“That was the first time in my entire life I’d seen a breakfast burrito. I thought, ‘Wow, this is very California,’” says Senior Officer Kenny Hansen. “I thought it was pretty neat.”
The occasion: a food truck, motored into Astoria by Universal Pictures, when Hansen, a local cop, was part of the security detail for the ’90s-action-comediest of ’90s action comedies, Kindergarten Cop.
This year marks three decades since the Arnold Schwarzenegger-meets-shrieking-children box office bonanza, in which the coastal Oregon town played, well, itself: an escape from seedy California dens of iniquity, a hamlet of wholesomeness and fresh sea air that’s so fecund it’s teeming with children. Schwarzenegger plays John Kimble, an LAPD detective who goes undercover as a substitute teacher to track down a drug kingpin’s runaway wife.
According to Oregon Film executive director Tim Williams, the town of Astoria—population around 10,000—has gathered symbolic heft over a movie career that runs from The Goonies to The Ring to the 2015 thriller Green Room. “In the ’80s and ’90s, these very commercial movies that had broad plotlines were always looking for new and refreshing settings—they were actively not trying to be in New York or LA,” Williams says.
Filmed over the summer of 1990, Kindergarten Cop showcased peak Astoria, from the tree-covered hills to the ’20s architecture. Much of it was filmed in and around John Jacob Astor Elementary, with students as extras and artwork from various classes on the walls. Teacher Tom Wilson recalls the particular trial of keeping students in their classrooms on the last day of school until the crew was ready to film them running out to the buses en masse. Wilson also got some screen time for himself.
“My first scene as an extra, I was supposed to walk up the sidewalk when [Schwarzenegger] gets to school,” he recalls. “Arnold is a big guy, but I’m six-three ... so I started walking and all of a sudden there’s this yell, ‘CUT! Who sent this guy?’ Evidently I cut Arnold out of the scene, which is not a very cool thing to do.”
Ron Louie was Astoria’s police chief at the time. He swore in Arnie as a cop for a day and presented him with an award when filming wrapped. He recalls Schwarzenegger’s acceptance speech word for word: “Well, I have received many awards in my lifetime. And I want you all to know, this is the most recent.’” Louie chuckles. “I’ve used that speech all the time since.”
What Kindergarten Cop got from Astoria (a backdrop of frozen-in-time purity) it paid back in ... weights, for a start. Schwarzenegger “had a semi truck, literally, of his weights, ’cause he worked out a lot. When he left he donated the weights to a local gym,” recalls Louie. The movie also continues to pay in tourism dollars—Kindergarten Cop merits an official stop on the Oregon Film Trail, while the Oregon Film Museum shows a short film comprising interviews by the school’s real students with the cast and crew.
The only downside? A chunk of the film’s young actors didn’t even get to see it at first. Astor Elementary’s then-principal, Judy Bigby, attended a screening in advance of a full-school field trip and deemed the PG-13 content—drugs, shootouts, dead bodies, and the like—too much for her charges. People magazine branded her “the Real Kindergarten Cop.”