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Jeff Kolpack, Published June 28 2009

Casting for '61*' went smoothly

It started with a phone call from producer Ross Greenburg to Billy Crystal. Greenburg was viewing the movie “Saving Private Ryan” when he thought he saw double.

He saw Roger Maris.

He actually saw actor Barry Pepper.

“I said, ‘There he is, that’s Roger,’” said Greenburg, who was part of the Roger Maris Celebrity Golf Tournament’s “61*” event at the Fargo Theatre on Saturday night.

Pepper was the first actor cast for “61*,” although he wasn’t immediately sold that he was the guy.

“I wasn’t so sure that I looked like Roger,” he said. “Then I started looking at pictures and it looked like somewhere along the line, I was separated at birth from the Maris family.”

From there, one by one, the movie nailed one likeness after another. Pepper and Thomas Jane, who played Mickey Mantle, were so convincing that Mantle’s widow, Merlyn Mantle, broke down when she was brought to Detroit for shooting.

Old Tiger Stadium was retrofitted to look like old Yankee Stadium.

“We went down to the field when they were taking batting practice,” said David Mantle, Mickey’s son who also was part of Saturday’s event. “There’s Thomas and Barry and my mom started crying because they looked so much like them. She saw No. 7 and No. 9. She said it just took her back and she lost it. It was one of those special moments.”

Another special moment for the film-makers came after the conclusion of filming. Greenburg flew to Gainesville, Fla., for a screening for the Maris family.

Greenburg was the principal contact between the movie and the family, and he called the first viewing by the family “the scariest screening I ever had in my life.”

“It was all of them and me,” he said. “I sat there with baited breath to wait for their reaction.”

At the conclusion, Corrine Maris, Roger’s mother who died in 2004, stood up and pointed a finger at Greenburg, he said.

“And she says, ‘Now you got it right,’” Greenburg said. “Then this big sigh of relief came over the entire screening.”

David Mantle said Pepper and Jane did a masterful job of imitating the body language of Maris and Mantle.

“Just the movements and motions, everything about our fathers,” he said. “Just a spitting image.”

Jeff Kolpack can be heard on the WDAY Golf Show, 10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia