Metro-East Living

Florence Henderson’s last role brought her to Columbia for ‘Bad Grandmas’

"Bad Grandmas" Trailer

"Bad Grandmas," which stars the late Florence Henderson, was shot in Columbia and will debut at the St. Louis International Film Festival.
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"Bad Grandmas," which stars the late Florence Henderson, was shot in Columbia and will debut at the St. Louis International Film Festival.

Kyle Rainbolt was skeptical when producer Daniel Byington walked into Charlie’s Carstar in Columbia talking about shooting movie scenes there.

“He came into the shop, asking questions. I thought it was a hoax. I said, ‘You want to do what?’ They came back a few months later, to give me the rundown, and I thought ‘Oh, this might be real.’ I showed them around, and we ended up becoming the base camp for the movie,” he said.

That was two years ago. On Thursday, Rainbolt will attend the world premiere of “Bad Grandmas,” which is the opening night selection of the St. Louis International Film Festival, at the Tivoli Theatre in University City.

“I can’t wait to see it. I’m excited to see the shop in it,” he said.

The independent film was shot in Columbia, Ill., and Fenton, Mo., during summer 2015, and was originally titled “Grandmothers Murder Club.”

“When you hear ‘Bad Grandmas,’ you know it’s a comedy. With ‘murder club,’ you don’t know what it is,” Byington said.

The comedy stars Florence Henderson, Pam Grier, Judge Reinhold, Randall Batinkoff, Sally Eaton and Susie Wall, plus scores of local actors.

The story, written by St. Louisans Jack Snyder and Srikant Chellappa, who also directed, is about four grandmothers who accidentally kill a con man (local actor David Wassilak) and must cover it up when his partner (Reinhold) arrives.

“We’re not going for an Oscar. But it’s funny and entertaining, and it was fun to make,” Byington said.

The film crew took over Main Street for a week, using the Columbia Market and Shaun Hannah’s Country Financial office in addition to Charlie’s Carstar.

“We drove all over Southern Illinois and Missouri scouting locations. We needed somewhere that could be a small town in the South,” Byington said.

His companions were Chellappa, a friend for 20 years who has worked with him on six films, and producer Brian Jun of Alton.

“We needed an auto body shop, a grocery store and an insurance agency, and when we saw Columbia, we said ‘This is it.’ It just fit perfectly. Everything we needed was right there,” Byington said.

“Kyle was such a trooper. He was a really good guy. We had to lock up our equipment. Everyone was so nice, including the police. It’s such a cute little town,” he said. “We couldn’t have done it without them. They were inconvenienced to help us out, because they had to do business every day, and have a film crew there.”

Byington was charmed by small-town life, too.

“We were hanging out so much in Columbia that we started hearing the local gossip,” he said, chuckling.

Rainbolt was astonished by all the action behind the scenes.

“The crew was awesome. They were really fun. Everyone was super-nice. It was a good time. They set up the lunch room as Judge Reinhold’s dressing room. We were supposed to be his auto shop, Harry Lovelace’s. My office was his office. In one small scene, there was a gunfight in the back,” he said.

His shed was used to house props and equipment, and lighting and camera trucks were on the parking lot.

“It was bigger than I thought, and lasted longer than I thought,” he said. “I was still working, but my kids came (Kaden, 6; Harlie, 10), and they played with Judge Reinhold’s toddler. I was asked to stand in and be an extra, but it was taking a long time, and I had to get back to work, so I didn’t make the movie.”

One Saturday night, his parking lot was filled with people watching the shoot.

“There must have been 100 people. When word got out Florence was here, we had a lot of people show up, linger,” Byington said.

Working with a Hollywood icon

Rainbolt’s two grandmothers, Sandra Rainbolt and Janet Gillespie, and his great aunt, Sharon Ripplinger, came to the shop to meet Henderson, who was 81 at that time. Known for six decades of work in television, movies and Broadway, she played the iconic sitcom matriarch, Carol Brady, in “The Brady Bunch” from 1969 to 1974.

“She was so nice and so, so sweet. My grandmas absolutely loved Florence. They were amazed at how beautiful she was, even at her age,” he said.

On Nov. 24, 2016, Henderson died at age 82 of heart failure. “Bad Grandmas” is her final film.

Upon learning of her death, Chellappa described her as “vibrant, funny, kind and humble.”

“She never got to see the final product,” Byington said. “She had a wonderful sense of humor.”

By all accounts, she was extremely gracious.

Jilane Klaus, a professional actress who graduated from Althoff Catholic High School in 1986, played Florence’s daughter in the movie.

