TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City wasn’t a film town when a young Mike Salerno made his own “Star Wars” movies using licensed action figures and a Super 8 camera.
But Salerno’s interest in film has grown along with his native city’s.
“I have so much respect now for these filmmakers,” said Salerno, a 1991 Traverse City Senior High alumnus and director and producer of the non-profit educational film, “Eddie in Decatur.” “I have huge respect for Michael Moore.”
Salerno’s film, which can be seen on YouTube and Battle Creek community access TV, follows ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his lifelong ties to his Michigan hometown. Bergen, creator of the “dummy” characters “Charlie McCarthy” and “Mortimer Snerd,” lived in Decatur from 1908 to 1919 and returned for visits throughout his lifetime.
Salerno, a physical therapist now living in Kalamazoo, said it wasn’t until he started working with home health care patients in nearby Decatur that he learned of the village’s claim to fame.
“Everyone had a story,” he said, adding that a local street is named after the performer and a village eatery even has an Edgar Bergen display. “It was kind of like he was alive and living down the street.”
Salerno, 50, began to research Bergen with the idea of producing a film. After interviews with locals, including the grandson of Decatur’s long-time physician — an early Bergen mentor — he wrote a script, lined up costumes and locations, and recruited actors from community theaters around the region.
Then, armed with a budget between $5,000 and $10,000 and skills and equipment from Battle Creek’s Access Vision community access TV, he began what would become a three-year project.
“I like show business and I like local history,” said the community theater veteran who has a bachelor’s degree in English literature. “The film is in the style of ‘The History Channel,” like a documentary with re-enactments of historical events.”