Who Do You Think You Are?

Bill Paxton – Season 6, Episode 7 – Aired April 19, 2015

Show hosts in front of vault

It was Wednesday, October 15th. Warrenton locals began lighting up Facebook with questions about the sighting of a famous movie star sited in the downtown area of Warrenton and at Walgreens. If that weren’t enough, a caravan of three or four SUV’s was also seen driving up and down Main Street several times during the afternoon. So what was up? Rewind several months….

I think it was August, and The Warren County Historical Society President, Jan Sutherland, was contacted by representatives of the popular reality show “Who Do You Think You Are?” She was told there was a Hollywood celebrity who had an ancestor buried in southern Warren County and some of the information pertaining to the individual was located in our historical society library in the Museum. The representative wanted to know if they could shoot scenes for the show at the Museum. However, one of the stipulations was that no one outside of the historical society board of directors could know anything about it. Everything had to remain secret until the time came when they would give us permission to tell others what was going on.

Show hosts in front of displays at the Museum

If you’re not familiar with “Who Do You Think You Are?” it’s an Emmy nominated, hour long, reality show that researches the genealogy of various celebrities, and then films them traveling from place to place learning about their ancestral heritage. The show first aired, on NBC in March 2010, and then recently jumped to TLC on cable.

Jan was eventually given the days the production crew and celebrity would be filming at the Museum; however we would not know who the celebrity was until he walked in the front door of the Museum the day of the filming, Wednesday, October 15th. Weeks before filming show reps came to the Museum to check out potential places to film inside the building.

The night before they were to film, Jan received an email that included the filming schedule for the next day. Even on the email the celebrity’s name was not mentioned, only his initials. BP! So who was BP? Brad Pitt? No, his relatives were in Southwest Missouri. Bill Pullman? Brad Paisley? Turns out quite a few celebrities have the initials “BP”.

On the 15th, the film crew of twelve arrived at the Museum early to set up all the equipment. It was fascinating to watch all the preparation the crew went through to get ready to shoot, as it turned out, in the library. They brought in all sorts of cases and boxes from their van. Lights and sound equipment were set up, furniture rearranged, and monitors set up in the room next to the library. Members of the crew, mostly young twenty-something’s, were very friendly and accommodating, wanting to know our names and always concerned about not getting in our way or rearranging things that they thought we might not want moved.

Show hosts outside speaking to a camera operator

We were finally told the name of the celebrity was who would be coming through our door at any moment. It was Bill Paxton, actor, producer, director, who has starred in many movies such as “Twister”, “Navy Seals”, “Weird Science”, “Titanic”, “Aliens”, and “Apollo Thirteen”, and “Night Crawler” to name just a few. On TV he’s been seen in “Big Love”, “Hatfields and McCoys”, “Tombstone”, and “Agents of Shield” as well as many others. He’s been nominated for four Golden Globes, one Emmy, and many other awards. We discovered that Paxton was one of the film crew’s favorite celebrities, because he was so approachable, friendly, and down to earth. From what we understood, each day’s destination was a surprise to Paxton.

Mr. Paxton’s arrival was the culmination of nearly a week of travelling to several locations in the eastern part of the country. When Mr. Paxton arrived he went directly to the library to begin filming with Mr. Gary Kremer, the Director for the State Historical Society of Missouri. While the cameras were running Kremer guided Paxton through the original will, which is part of our collection, of his four time great grandfather, Benjamin Sharp, who fought in the Revolutionary War and moved to Warren County in 1816, which at the time was St. Charles County. His grave is located in a wooded area near Holstein.

Between shooting, I heard Paxton and Kremer discussing the famous, artist, and Missouri Regionalist, Thomas Hart Benton. I approached Paxton and asked if he had ever seen Benton’s mural at the Missouri state capital. He said he had and that his grandfather, who had been a neighbor of Benton’s in Kansas City, was in the mural. Benton painted him as the man looking at the dancing girls in the saloon. Both Paxton and his father personally knew Benton.

Guests eat lunch at a table in the Museum

For lunch, everyone was treated to a meal prepared by a Warren County caterer, giving these east coast and west coast people the chance to experience home style, rural, Missouri cooking.

The afternoon was spent mainly recreating shots like Paxton entering the building, Paxton leaving the building, Paxton entering the library, Paxton leaving the library, close-ups of documents, outdoor shots, and shots of Paxton driving down Main street to the Museum. It was late afternoon when Paxton and a few members of the camera crew were wrapping up the long day of filming on the east sidewalk. The rest of the crew was busy packing and loading their travel van. Everyone, including Paxton, was pretty worn out from the week of traveling and shooting each day. I asked one of the producers if we could get a group picture of the crew, but she didn’t know if they could break away from the packing. A few moments later Paxton walked in the office door, looked at me, and asked, “Guy, do you want a picture with me?” (He actually remembered my name!). Jan and I took him around the corner and we took a few pictures together in front of the big safe. The crew was right, Paxton was friendly, and personable. I guess you’d say, a regular Joe.

A crew member of the show inspects a TV camera

Thursday, was their last day of shooting and it took take place in a wooded area near Holstein. Jason Schoppenhorst, who lives in southern Warren County, was their guide to the gravesite. That day, Jan and I were in the Museum office when she got a phone call from Mindy Ward, who lives near Holstein. Mindy was excited, because members of the film crew were in her house eating lunch and using her facilities. I think the crew probably left out the fact that there was a celebrity in the area. She was looking for more information about what was going on. I remember Jan saying, “You probably have a movie star in your bathroom, right now!” Mindy, an editor for The Missouri Ruralist Magazine, recorded her experience with the Hollywood visitors and had it printed in the magazine which has been included in this issue of the newsletter.

Members of the crew seemed to be very impressed with the people of Missouri, telling us that Missourians were some of the friendliest people they’ve encountered in their travels.

This season of “Who Do You Think You Are” is scheduled to begin this March on TLC. The Paxton episode will air Sunday, April 19, at 9 pm.

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