " 'Top Gun' was my favorite movie. I think aircraft carriers are absolutely the neatest things."

City leaders say the filming brings not only revenue -- an estimated $2 million in hotel fees and equipment rentals -- but welcome publicity to the region.

"We also feel there is a direct benefit in terms of exposure of the Lexington museum," said Tom Niskala, president and chief executive officer of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce. "There's a lot of people on the beach right now. It gets people to look at Corpus Christi and see there's more here than they thought."

"Pearl Harbor" is scheduled for release May 23, 2001, the Wednesday before Memorial Day.

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