Morgan Spurlock, the movie director who peppered Altoona with "SOLD" signs Wednesday, pulled off an equally bold stunt with real estate signs in high school, according to a childhood friend and co-conspirator.
Spurlock was in town consummating and celebrating his $25,000 purchase of naming rights to the city for 60 days as a promotion for his movie "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," of which Sheetz Inc. is a major sponsor.
It was 1989, graduation time for Spurlock and friends, and they were driving around their hometown of Beckley, W.Va., when Spurlock got the idea of yanking up 89 "FOR SALE" signs from residents' yards and arranging them on school property in the figure 89, said Dave Stacy, a friend who came for Wednesday's festivities.
Spurlock promotes new documentary, renames city
Those festivities included a mayoral proclamation, a lunch at Sheetz on Pleasant Valley Boulevard, the planting of signs advertising the city's new name, a convoy to the Jaffa Shrine Center and a red-carpet entry there, followed by the "East Coast premiere" of the movie and a reception.
Just as temporarily snatching Altoona's identity doesn't seem to be getting Spurlock in trouble, his graduation prank didn't either, according to his mother, Phyllis, speaking by phone Wednesday from Beckley.
Yes, the principal called him into the office and asked him if he knew about it, and Morgan "played dumb" at first, but the upshot was that the signs got redistributed into the yards and the principal understood the spirit in which the mischievous Morgan had done the deed, she said.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Director Morgan Spurlock hams it up with cheerleaders from Altoona Area High School Wednesday before Altoona’s name was ceremonially changed to POM?Wonderful Presents:?The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
A caravan of Sheetz vehicles carry Altoona dignitaries, including Mayor Bill Schirf (waving to the crowd), to the Jaffa Shrine Center for a special screening of “POM?Wonderful Presents:?The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”?Wednesday in Altoona.
Spurlock was bold, energetic, focused and knowledgeable about where he wanted to go from the start, family and friends said.
"He was the consummate extrovert," Stacy said. "Fearless, reckless."
He had "unusual thoughts," and "he would carry them out," his mom said.
"A ball of energy," said Spurlock's brother, Craig, also in Altoona Wednesday, along with members of the movie production staff and crew and sponsor representatives. "A machine."
He recalled the day this year at the Sundance Film Festival where his brother did interviews "one after another after another."
"The guy was 'on' all day," Craig said.
As a teen, he was a big fan of science fiction, special effects and a movie magazine called Fangoria, Craig and his mom said.
Phyllis Spurlock encouraged all three of her sons to "do the things they like," she said.
"To pursue their dreams," she said. "He did that way past normal."
Still, Spurlock projects generosity and kindness with his celebrity, his brother said.
"It has served him well," Craig Spurlock said.
His pointing a reporter to Craig Spurlock, while providing his mother's home phone number, unsolicited, to answer the question "Why are you so brazen?" seems to bear that out.
"It doesn't matter who you are," whether an NBC executive or somebody who walks up to him at Sheetz, Stacy said. "He'll give you the time of day."
But he's a magnet for ribbing.
"He's not the kind of guy you'd want to trust," said Sheetz Vice President Louie Sheetz at the proclamation at City Hall. "He has a cheesy sales pitch."
One his company bought, however.
"Hey, pimpin' ain't easy," Spurlock told the crowd of about 150.
"We got protesters," Spurlock said, looking at several people carrying signs at the back of the crowd. "[So] you know it's a success."
There was no evidence he had to pay for them to appear.
"Support education, not arrests," read one protester's sign.
"I have a problem with them giving the money to the police department," said protester Steve Knox of Altoona, a college student.
The city should give the money to support activities for youth, Knox said.
"They made fun of us to our faces," protester Dustin Lafferty of Altoona said. "They're too dumb to realize."
Louie Sheetz didn't see it that way.
"I'm proud of the city officials," he said of the many who participated in the day's events, including several councilmen at the red carpet entry. "They didn't overthink it. They didn't get intimidated. They got the joke."
One tinged by hyperbole, as fitting for a paean to promotion.
"This is possibly the greatest day ever," Spurlock said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.