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Wabasha set to celebrate 30th anniversary of "Grumpy Old Men"

Wabasha set to celebrate 30th anniversary of “Grumpy Old Men”
Wabasha set to celebrate 30th anniversary of “Grumpy Old Men” 03:43

WABASHA, Minn. – Thirty years ago, one of the most "Minnesota" movies of all time debuted in theaters: "Grumpy Old Men."

Wabasha is a city known for the Mississippi River, its eagle population, and a certain cantankerous movie. 

"We're really like a driftless, little river town," said Wabasha Chamber of Commerce President Abby Oxendine, who was born and raised in the city. "Any time that somebody asks who I am and where I'm from, and I tell them I'm from Wabasha, it's always, 'Oh, the Grumpy Old Men!'"

Brenda Pearson owns Wabasha's Turning Waters Bed and Breakfast, and Hoppy Girl Brewing.

"For 30 years, it's a pretty big deal. It's huge," Pearson said.

It's notoriety this town never expected. The film was released as a romantic comedy based on the lives of fictional, feuding neighbors John Gustafson and Max Goldman – played by "The Odd Couple" of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. 

The two trade barbs and pranks throughout the film as they fight over love interest Ariel Truax, played by Anne-Margaret.

The movie's characters live in Wabasha, but very little of the film was shot there, though Slippery's Bar and Grill does get a shoutout. John, Max and Ariel's houses were shot in St. Paul, and all the drug store scenes were filmed in Faribault. But that hasn't stopped Wabasha from holding a festival in honor of the old grumps. 

"Mark Steven Johnson, who wrote the movies, called me and we had four rooms left, he took them all," Pearson said.  


He booked them for the town's 30th anniversary festival at the end of the month. Naturally, there's an ice fishing tournament, a Grumpy Plunge, spaghetti and chili feeds, and of course, a lot of plaid. 

"That weekend, it will be a sea of plaid around town," Oxendine said.

The festival also draws a lot of people from Red Wing, which is where Jesse Stewart manages Cinema 8. The snow angel scene was shot up the road at Memorial Hill, and Stewart remembers it well. 

"I remember seeing the Warner Brothers truck and the crew driving through that area," Stewart said.

Residents will be the first to tell you that the movie didn't make Wabasha. Rather, Wabasha made the movie. 

"It's not a false Hollywood version of this part of the country. I think it's a very honest portrayal of it," Oxendine said. "And a good story of love and friendship."

"Grumpy Old Men" brought in more than $80 million at the box office in 1993. Its sequel, "Grumpier Old Men," was released two years later.

Wabasha's Grumpy Old Men Festival will take place the last weekend of February. Click here for more information.

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