Frontier principal recalls working on ‘Hocus Pocus’

  • George Lanides, principal of Frontier Regional School, holds a DVD copy of “Hocus Pocus” in his office. He worked as a production assistant in Salem for the 1993 Disney film. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

  • George Lanides, principal of Frontier Regional School, holds a DVD copy of “Hocus Pocus” in his office. He worked as a production assistant in Salem for the 1993 Disney film that has since become a cult classic. STAFF PHOTO/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 10/3/2019 10:34:15 AM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Tuesday was the first day of October, and there are at least three traditions Valley residents can rely on: leaf peepers, pumpkin spice and seemingly endless airings of “Hocus Pocus” on television.

The 1993 Disney movie overcame a mediocre performance at the box office to become arguably the quintessential Halloween flick thanks in part to a tremendous amount of airtime each year.

But most here in the Pioneer Valley may not know they have in their midst a connection to the cult film, in Frontier Regional School Principal George Lanides, who worked in show business as a production assistant after graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

“I primarily worked in the office there (in Salem). So I was off set most of the time. But I do remember being on set a few times. I remember Kathy Najimy (who plays Mary Sanderson, one of the antagonist witches),” he recalled in his office last week. “I remember seeing her and I remember some of the locations.”

Lanides said he worked on the movie for the scenes filmed in Salem, which he said lasted three or four weeks.

“Hocus Pocus” centers around three evil witch sisters who were hanged in Salem in 1693 only to be inadvertently resurrected by a teenage boy on Halloween 300 years later. The witches are played by Najimy, Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker. Lanides, 51, also recalls meeting actor Charles Rocket, who played the father of the teenager who brings the witches back to life.

The TV channel Freeform, formerly known as ABC Family, plans to broadcast the film 30 times this month.

“I’ve never seen the entire movie. That’s a guilty confession,” he said with a chuckle, explaining he had little interest in the film in 1993 because it was a children’s movie and he was in his 20s. “But my kids have seen it. My kids love it.”

Lanides, in his second year as principal at Frontier, said the film production industry is not a glamorous one and a production assistant is essentially a gofer, driving items to and from the set and running errands. He recalls being sent to purchase beer to celebrate the wrapping of filming in Salem. He said he was paid a flat rate of about $125 to work up to 18 or 20 hours a day.

He changed careers to education when he moved to New York at 30 because he wanted to be a part of something more fulfilling. Still, he looks back fondly at his time in film production.

“They’re fun stories to tell,” he said.

Lanides also worked on other projects, including “Housesitter” with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn and Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” music video, in the first half of the 1990s. He was also Rowan Atkinson’s driver for a week while the man known for playing Mr. Bean was taping a comedy special Lanides said was co-written by Richard Curtis, who years later wrote and directed the romantic comedy “Love Actually.”

“I remember driving both of them and their wives in the back of my crappy little 1983 Ford Escort with a cracked windshield,” he said. “It was so embarrassing.”

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