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The MOVIE GUY (and more)



Bernie Sullivan

Port St. Lucie’s own TCM celebrity Bernie Sullivan can often be seen on the network’s commercials about its fan club perks. Sullivan’s classic Cadillac Eldorado, below, is one of 14 cars he owns, which include a ‘69 Corvette, ‘63 Lincoln and ‘67 Toronado. ANTHONY INSWASTY

BY ELLEN GILLETTE

Lots of folks enjoy movies. Many people would say they’re baseball fans. Thousands of enthusiasts check out car magazines, oohing and aahing over photographs. Bernie Sullivan is immersed in all these pastimes, and he’s even become a bit of a star himself on network TV.

The resident of Port St. Lucie’s Torino neighborhood is building a 25-seat indoor theater in his house. He bought the property beside his home and put in a quarter-scale ball field, “Little Polo Grounds at Bailey Field.” And when he has time, he takes one of his 14 automobiles to car shows.

“I’d really get some things done if I didn’t have that 50-hour chunk of time when I have to commute and do the job,” he says with a laugh. Sullivan, a 13-year resident of Florida, works in West Palm Beach as an insurance specialist for a payroll firm. Raised in New York, he recalls, “I hated the winters and wanted out but hadn’t gotten around to it. Then 12 major storms hit in ’93. It was time for a change.”

After working in Boca Raton and Jacksonville, Sullivan was hired in West Palm, home of “zero lot lines” where structures edge along property lines that left no room for expansion. “Being a car guy, I wanted a three-car garage.” While looking around Port St. Lucie, he checked out the First Data Field stadium, of course. That’s where the New York Mets have spring training and the St. Lucie Mets play. “I’m a huge Mets fan. It felt like home.”

Sullivan’s claim to fame, however, isn’t his own ball field next to his home where up to 50 people have enjoyed wiffle ball games complete with red clay, bleachers, and signage. It isn’t even all the convertibles in his garage. He’s actually received national (and international) attention with his name and “Port St. Lucie, FL” regularly appearing in not one but seven commercials on the Turner Classic Movies television channel.

“I’ve been a TCM guy since they began. They do these incredible film festivals in Hollywood at the Kodak Theatre, close to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with all the stars’ handprints. I was at a film festival two years ago when they announced a new Backlot club (the TCM Backlot fan club). Being one of the first 25 to join helped my odds when they offered a tour giveaway.”

Sullivan won a spot for the channel’s Atlanta headquarters tour, undeterred by the fact that nothing else was included. “You had to pay your own way there, pay for your hotel,” he explains. But he didn’t mind. He even fit in a Braves game during his stay. TCM filmed part of the tour and interviewed the participants for promos on the channel.

“There were eight of us on the tour, seven women and me,” Sullivan says with a smile. “We toured everything, sat with (movie presenter) Ben Mankiewicz in his studio, asked questions. They asked us questions, too. Not being used to the cameras, we were all nervous. When one of the women was asked what had surprised her the most, she blurted out, ‘How short Ben Mankiewicz is!’ I was pretty sure that clip wouldn’t make the cut.” Sullivan himself was surprised that the set included a bookcase with actual books and baseball memorabilia, not just props.

TCM still airs a long version of that first Backlot tour as well as six shorter segments. “I was in the St. Lucie West Walmart one day and a woman pointed at me, shouting, ‘TCM!’ It was the first and only time I was recognized in the outside world, but often people will say, ‘You look awfully familiar. Do I know you?’”

Sullivan’s love for movies began during childhood. While most neighborhood kids played outside until their mothers called them in, he was “a little weird,” faithfully returning in time for the 4:30 classic movie that aired every day on New York’s Channel 5. “Then there was the Million Dollar Movie, Creature Features, Chiller Theatre. I grew up with classic movies.” Becoming an enthusiastic TCM fan was only natural.

To give you an idea of how dedicated to the medium Sullivan is, he recently took a side trip during his summer vacation, visiting Indiana, Pennsylvania, the rather oddly named birthplace of his favorite actor, Jimmy Stewart, an hour east of Pittsburgh. Sullivan says you have to want to go there, but the museum is worthwhile. He also stopped at all four crosswalks with audio signals at the center of town to hear messages in Stewart’s distinctive drawl, supplied by impersonator Rich Little: “It is safe to cross now.”

Sullivan’s favorite movies tend to be from the 1940s, mostly black-and-white fare he plans to show in his own theater one day. In the process of reconfiguring the original garage, he already has authentic folding seats from an old theater in Orlando and Stuart’s Lyric Theatre. He plans to feature a 120- to 130-inch screen for projection television, put a candy stand and vintage cash register outside the double doors in what is now his dining room, and hang his extensive movie poster collection.

Between getting the wiring up to code, putting in new A/C and carpet, and adding black-out material for the windows, the project will cost thousands of dollars. “I’m doing this on the cheap-cheap, whatever I can myself.” When completed, Sullivan wants to open it up to the neighborhood and hold monthly events, maybe start a local TCM fan group.

In the meantime, his ideal evening is as predictable and entertaining as film noir — “Watching a movie on TCM but switching back and forth to whatever baseball game is on ... while thinking about cars!” But next time you see Sullivan in Walmart, you’ll know why he looks familiar.



BERNARD JOSEPH SULLIVAN

Age: “57 ... going on 13.”
Lives in: Port St. Lucie’s Torino area.
Occupation: Insurance specialist for BenefitMall, a payroll company in West Palm Beach.
Family: Single; two cats named Homer and Wilma
Education: BA in History with a minor in business from the University at Albany, New York; teacher’s certificate from the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Hobbies: “I’m a movie guy, a car guy, and a baseball guy. Also cartoons. And cats. And I’m a classic rock fan.”
Who inspires me: “My father. He taught me that there’s always time for things if you plan.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’m pretty much an open book, but people don’t know I once taught at a maximum security prison.”