Jay Meehan: Adventures with Chip
Park Record columnist
Even among the highly idiosyncratic Sun Classic production geeks assembling at the Homestead Resort in Midway that long ago morning-in-question, Thomas Francis “Chip” Radaelli stood out. That much I remember. The name of the film being shot, however, is, at least for the moment, lost to time.
I really hadn’t the slightest premonition that we would ever become partners in mischief, as it were, and I’m sure, neither did he. But anyway, when I first laid eyes on him, Chip and a few others were holding court up on a railed-in section of rooftop conducting a competition to see who could spit chewing tobacco residue the furthest into the parking lot.
They went as far as having a judge on the ground to mark their individual efforts.
Suffice to say, due to the high-decibel, trash-talk-filled audio profile of their spontaneous and testosterone-rich event, they attracted a crowd.
You could tell right away that this wasn’t Chip’s first rodeo. He asked if anyone knew the elevation and I bit, responding that if he went with 5600 feet he wouldn’t be far off. Those of us in the Peanut Gallery were left to believe that he would utilize this recently acquired data to fine-tune the trajectory of his own entries.
The creative level of this bunch was such that, as quickly as they had gotten their heads around tobacco juice slinging as a diversion, some other lunch-break amusement would take its place. It wasn’t long before they had all wandered off back to work, leaving me to my gig guarding a truck filled with lighting paraphernalia and such.
What I actually did was read novels and every-so-often glance around. Pretty much everyone else, no matter how they spent their lunch hours, saw themselves as part of the film industry, taking pride in and working diligently at their craft. Chip, who had an MFA from the University of New Mexico and ran the Art Department, fell into this latter category.
I’m pretty sure Chip was, figuratively, on his second wife at this time but I could be wrong. Whatever her place in his spousal chronology, however, one thing is for sure: This one was happiest when I was elsewhere. Go figure!?
Chip was a fountain of information as it pertained to Southwestern culture — indigenous and otherwise — and he imparted it willingly and, if tequila was involved, repeatedly. From him, I owe my education concerning Shiprock (the volcanic throat, not the town), Georgia O’Keefe’s time at Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch, and Mable Dodge Luhan’s Greenwich Village-like salon scene up in Taos.
There were also two classic and historical watering holes to which he introduced me, more than likely to the respective barkeep’s chagrin. One was the famous “Territorial House” in his hometown of Corrales and the other the “El Farol Cantina” on Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Not to mention the Turquoise Highway up the backside of the Sandia Mountains between Albuquerque and Santa Fe with its quaint art village of Madrid.
I also had a void with the southwestern tradition of “luminarios,” lit candles glowing from inside small paper bags, prior to my education at Radaelli University. I must admit to a rewarding experience while enrolled at said institution, however, even if my liver may not concur.
His habit of involving Heber cronies in his film work had an equally memorable side. Once, when needing “extras” of the fowl persuasion to populate a scene, he selected a few from Bullet’s brood and gave them billing as “Bullet’s Pullets.”
And when requiring an adolescent’s portrait on a large billboard that an airborne pickup was scripted to fly through, my son Smokey got the honors. Smokey and Chip truly became brothers-in-arms, especially if a scenario presented itself whereby ol’ Jay might just become the butt of some buffoonery.
But Chip could also laugh at himself as he proved often. Once, while sitting on his truck’s tailgate with a bottle of Merlot, he wrenched the cork out with his teeth. For years, the cork, with a human incisor firmly imbedded within, got passed back and forth on our respective birthdays.
Although none of us had been in touch for an extended period of time, news of Chip’s passing last week hit his friends in northern Utah like a “gut punch.” And those friends all have their own stories. Chip Radaelli was iconic and legendary and we feel his loss deeply. RIP Chip! Thanks for everything.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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