In early June, I received an e-mail from my friend, Shira, the art teacher at the Islesford School on Little Cranberry Island. “I’m writing you on behalf of my husband David, who works for the park. The Today Show is coming to film in Acadia National Park and they want some footage with a lobster boat. Lynn, the head of interpretation at the park, asked David if he knew of anyone on Islesford who might be interested in participating in this project. Could Lynn call Bruce and explain it, and see if he would like to be involved or has any recommendations?”
Shira did not realize that my husband Bruce is known locally as a “media magnet” and has already achieved at least 15 minutes of fame with just this kind of request. You know how there are some people who seem to win regularly when it comes to raffles? Well, Bruce has the luck of the draw with media opportunities. They come his way, more often than not, and he usually says, “Yes.”
In 1983, Bruce’s first introduction to fame came when the owner of Geddy’s Pub, in Bar Harbor, mentioned an audition that Bruce might be interested in. A company was filming a commercial for Old Milwaukee Beer in Acadia National Park, and they were looking for actors who were “lobstering types.” Bruce figured, “Why not? What did he have to lose?” (He still regretted a missed opportunity from his Navy days, in Newport, R.I. when he could have tried out to be an extra in the film “The Great Gatsby.” It was 1973, and the director wanted servicemen who already had the short hair.)
After the first Old Milwaukee audition, Bruce was called back for a second time. They told him to stay by his phone the following day, and he got the call he wanted. He was in! Coincidentally, the director had chosen the Shannon II, a lobster boat owned by Harry Alley of Great Cranberry Island, for the water shots of Bruce hauling a lobster trap. On the first day, at sunrise, Bruce was at the helm, with Harry down below the deck, so Harry could take his boat home when the filming moved to shore. (Two fun facts about this segment: 1. The company paid to paint the top side of Harry’s boat a different color for the shoot, and then paid to paint it back to the original color. 2. Bruce’s own boat was set up to haul traps from the port side and the Shannon II had a starboard side hauler, so Bruce had to reverse his natural motions while hauling lobster traps for the shoot.) Filming for the 30 second commercial took two days, and Bruce ended up in the group of four friends who sat around the beach fire saying, “You know guys, it just doesn’t get any better than this.”
Being in a beer commercial, and being recognized on national TV would have been fun enough; but for Bruce and several of the other actors it actually did get better. It turns out that you can’t just act in a commercial, with a certain amount of face time, without joining the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Bruce and the others were paid a residual for every time the commercial was shown, and they and their families received health insurance benefits from SAG during the commercial’s two year run. The actors never knew what the figure on the residual check would be before opening the envelope. Amounts ranged anywhere from $75 to almost $2,000. It was a pretty sweet deal.
After that, the media attention stopped for Bruce. He did have a few brushes with celebrities, taking Bonnie Raitt out on his lobster boat, and around Islesford in his truck in 1985, before she gave a concert at Geddy’s Pub. Then during her encore at a concert he attended in Portland, in 1991, Bonnie wished Bruce a happy 40th birthday. In 1989, Bruce got a radio call from Highlander, the yacht owned by Malcolm Forbes. He was looking to buy fresh lobsters directly from a lobster boat. It was barely two weeks after the billionaire’s famous 70th birthday bash in Morocco. As Bruce handed the lobsters to one of the crew members, the publishing mogul leaned over the railing to thank him. Bruce called up, “Mr. Forbes, I just have to ask you. How was it to have 600 belly dancers at your birthday party?” Forbes’ reply, “How do you think it was?!”
When Bruce hired Trevor Corson as his sternman in 1996, he had no idea it would lead to a second chance at fame. Next to the lobsters themselves, Bruce became the main character in Corson’s bestseller, “The Secret Life of Lobsters.” After its publication in 2004, Bruce and Trevor were featured in a television segment about the book on CBS Sunday Morning. Mika Brzezinski interviewed the two friends aboard Bruce’s boat, Double Trouble, and in our kitchen while eating lobsters Bruce had cooked for lunch. He also took part in a radio interview with Trevor for Dick Gordon’s show, “The Connection” on National Public Radio. In 2006, unrelated to Trevor’s book, Bruce and our son Fritzwere filmed aboard his boat for a segment of, “Extreme Crustaceans,” shown by the Travel Channel.
In June of this year, Trevor called Bruce to say that he was being interviewed by Lena Bodewein, a correspondent from ARD, German Public Radio. She was preparing a show about “The Secret Life of Lobsters” and she wanted to visit the island, spend a day on Bruce’s lobster boat, and interview some of the other people mentioned in the book. Would he be interested? Of course! The date was set for June 21. One week before Lena arrived, Lynn, from Acadia National Park contacted Bruce about the Today Show segment. The NBC crew wanted to film their correspondent, Jenna Bush Hager, on Baker Island, and hoped Bruce could meet them with his boat in Baker Island Cove, on June 21. A scheduling conflict for sure, but one Bruce managed to work out. The Today Show segment aired on June 30, and it included some nice coverage of Bruce and Jenna aboard the Barbara Ann. I posted a link from the show on my Facebook page with the comment, “Bruce Fernald just added 3 more minutes to his fifteen minutes of fame.” My friend Cory’s apt response, “I think that Bruce is into overtime.”
-July 13, 2010, Islesford