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Fame still the fortune of Quecreek 9

TV movie, magazine articles, appearances are on miners' list

Wednesday, October 16, 2002

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Should ABC-Disney decide to do a sequel to its movie-in-the-making on the Quecreek Mine rescue, it could pick up with the nine miners' lives now.

Suggested title: "Quecreek II: The Hoopla Resumes."

In five weeks, ABC plans to televise the current movie -- title and air date are still uncertain -- amid the end-of-November ratings sweepstakes. And the spotlight on the nine Somerset County men will go back up a few thousand watts.

ABC has been shopping the men and the actors who portray them to talk shows.

The stories of their wives and girlfriends will run in Good Housekeeping; miner Blair Mayhugh's family will be featured in Ladies Home Journal.

A Pittsburgh lawyer handling marketing for such marquee toppers as Mario Lemieux is offering them -- usually in pairs -- for such button-down events as corporate seminars.

"I'm not selling them as teachers," said Stephen Reich, owner of Reich Publishing and Marketing Inc. in PPG Place. "They epitomize working together as a team to achieve good results. ... I can't think of a better example of team-building. They literally tied themselves together in the mine."

"What a great example their story is," said Melissa Berryhill, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart's 522-store Sam's Club chain. Sam's Club is considering booking the men for an annual gathering of store officials in Houston.

As the ABC-Disney publicity machine gears up, there's still the unfinished business of the movie and an upcoming companion book .

Two weeks ago, filming was packed off from Somerset County to a Hollywood sound stage. There, with miners Randy Fogle and Mark Popernack offering technical guidance, moviemakers will finish work next week on their dramatization of the group's 78 hours trapped in Somerset County's Quecreek Mine.

ABC-Disney paid $150,000 apiece to the miners and Robert Long, an engineering company employee whose figured the trapped miners' location from 240 feet up, for these pieces of their lives.

Kleig lights, though, will fade; there are lives to be led after the fame dies.

Two weeks ago, as he watched filming on the Somerset County set, miner John Unger conceded that he was torn about what may follow.

"I don't think I'd go back to mining, but that all can change," said Unger, who's mined for 28 of his 52 years. "It's what we got used to doing. But I don't think I could do that to my family."

"Going back? I'm saying, 'Hell, no,' " miner Blaine Mayhugh said. "I'm not sure what I'll do, but I can't have my kids saying, 'Is Daddy going to work? Is Daddy coming back?' "

Reich, trolling for merchandising opportunities, said no deals are signed and forecast that a lot of marketing magnetism will hinge on the movie's impact.

The miners' first outing at a business seminar comes in two weeks, at a venue Reich won't reveal.

He's dealing with unpolished public speakers, so formats are likely to be question-and-answer. And he's dealing with men besieged by well-wishers, packing varying degrees of tolerance for public appearances.

"These guys are adjusting well. ... But some are less enthusiastic than others and won't do it unless all nine are there," Reich said. "They don't work for me. I work for them. If they want to go out and fish and hunt instead ... they can do that."

Count on it.

Four weeks ago, celebrated photographer Annie Leibovitz showed up to shoot the miners at a Somerset County farm for Vanity Fair. But miner Ronald Hileman, citing unspecified errands, didn't show up.

Leibovitz -- in effect, stood up -- returned two weeks ago to try anew.

"Things couldn't have worked out better," said Vanity Fair spokeswoman Amanda Taylor. "Annie Leibovitz had time to talk to the miners who came the first time and to earn their trust."

The miners, in turn, had time to learn that Leibovitz's birthday was looming.

For the second visit, the full corps was there -- with a birthday cake to boot.

"They sang 'Happy Birthday' for her," Taylor said.

Tom Gibb can be reached at tgibb@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1601.

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