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Judy Johnson, who was born in 1909 during the silent movie era, became an actor when she was 104, shortly after she moved to Ecumen Parmly LifePointes in Chisago City. This week she finally got to see her screen debut – on her 107th birthday.
Family, friends and fellow residents crowded into the Parmly chapel to watch a showing of The Polar Bear Club, an independent movie shot in 2013 in the Chisago City area and at Parmly.
When the movie crew showed up to make the film, Judy told them she was 104 and had never been in a movie.
“I was joking,” Judy recalls. But the director thought she would make a fine addition to the cast and put her in the movie. The film crew left, and that was that for about three years.
As Judy was about to turn 107, Recreation Therapy Director Christy Johnson started wondering whatever happened to the movie. With considerable sleuthing, she tracked it down and asked permission to show it to Judy and friends.
“They had no idea we had never seen the movie, and sent us a link right away,” Christy said.
So on Dec. 13 – Judy’s birthday – Christy organized the showing, complete with popcorn, candy and pop.
When the movie was over and the lights came up, Christy presented Judy with an “Oscar” and a “Hollywood Walk of Fame” plaque. Judy modestly accepted.
Judy is listed in the film credits and in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) which says: “Judith Johnson is an actor, known for The Polar Bear Club (2014).” [For more about Judy’s life, see the Chisago County Press’s profile of her written when she turned 104.]
The Polar Bear Club is about reluctant aging, following the friendship of four Minnesota men who routinely jump into a frozen Lake Chisago to stay young. But when one dies of hypothermia, they start coming to terms with their mortality. One of the group falls off a chair and breaks his leg while taking decorations off his Christmas tree. He goes to a care center (Ecumen Parmly LifePointes) for rehabilitation.
That’s where Judy comes in as an observer in two scenes. “There’s Judy!” the audience exclaimed in unison when she came on the screen.
Rosemont, Minnesota native Ben Zschunke, co-wrote and co-produced the movie, which won an honorable mention in the Audience Choice Award category at the 2015 Twin Cities Film Festival.
Judy watched the movie intently, sitting next to her daughter, Betty. Afterward, she offered a short review. “It was good,” she said, holding her “Oscar.”