Today — on the day of singer Whitney Houston’s burial some 340 miles south — I happened to find myself at Deering Oaks Park with the wife and kids. It wasn’t a planned thing, not in the sense of “Oh, let’s go reminisce about Portland’s most widely recognized brush with the late music star,” anyway.
We happened to be there to get some fresh air, when my wife said, “Whitney Houston skated here.”
I admit I never saw the movie, “The Preacher’s Wife,” which includes the scene where Whitney and Denzel Washington skate together on the Deering Oaks pond, the row of Parkside residences lined up in the distant background. But my wife has, and considering the news of the day, she immediately made the connection. This was the place where Whitney Houston — whose records have sold over 170 million copies and who reached musical legend status at the time of her headline-dominating death at the age of 48 this month — ever so temporarily shared in a classic Portland experience.
Ice skating at Deering Oaks Park is just one of those Portland things, and for as long as it took to shoot that memorable scene, the icon Whitney Houston was breathing the same brisk air and feeling the same cut of ice as generations of Portlanders before and since.
And if I’m doing my math right, Monday marks 16 years to the day since Whitney and Denzel were scheduled to arrive in Portland to shoot that scene.
Today, nobody was ice skating on the Deering Oaks pond, and for good reason. The warm winter thus far has left the ice thin and wet.
In that way, the scene may not have been that much different than when the pond had its brush with Whitney.
Entertainment Weekly reported at the time that the Hollywood crews arrived to find a warm spell and “slippery, sloppy puddles” in a northeastern city previously reliable for its cold and snow.
“The Preacher’s Wife” director Penny Marshall had this to say about February in Portland — as true today as it was in 1996:
We were mopping up the water. And we had to make our own snow.
The Associated Press reported at the time that 150 crew members cordoned off a portion of the park from the public for four days, and about 140 local people were plucked from an auditioning crowd of 6,000 to play extras in the scene — doing things in the background to make it look like a typical urban Christmas in a park. Skating, walking, snowball fights, etc.
Starting at the 3:24 mark in this music video from the movie, there’s about eight seconds of footage from the Deering Oaks scene in “The Preacher’s Wife.” See if you recognize any of your Portland neighbors skating in the background.