Underground Film Journal

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The Beaver Kid: Part One

By Mike Everleth ⋅ January 25, 2010

STOP THE PRESSES! (Or the internet, as it may be.) Trent Harris himself has officially uploaded the first part of his Beaver Trilogy — the initial meeting with the one, the only, Groovin’ Gary. Whatever it is you are doing, stop and watch one of the most beautiful seven minutes of video ever.

A chance encounter became a beloved underground masterpiece. Back in 1979, Trent Harris was a TV news cameraman testing out a new camera outside the station when he met a young man taking pictures of the news helicopter. Identifying himself as just “Groovin’ Gary,” the young man quickly launched into his repertoire of impersonations, including Sylvester Stallone and Barry Manilow. He also makes an off-hand comment about imitating Olivia Newton-John, but doesn’t actually impersonate her.

A complete unknown living in the middle of nowhere — aka Beaver, Utah — Groovin’ Gary is truly a superstar at heart with big dreams of making it onto TV. He should have been. In the above video, he’s hopeful and happy that this is going to be his big break. Watching it over 30 years later, we wish it had been. His dreams become our own. Everything we ever wished for, everything we ever wanted — we want Gary to have those things. With his infectious laugh, nervous repetitions of phrase and the cheesily etched windows of his old, broken-down car, we are instantly charmed by him.

Close-up of Groovin' Gary in a parking lot

Groovin’ Gary was a superstar. He passed away just last year and the entire world finally learned his real name, as Harris never revealed it. He should be remembered as Groovin’ Gary, though. However, I’ll post his real name at the bottom of this article for those who are now curious.

For those who are still not familiar with The Beaver Trilogy, but are intrigued after watch the above video: After this initial meeting, Harris traveled to Beaver to videotape Gary performing in a local talent show he had organized, hoping to have it turned into a broadcast TV special. At the show, Gary came out on stage wearing a long blond wig and performed as Olivia Newton-Don, singing Newton-John’s “Please Don’t Keep Me Waiting.”

Apparently, the townsfolk of Beaver weren’t appreciative of the cross-dressing performance, so Gary invited Harris back to videotape another singing impersonation, that of Barry Manilow, for Harris to use in the TV special instead. Well, no broadcast ever happened, anyway.

Instead, Harris moved to Los Angeles and, inspired by his time spent with Gary, turned the experience into fodder for two short films. The first one, starring a young Sean Penn just before he would go on to appear in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, was never completed. The other short film, called The Orkly Kid, was — this time starring a young Crispin Glover.

Harris would go on to direct a couple of off-beat feature films in Hollywood, such as Rubin and Ed — also starring Crispin Glover — and Plan 10 From Outer Space. But, in 2000, he took his original Groovin’ Gary footage, combined it with the incomplete Sean Penn footage and the completed Orkly Kid, and sent it out onto the festival circuit in a full package called The Beaver Trilogy.

While the Beaver Trilogy was a huge hit at places like the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, it never received a proper release, partially due to the music rights to the songs performed in the film and partially due to the meddling of Sean Penn. However, the full film can be purchased at Trent Harris’ official website.

The Beaver Trilogy is a stunning and remarkable achievement and it all started with this accidental video. Groovin’ Gary, you were truly one-of-a-kind.

(Groovin’ Gary’s real name was Richard LaVon Griffiths.)