Seeing stars: The TC-Hollywood connection continues to expand

TRAVERSE CITY – It's no secret that Traverse City is a haven for transplants from the big city. For an increasing number the office is a laptop on the picnic table, beachside and barefoot. Urban headaches and expenses are left far, far away.

But beyond the predictable auto execs and others who head north, Traverse City also boasts more than its share of Hollywood connections.

Is it true that Kid Rock has a cottage up here? Did Demi Moore and Bruce Willis really hang out in Traverse City a few summers back? Perhaps, perhaps not. But you don't have to look far to find several confirmed, legitimate Hollywood types who call northern Michigan "home."

Likely our most famous-and infamous-Hollywood personality is Michael Moore, the film pioneer whose vision birthed the annual Film Festival.

But before Moore takes the crown of TC Celebrity Numero Uno, consider Julie Kavner. Yes, the voice of Marge Simpson, mother of all cartoon characters. The Emmy Award-winning actress best known for her voice-over work and roles in Woody Allen films has a summer home in the area and often records her voices at Brauer Productions in Traverse City. Marge Simpson's popularity and Hollywood status ranks right up there with Madonna, so it's no wonder Kavner keeps a low profile around town, avoiding annoying fans asking her to do "the voice" while she's shopping for groceries.

For animator Rob Hughes, the appeal of northern Michigan is less about anonymity and more about living in a community. Hughes counts Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Fox Television (including "Family Guy") as his credits, and could easily live in Beverly Hills or Malibu-but downtown Traverse City?

"Naturally, if you're lucky enough to be in a position where you can write a script from your front porch and get notes from your producer by fax, you've got it made," said Hughes.

Hughes was a freelance animator who worked from a Front St. office for several years and now lives in Burbank, Calif. "Eventually, our plan is to establish a better foothold here in LA and bring the work back home. My wife will be going back to Traverse with our daughters to live in our house while I fry out here," he said.

According to Hughes, Traverse City is a place to go when you've built up a little stability in your company or you happen to strike it rich. "I'll bet if you asked anyone in Detroit or Chicago where they want to live when they retire or where they'd live if they had a couple million bucks, the Traverse area will come up nine times out of ten."

Hughes also points to natural beauty as a selling point. "I remember being blown away that I could see the bottom of a river that ran through a city," he said.

Having made commercials for ESPN, Nike, and the Big Three automakers, Peter Trucco certainly qualifies as a northern Michigander with strong Hollywood connections. Trucco has been in the business for more than 17 years serving as executive producer of dozens of high profile TV spots. Trucco points to technology as a primary reason.

"Before the Internet you had to be there for everything-casting, location, scouting…but technology has given me three more days out of a given job to be at home. When a job books, I can prep from home. I don't have to rush to L.A."

Trucco spends about eight months out of the year on the road. "I can pick and choose the jobs I want to do. But when I'm home I'm home. Fully present," he said. "I think we've averaged it out that overall I actually have more time off than someone who works a 40-hour work week."

It's not just Traverse City with Hollywood connections. Hollywood screenwriter Rebecca Reynolds calls Leland home. She has worked for ABC, NBC, CBS and HBO, where she's done the majority of her writing.

She just finished co-writing/producing the HBO comedy special, "Assume the Position 201…with Mr. Wuhl," starring Robert Wuhl. It's the sequel to last year's special "Assume the Position…with Mr. Wuhl." The show is in post-production now and debuts on HBO July 7.

So what's Reynolds' theory about northern Michigan's Hollywood connections? "Traverse City seems like a real place," she said. "And real places are always fascinating to Hollywood-especially real places with lots of water around them."

Reynolds puts a lot of time and energy into Hollywood, but puts even more back into her home community. Reynolds and her husband Jim Carpenter, along with Bob and Trudy Underhill, formed the non-profit "Beyond the Bay Film Series" at Suttons Bay's Bay Theatre. Reynolds is also a co-founder of "Stage Turner," a non-profit that delivers dramatic readings of short stories.

Further up the Leelanau Peninsula you might bump into one of the world's most famous chefs, Mario Batali. You've seen Batali on everything from Iron Chef, and CNN, to the Today Show, read one of his bestselling cookbooks, or spotted him at last year's Traverse Epicurean Classic. Batali co-owns 100 acres of wine-producing property in Tuscany and more than a dozen of America's hottest eateries, yet chooses to spend a fair amount of time at property in Northport.

Many others qualify for the "Traverse City-Hollywood Connection," including our own Kenny Olson, who's graduated to the Big Time via Kid Rock and his own successful solo career. Or Jacques Torres, the self-proclaimed "Mr. Chocolate," whose brand extends from TV to books and beyond. Torres owns a summer home in Empire.

Traverse City is enriched with conscious evolution and growth. For entrepreneurs, artists and outdoor enthusiasts alike, the northern migration continues.

And the list keeps growing, adds Hughes, reflecting on his favorite town. "By the way, there is another guy from Traverse working at Disney. I spotted him by his Beach Bums T-shirt." BN