Entry Level Movie

In a cineplex world ruled by mega-corporations, how much damage can one man do?

She didn't get the weather-girl job she came for, but Rick had sensed her energy as well, and he called her up and asked her to become his assistant. Not long after she began making commercials with him, Sharron began arguing with him. She was deep into philosophy and theology at the time, and when he came to her, saying "This is great! You've got to see this!" invariably, she said, "I was appalled. This was crass commercialism!"

They were both divorced with two children. "I really love strong women," says Rick, and under the guise of asking for her ideas, he began their courtship. Her creative standards fell a little and his came up, she said, and they learned to get along. Before long, they had moved in together. With "one foot in hippiedom," Sharron thought marriage was a sham, but with the other foot in the '50s, she wouldn't raise her children with a man she wasn't married to. So she moved out. Time passed, and the heart grew fonder, and in accord with the hard and fast laws of romance novels, Rick called her one day, and she swallowed her principles, and "we decided we were far more productive together than apart." They would go on to become romance novelists together, and if it was as they wrote for Harlequin, Rick's proposal to Sharron sounded something like this:

" 'My love, I'm not good at speeches,' he said, huskily. 'But I think the universe was made for love. I believe that we, you and I, female and male, are what make this planet go round. And I want you to marry me -- immediately -- for richer, for poorer. We'll work everything out.' "She found enough breath to whisper, 'Yes! Oh, yes.' "

Soon after the wedding, Rick quit his job to pursue his artistic vision. As Rick Harrington Films, he began making commercials and public service announcements for everyone from the Harris County Medical Society to Deerbrook Forest Chrysler-Plymouth to CheesePop Popcorn Topping.

He had a way with advertisers. "He's not carrying a cross of any kind," said Sharron, and he would quickly make any changes the client wanted. Still, there was always a shortage of money, and Rick became a master of make-do. That would be his daughter doing the Vanna stroke on the new car; that's his wife and daughter skipping across the field, blissfully unaware of horrible diseases only you can help to stop. In one United Way spot, a friend who was playing a drunk in the gutter was also required to hold the hose that poured rain upon his head. In Planet Earth, Do You Read Me?, a film on birth defects that was shot entirely in Rick's living room, chromosomes are floating through outer space, and Rick's voice has that eerie Ed Wood ring to it as he speaks of "the future, that musty repository of hopes and dreams that we're moving toward on a great spaceship called Earth in a universe we understand more than the bodies we inhabit ...."

It happened eventually that Rick got bored shooting these little films. As he later wrote, "I was bringing life to other people's dreams and submerging my own. And what was that dream? It was more or less a wishful fantasy about acquiring a tall ship and founding a living, touring ship museum to celebrate the history of the Gulf Coast. Well, that was quite a goal, considering the fact that neither Sharron or I had ever sailed on anything -- even a Sunfish."

Just as with the films, the Harringtons gathered together all their friends and family and launched an adventure that most people said they would never, could never do. The ship they bought in 1976 was a 152-foot schooner, built in Norway at the turn of the century. "I don't know what it is about wooden ships, but they do have spirits," Sharron said, with tears in her eyes. And Rick confessed, "We can be kind of goofy."

They called her Artemis after the goddess of the moon and wild animals and hunting. Sharron learned to converse with the boat; it spoke to her in a Norwegian accent. She recalls the sunrises and sunsets from that time, the dolphins off the bow and the diamonds in the water at noon. And Rick remembers that "we were always sinking. We were always sinking. A wooden ship is only as good as its caulking, and we were always sinking. Oh my, the pump went out. Oh my, we hit something. It was always something."

By this time they had a young daughter named Seanna who galloped around the ship dressed as Wonder Woman, capturing the visiting boys with her golden lasso. A couple of times, the ship was so swamped, they weren't sure they would make it, said Seanna, and as the helicopter came for them, she recalls telling her mother, "This is why we should have a house on dry land."

But they had sold their house to keep Artemis afloat. The touring ship museum never could support itself, and after three years, when the Harringtons had sold everything but an old convertible, a few cameras and a buffalo nickel collection, they decided at last that it was time to sell Artemis. They were careful with her suitors. They picked a sailor with "the right vibrations," but Artemis would not be deterred from her death wish. On a stormy night in May 1980, 150 miles off the coast of Tampa, she lay down in the water finally and dived until she came to rest, 1,500 feet from light and hope.

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