As TCM guest programmer, Glen Ellyn man to introduce 'The Quiet Man,' and its place in family lore
The Sullivan family legend begins where all good Irish tales do: on a St. Patrick's Day.
The year was 1983, and Terry Sullivan had planned a night watching "The Quiet Man," John Ford's 1952 love letter to his native Ireland starring John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara, the Queen of Technicolor in all her redheaded, strong-willed glory.
It was sure to be the perfect evening until -- saints preserve us -- his buddy Joe dragged him out to a bar.
On a whim, Sullivan, a Glen Ellyn movie buff, recorded his first YouTube video recalling the rest of the family legend as his entry in a Turner Classic Movies contest held in celebration of a remarkable milestone for the cable channel and guardian of film history.
"In my case, NOT watching a movie changed the trajectory of my life," Sullivan says in the 90-second video.
He would beat hundreds of fan submissions to win the coveted prize: the chance to film an introduction segment with the master of introductions -- TCM prime-time host Ben Mankiewicz -- setting the stage for a movie Sullivan selected to air on the network.
His choice as guest programmer? "The Quiet Man," showing at 8:45 p.m. Thursday along with his not-to-be-missed introduction. Without giving away too many spoilers, Mankiewicz convinced Sullivan to deliver some lines in the brogue of Michaleen Flynn, "The Quiet Man" scene-stealer played by Barry Fitzgerald.
One of his favorites involves O'Hara's Mary Kate Danaher and her attempt at diluting Flynn's beverage of choice.
"When I drink whiskey, I drink whiskey. When I drink water, I drink water," Sullivan says in a spot-on impersonation.
So, back to the Sullivan legend.
Turns out that night at the bar was a fix-up: The Joe fella and his date wanted Sullivan to meet their friend.
"That's the night I met my future wife Linda," Sullivan says in his video. "Five years later, we were married. I often reminded her that I had given up watching 'The Quiet Man' to meet her."
But once they met, he didn't bring up his thwarted plans for watching the film's Oscar-winning cinematography and directing.
"No, I was on my best behavior," Sullivan said.
Their romance may have lacked the dramatics of the on-screen courtship between Wayne's Sean Thornton and O'Hara's Danaher, who in Sullivan's estimation, can "go toe-to-toe with anybody." Even an American boxer in Thornton.
But it was a perfect match. Sullivan charmed Linda with his humor and Irish sarcasm, and they had a lot in common.
She grew up in Westchester, and Sullivan in Hillside. They went to the same high school, Proviso West, but didn't know each other.
"It was a God moment," Linda says of that St. Patrick's Day. "It was meant to be."
St. Patrick's Day showings of "The Quiet Man" have become a family tradition for Sullivan, his wife and their two grown children, Keith, 25, and Michelle, 21.
"Our kids just kind of fell in love with it, which is kind of weird for their generation," Linda says. "One time we weren't going to be able to watch it, and Michelle's like, 'What do you mean? It's our movie. We have to watch it.' It's a fun movie to watch as a family and it makes you want to go to Ireland."
As one of 25 winners of the TCM Fan Dedication Contest, Sullivan and his wife flew to Atlanta for dinner with Mankiewicz and other cinephiles, photo shoots and Q-and-A sessions.
"When TCM announced this contest, I just thought I'll give it a shot. I'd never done a YouTube video before," Sullivan says. " ... And I did one shot. One attempt. One take. 90 seconds. And I sent it in, and out of between 700 and 800 entries, I was one of the ones selected, so it was super cool."
The contest winners will introduce their films each night during the third and fourth weeks of April as TCM marks 25 years on air screening classic movies in its purest, commercial-free form.
TCM has helped Sullivan tackle a self-imposed goal of watching more than 1,000 essential movies on a list he found on the internet in 2013. Sullivan, who works in software sales, claims he's not a student of film, but he has the dedication to sit through some "real chores" he keeps track of with an Excel spreadsheet. He does make an exception when he fast-forwards through the song-and-dance numbers in musicals (sorry, Gene Kelly).
But "The Quiet Man" is such a staple Sullivan will catch himself suddenly humming the "Rakes of Mallow" from the soundtrack. Its place in family lore made Sullivan dedicate the movie to his wife and kids for his segment with Mankiewicz.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said.