WABASHA, Minn. — Movies like “Purple Rain,” “The Mighty Ducks” and “Drop Dead Gorgeous” shined the bright lights of Hollywood here in Minnesota.

But none embraced Minnesota quite like they did in the “Grumpy Old Men” films, which took place in Wabasha — a town which still celebrates the movie.

So, WCCO’s resident Grumpy Old Men — Frank Vascellaro and Chris Shaffer — are also getting into the spirit on their “Goin’ To The (Frozen) Lake” trip.

The 23rd Grumpy Old Men Festival is this Saturday, which features the Grumpy Plunge.

Frank and Chris will do their parts and jump in the Mississippi River, which is sure to make them as grumpy as Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon.

That comic duo made the movies great, and the films really captured the feel of small-town life in Minnesota.

But how did they do it? Construction foreman Blaine Marcou, who worked on the movies, gives us the lowdown.

“It’s brought an identity to Wabasha that you can’t buy,” Marcou said.

Wabasha has rested on the Mississippi River since 1830. But some would say the 90s films really put it on the map.

Marcou says the town was not too excited about the film in its early stages.

“They mentioned that the name of this movie was going to be ‘Grumpy Old Men,’ and that didn’t go over too well,” Marcou said.

Grumpy Old Men Festival Artwork (credit: CBS)

Grumpy Old Men Festival Artwork (credit: CBS)

A Minnesotan named Mark Steven Johnson wrote the films. He often visited Wabasha as a child to spend time with his grandpa, Chuck.

“One thing about fishing with Chuck [was] that you couldn’t move, you couldn’t talk and you couldn’t go to the bathroom,” Marcou said. “It was all about fishing [laughs]!”

Memories from Johnson’s time on the river led to some unforgettable characters.

No part of either film was actually shot in Wabasha, but the A-list actors in them spent a lot of time in other parts of Minnesota.

“Walter was always on, always joking, and Jack Lemmon was, you know, more subdued,” Marcou said. “Ann-Margret was just as delightful. Sophia Loren just dripped of elegance and beauty.”

The films are still enjoyable more than two decades after their release, in part because they stick to their small-town Minnesota inspiration.

“When I first got the script, I just laughed. I couldn’t believe it. I called my dad and I said, ‘This movie’s about Wabasha!'” Marcou said. “And going through the script with different things and different references, it was quite comical for me and still is.”

Click here for more information about the Grumpy Old Men Festival.

Frank Vascellaro

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