Remembering Rockport's celebrity seal
Camden — André the harbor seal, perhaps Maine's greatest animal celebrity, will be remembered and celebrated in a documentary and a book, both coming out in August.
Rescued as an orphaned pup in 1961 by Harry Goodridge, then the Rockport Harbor Master, André became a part of the Goodridge family, a local character who performed for summertime crowds and a phenomenon, swimming from his winter home at the New England Aquarium in Boston to Rockport year after year.
Harry Goodridge and his wife, Thalice, had four daughters, Carol, Paula, Susan and Toni, who all grew up with André. Harry was fascinated by seals and had had two before André, both of which died. According to Toni Goodridge, her father was the first person to train a harbor seal. He named André after a trainer at Marineland in Florida whom he had come to know and like, she said.
A few years ago, Toni was contacted by Blink Films of London about a series of documentaries they were making on relationships between animals and humans. They were interested in learning about André. Toni sent photos and news clippings, and it was decided to include the story of Harry and André in the series titled “My Wild Affair,” co-produced with Toronto-based Newroad Media.
The documentary about André was filmed last fall, Carol Goodridge said. The four sisters were each interviewed separately, as well as together, and some scenes from Andre's life were dramatized. Susan Goodridge Crane said she was pleased that the film company's sound man, who somewhat resembled her father, played him in some of the film's scenes.
Although being in a film was “not the kind of thing that any of us are comfortable with,” according to Carol, the sisters were all enjoyed the experience of working with Newroad. “They were so nice to work with, especially the director, Kim Harris,” said Susan.
Toni liked the fact that there was a lot about her father in the film. “They [Harry and André] were two of a kind,” she said. She also noted that a lot of archival footage of André swimming and performing in Rockport Harbor was included. Annie Potts, who was André's trainer at the New England Aquarium, was interviewed, as well.
It was great to tell the story of André nearly 30 years after his death in 1986, because they each remembered different things and learned from the stories others told, Toni said. They remembered how the seal was sometimes a troublemaker, jumping into any boat he happened to find in the harbor for a nap or getting in the way of the fishermen. He even bit people a couple of times. Paula Goodridge Armentrout told how André bit her once when she was wearing curlers covered with a cap, because he did not recognize her.
“My Wild Affair” began airing on PBS July 16. The segment featuring André will be shown Wednesday, Aug. 6, at 8 p.m. The program also will appear on Animal Planet Canada and Discovery West.
Also in August, Down East Books, now a subsidiary of Martyland-based Rowman & Littlefield, will re-issue “A Seal Named André” by Harry Goodridge and Lew Dietz. The new edition has an afterword that all the sisters contributed to, with most of the writing done by Carol. Since the book was originally published in 1975, the re-issue also includes photos and stories from the last 11 years of André's life, as well as the story of his death and of Harry's, Carol said.
“I'm most excited about the book,” as opposed to the documentary, Toni said, because it contains the whole story of her father and the harbor seal he adopted, whereas the film had to leave things out.
Paula agreed. “Those last 10 years — that had to be in the book,” she said.
Carol re-read the book to prepare for the filming of the documentary. “It's an amazing story,” she said.
Through a partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network, in association with the Public Broadcasting System and with support and help from members of the Goodridge family, the Camden Opera House will offer a free, simultaneous community screening of “The Seal Who Came Home” Aug. 6 via the opera house’s digital high resolution projector and large, movie theater- size screen. Doors will open 7 p.m. The show starts promptly at 8 p.m. and will be followed by community members sharing their stories and memories of that special time in Midcoast history. Seating will be available on a first-come basis.
Sarah E. Reynolds is copy editor for the Courier Gazette and Camden Herald.
Sarah E. Reynolds has been a reporter and writer for more than 20 years, winning awards from the Maine Press Association and other professional organizations. She loves to read, ride her ATV and play word games.