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Hundreds converge on West Chester area to view ‘Marley & Me’ filming

When a 23-year-old Media resident phoned her mother last week, her voice "squeaked" uncontrollably - a signal her mother recognized as her daughter's hyper-excitement mode.

"You better be engaged or promoted," Erin Reed said her mother told her.

She was neither, but ecstatic nonetheless.

Reed, a West Chester bank teller, had been invited to watch the filming of "Marley & Me" from a West Chester storefront, mere yards from where her idol, actress Jennifer Aniston of "Friends" fame, would be frolicking.

Not all diehard fans enjoyed enviable access, but that did not diminish their enthusiasm - or their numbers.

During the past two weeks, hundreds converged on various locales for the film, which is based on the best-seller by John Grogan, a former Inquirer columnist. Local filming was completed yesterday.

The book chronicles the escapades of Marley, a yellow Lab that Grogan and his wife, Jenny, acquired in 1991 shortly after their wedding, hoping to get parenting practice. Thirteen years and three children later, the dog died, but not before leaving an indelible impact - on the family and the book-buying public.

That, combined with a chance to witness movie stars close up, drew the crowds.

Smith Garcia, 18, traveled from Brooklyn to catch the action.

Garcia said he called Gabriel Francis, 21, a New York buddy who is living in West Chester while attending automotive school, to beg a visit.

Francis, who hadn't heard about the movie, needed no coaxing: "I want to get into the film business."

Unlike Reed's prime vantage point, Garcia and Francis stood a block from the scene and behind several rows of onlookers. Their focus: a four-story-high machine dispersing paper snow.

At one point, a couple in front of them called it a day, and Garcia and Francis jockeyed for a better position.

"This is what we call moving up in life," Garcia joked.

In the film, Grogan is played by actor Owen Wilson, with Aniston as his wife. A couple dozen dogs of varied ages tackle the Marley role.

West Chester Police Chief Scott L. Bohn said by his measurement of success - "the absence of events" - the filmmakers scored well, as did the well-behaved spectators.

"When you take a global view, it's a positive for the community," he said. "There's a fascination with seeing how these scenes are done."

Last week, a West Chester street became a wintry wonderland so the Groganscould dash hand-in-hand through the snow in bridal garb.

This week, a downtown hearing-aid store received a facelift to replicate a veterinary clinic. Workers even yanked out parking meters and a fire hydrant to avoid obstructions.

"You keep watching because you're not sure what might happen next," said Marina Cugino, an owner of Cugino's Newstand.

In Birmingham Township nearby, the seasons and weather fluctuated wildly at a farmhouse near the Brandywine, which doubled as the Grogans' Quakertown abode.

On Wednesday, under starry skies, director David Frankel ordered rain, and a giant, gyrating machine responded. Then a raincoated Wilson ran down the driveway in the downpour frantically calling Marley's name.

Wilson found his pet - in reality a dog named Rudy - across the street writhing in distress on cue.

Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, said the farmhouse was one of the keys to securing the Philadelphia area for the film, which almost landed in Connecticut.

She said "Even a couple of weeks of a movie with such big stars and high profile is good for our collective well-being as well as our regional pocketbooks."

Pinkenson predicted the economic impact of the film, which wrapped up local shooting yesterday, would be substantial.

"I'm sure it will be north of $5 million," she said.