“She was the ultimate professional at all times. She was nice to everyone, just amazing. She would stop whatever she was doing, put on her lipstick, and sign autographs and take photos with everyone,” Klaus said.

She was impressed.

“You know, sometimes when big stars come to town, they treat you like ‘oh, you’re the local person.’ You never felt she was talking down to you. She treated me like a colleague,” Klaus said.

Pam Grier (“Jackie Brown”) was also cordial.

“She was a lot of fun. She was always cracking us up. She enjoyed making the cast and crew laugh. She’s very funny,” she said.

So how did they land Henderson and Grier for this movie?

“We got lucky. Pam was on Sri’s short list. She was the first to sign on. She read the script and thought it was really funny,” Byington said.

Henderson and Grier had worked together before, in the 2008 TV movie “Ladies of the House.”

Henderson’s son, Bob Bernstein, lives in St. Louis, and plans to attend the film.

“Florence liked that she could spend time with him while she was here,” Klaus said.

Big deal for small town

Other Columbia residents will be in attendance at the movie premiere Thursday night, eager to see if they made the final cut.

Melanie Crowder of Columbia, administrative assistant at the Country Financial office, said she is going with her mother-in-law.

“I’m one of the parking lot walkers. I would be in the first scene, I hope they kept it,” she said. “I have to miss my daughter’s soccer game. I hope she understands that this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

She said she was surprised by how much time was involved.

“We did 10 takes just walking across the parking lot. You don’t realize what all goes into making a movie, and how much time it takes just to shoot one scene,” she said.

Crowder said Henderson spent a lot of time at the office during filming.

“I would be sitting here, just watching, and Florence would talk to me, just like two normal people, like she was a regular grandma. She was very nice,” she said.

Byington also used his home in Fenton, Mo., as a location. “It was like the circus had come to town. I am not sure what the neighbors’ thought, all those big trucks parked along the street,” he said.

Behind the scenes

A producer who also acts and writes, Byington said he enjoys the collaborative process of film making.

“The producer’s job is to keep the chaos away from the center — the cameraman, the director. They make sure everything’s cohesive and smooth,” he said.

He is getting a new company, Wingcrest Productions, off the ground. “We have a couple things in development. Our goal is to be an incubator,” he said.

“I love that you can have a well-written script, and that elevates it to another level, and then everything keeps elevating everything,” he said.

St. Louis is a good place to make movies.

“The Midwest is more open to help,” Byington said. “They want it to be the best it can be. The egos don’t really get in the way.”

“Why not St. Louis? It can be like Albuquerque, Chicago, Pittsburgh and other places they are making films,” he said.

Chellappa shot the films “Fatal Call” (2012) and “Ghost Image” (2007) locally, but they were shown nationally and internationally.

“Fatal Call,” which starred Jason London and Kevin Sorbo, was produced by Zingraff Motion Pictures in Sauget.

“I would be happy to be a part of anything he did,” Klaus said. “On ‘Bad Grandmas,’ we had a union set. Everyone was treated very humanely.”

Klaus is vice-chairman of the Cinema St. Louis board of directors and has been very supportive of local filmmakers.

Her mother, Judee Sauget, operates Zingraff, which is a full-service production company, and they have been active in promoting area locations for film shoots.

For “Bad Grandmas,” Sauget helped with arrangements and personnel, but wasn’t as involved as in previous productions.

Klaus and Byington agreed that St. Louis can turn out high-quality productions.

“An independent film in St. Louis is almost no different than a set in L.A., although sometimes the crews will be smaller,” Klaus said. “You can put out a good product, and it can be just as professional.”

She spent 10 years in L.A. and five years in New York, before returning. She and her husband, Rick Barnes, have three children and live in St. Louis.

Represented by Now Talent, she was in “Marshall the Miracle Dog” and “23 Minutes to Sunrise,” which starred Eric Roberts — both Zingraff features that were well-received,

Byington said he hopes “Bad Grandmas” will have a long life after its world premiere Thursday.

After the fest, the film will be in limited release, with a small number of theaters showing it, then more openings will be added gradually.

“We’re not with a studio, so it will be smaller, in neighborhood theaters,” he said. “We hope momentum builds.”

Want to go?

  • What: “Bad Grandmas”
  • When: Thursday, Nov. 2; 6:30 p.m. reception, 8 p.m. film showing
  • Where: St. Louis International Film Festival, Tivoli Theatre
  • Cost: $25 for the event
  • Sponsored by: Richard and Judee Sauget
  • Details: