Roslyn Gets Plenty of Visitor Exposure

The Denver Post - 9/27/92

by Gerry Wingenbach

ROSLYN, Wash. - At first glance, Roslyn (pop. 875_ seems like many of the other weathered and logging towns in western Washington. Along Pennsylvania Avenue, the town's three-block-long main street, pickups are angle-parked in front of the Roslyn Cafe, the General Store and Jerry's Barber Shop. Old Glory waves from the post office flagpole.

But on second glance, Roslyn is different.


FOR REAL: Roslyn Cafe, Roslyn Museum
are side by side.

Tourists with video cameras stroll the sidewalks, peering into windows and gawking at everyone they pass. A blond in a 1956 Chevrolet convertible snaps a photograph while driving past the Brick Tavern, which happens to be the oldest operating saloon in the state of Washington. But history is not what interests her.

"We're a movie town now," said Roslyn's barber, Jerry Mowis, referring to his town's new-found prosperity, as the fictional commonity of Cicely, Alaska, in the hit television series "Northern Exposure."

Morris moonlights as Earl, the barber in the television show, but on this particular day he is working at his usual day job and is in the middle of a buzz cut.

"I was never in a class play," Morris said. "My only stage has been this barber shop."

"And don't forget to trim my eyebrows," said Andy Valesko, the barber's 78-year-old customer, attempting to keep the star-struck barber concentrating on the menial task of cutting hair.

But the temptation was too great. "I've been in the show myself," Valesko said, momentarily forgetting about his haircut. "They put a note on my door when they want me. Darn hard to get your money out of them, though."

A mounted lake trout hangs above the barber. Over in the corner a set of deer antlers serves as a hat rack. A Coca-Cola machine dispenses 40-cent bottles. It's a scene familiar with viewers of the television show.

Across the street is the makeshift studio of KBHR radio, "the voice of the last frontier," where the television show's disc jockey, Chris, played by John Corbett, ponders the great questions of classical philosophy and the everyday occurences in the quirky Alaskan movie town.

"We've been all over looking for Marilyn and the moose," said a woman standing in front of KBHR. "That's the reason we watch the show and why we came." She was referring to the native receptionist named Marilyn and played by Elaine Miles in "Northern Exposure." The moose appears in the show's opening credits walking past the Roslyn's Cafe sign.

"We get tourists from all over the world," said Sue Vail, who was working behind the counter at Roslyn's General Store and vaguely resembled the character Marilyn. "We've even had honeymooners. Can you believe it?

"There was even a guy from Anchorage, the real Alaska, who drove an old fire truck all the way down here so he could take a picture of it in front of the Roslyn's Cafe sign."

Northern Exposure began airing in 1990 and has been renewed for another two years. (The new season premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on Denver's Channel 7.) It received the People's Choice award for best dramatic television series and won 16 Emmy Awards. The show stars Rob Morrow, who plays Joel Fleischman, a doctor from New York City who believes civilization ends at the mouth of the Hudson River. But the state of Alaska paid for Joel's medical education and in return he owes four years of medical service. According to Joel, Cicely is halfway between the end of the line and middle of nowhere.

STARS: Rob Morrow plays a doctor and Janine Turner, a pilot.

Roslyn, however, is on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains, 80 miles from Seattle off Interstate 90. It began as a coal mining town 107 years ago, and by the early 1900s the population had swelled to 6,000. The mine closed in 1963. The last doctor who actually practiced in Roslyn left in the 1940s.

"Roslyn was dying," said 72-year-old Mary Adler, the owner of the Roslyn Museum, who happens to bear a resemblance to Ruth-Anne, the practical storekeeper played by Peg Phillips in the television show. " 'Northern Exposure' brought this town to life. Before, so much was seasonal, but they made all the businesses boom."

In 1990, fewer than 4,000 visitors signed the museum guest book. In the first seven months of 1992, there already were more than 15,000 signatures.

"How come the movie people chose this town?" Adler asked herself. "They liked us. The producers had a scout who came to town, and he liked us. We have no McDonald's, supermarkets or stoplights. And all the buildings are for real. But mostly, they liked us."

Adler told the story of Marilyn, played by Miles, who had never acted before casting found her for the role on "Northern Exposure." And all those stars from the big cities, like Rob Morrow, the doctor, and Janine Turner, who plays Maggie the bush pilot, well . . .

"Just the way you see them is the way they are around town," she said.

Yep. Art mirrors real life in Roslyn. Now, there's a statement for Chris to ponder on KBHR. But has fame destroyed Roslyn? Not by any means.

At the Roslyn Cafe, the waitress told lunchtime customers that the turkey sandwich was off the menu because it had just come out of the oven and was still too hot to slice. And at Jerry's, a haircut still costs only $6.

Gerry Wingenbach is a writer living in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Northern Exposure is Copyright Universal City Studios. All Rights Reserved.

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