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Shawshank means something special to Mansfielders

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Janet Irey, an extra in the movie The Shawshank Redemption, sits on a buss in front of Red (Morgan Freeman) in 1994.

MANSFIELD -- Few could have imagined the overwhelming success The Shawshank Redemption would become as it was being shot at the Ohio State Reformatory and other locations throughout Richland County in 1993.

Today the motion picture is considered one of the greatest films in history. But for many Mansfielders, residing in the area where the movie was shot, it's their favorite movie of all time -- after all, there may be someone they know in the uncredited cast.

For Janet Irey, a 1940 Mansfield Senior graduate, being in the 1994 flick starring Tim Robbins (as Andy Dufresne) and Morgan Freeman (as "Red" Redding) gave her excitement beyond belief.

"There was a call for extras," said Marylin Irey Burchett, Irey's daughter. "My Mother's friend, Vivian asked her to go to the Renaissance Theatre and audition to be extras."

Irey was selected; Vivian was not, Burchett said with a laugh.

"It turned into a joke all their lives," she said. 

Nearly 1,000 Mansfield residents landed spots as extras in the movie. Less than 100 had lines, according to reports.

For Doug Wertz, of Mansfield, his cinematic journey was one of luck and strong will.

Doug Wertz

Doug Wertz

Wertz attended two cattle calls for extras and was turned down each time.

Weeks later, a woman called and offered him a role as an extra.

"Basically, it was just a background prisoner (role) to spend all day sitting in a cell," the actor said. "As zealous as I was, I also realized I would probably never be seen, heard or recognized. I turned the opportunity down, thanked her professionally and let it go."

A day later, he received another call about a different extra opportunity. Again, he turned it down.

Then a third call came. 

Frank Darabont

Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont will be back in town for the 25th anniversary of the movie.

"It almost became a sales job as the woman starts to tell me the director, Frank Darabont saw my resume and wanted me to take part (in the movie)," said Wertz, who worked for the Playhouse theater and other live performance companies. "No lines were to be spoke, but she mentioned the specific 'tower guard' role would have a close up shot. I was intrigued to get in front of the camera one more time, even if it meant I may have a cameo, so I accepted, knowing it was probably just short stint."

Wertz can be seen as a Tower Guard in the national promotional trailer for the prison film.

The Mansfield man can be seen in other scenes, too. He was dressed as a guard on the opposite side of the table when 'Red' was signing up for roof detail. He can be seen in civilian clothing during a tax consulting scene with Dufresne, as he is leaning into the shot looking at his paperwork.

Shawshank Extra

Irey, poses in her costume for The Shawshank Redemption. 

"It was a big deal," said her daughter Marylin Irey Burchett.

Irey had one shot, but it was a big one.

"She had about seven seconds of screen time," Burchett said of her mother's Hollywood debut. "I know there were a lot of extras, but people would recognize her on the street."

Burchett said her mother made $100 a day while working as an extra.

"She sat in a tent all day while they did her hair and make up. Then, she didn't get to shoot her scene, so they asked her back the next day, and she was so happy," Burchett said.

While the movie was being shot, Burchett lived in Dayton. She said her mother loved to share stories with anyone who would listen about being on set. They spoke on the phone each Sunday.

Irey attended the 15th reunion in 2008 and the 20th reunion in 2013. 

"She loved swapping stories with other extras," Burchett said.

The largest collection of cast members will be at OSR Aug. 16, 17, and 18 for the 25 year reunion. The event will include actors and writers panels, a showing of the film at the Renaissance Theatre as well as events at shooting locations with look-alike and actors from the movie.

List of Shawshank 25th anniversary events

Irey died at age 91 on Jan. 5, 2014.

Her obituary lists her life highlights: her marriage, her children and of course, her role in The Shawshank Redemption.

"There's a good quote she would say," her daughter said, "The most important moments in her life were getting married, having children and being in the movie."

To Mansfielders like Burchett, The Shawshank Redemption is a way to remember and preserve their loved ones. To this day, she says she'll watch the movie when she misses her mother.

"It's always playing somewhere, and it's nice to say, 'Hi, mom,'" she said. "Sometimes if it's on T.V. I'll freeze the screen. I get a lump in my throat.

"It is just thrilling to see her on the screen. When I took her to the 20th reunion, we watched the movie and people were clapping when she came up. This whole section was clapping and to see it on the big screen is really (special). That's how I feel every time I watch it."

Vintage Shawshank sign

A vintage sign Burchett found at a Blockbuster video store.

Burchett said the city deserves to be proud of the movie and its successes.

She is excited to celebrate Richland County's success with cast members and the movie's fanatics at the 25th anniversary celebration.

"I'm proud Mansfield was chosen (for the shooting location)," she said. "(The Ohio State Reformatory, closed in Dec. 1990,) was very close to coming down with a wrecking ball.

"Thank goodness, it didn't, because it brings in a lot of tourism and hosts weddings and in October, haunted prisons."

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Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.