When Lee Sherman Dreyfus was laid to rest last Sunday, the documentary The Man in the Red Vest was played at the funeral in Waukesha. "I have never felt more honored," says filmmaker Jim Muraco, who made the documentary about the iconic Wisconsin governor in 1996.
That was the year the City of Waukesha celebrated its centennial, where Muraco was working for it's government access cable television station. He was asked to do a promo spot marking the city's birthday. "I learned the former Governor Lee Sherman Dreyfus was a resident and asked him to participate," says Muraco. "He agreed and I went to his home and he played 'Happy Birthday' and sang for the promo." During the shoot, Drefus showed the filmmaker artifacts of his political career, things like photos with Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Lena Horne, and others.
"I immediately asked if I could do an entire documentary on him," says Muraco. The former governor assented, and he subsequently got to work, interviewing family and political colleagues over the following year.
The documentary, titled for Dreyfus' trademark garment, aired to acclaim on the Waukesha station, and was later broadcast on the Wisconsin Public Television affiliate in Milwaukee before airing statewide. "Since then," notes Muraco, "whenever I would call and his wife, Joyce, would answer, she'd always say 'Lee, it's the guy that made you famous on the phone.'"
A five-minute trailer for this documentary, complete with a couple of the governor's inimitable bon mots, follows below.
Muraco has since made the documentary Wisconsin Born & Bred, The Entertainers (trailer), which looks at the lives of Badger State performers such as Al Jarreau, Chris Farley, Jackie Mason, and Daniel J. Travanti, among others. He is currently working on a new film titled It's My House (trailer), an exploration of unique homes in Wisconsin set to a title song written and performed by Pat McCurdy.
""This past year Dreyfus phoned me to say thanks for my help and goodbye, that he was in bad health and his time on Earth was limited," notes Muraco. "I will always be grateful to Gov. Dreyfus for jumpstarting my film career and for all of his golden advice."