PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- A successful Los Angeles-based television producer recently got a blast from the past when he found a long-shelved documentary about a Port Chester chili joint he made while a film student at SUNY Purchase College in 1985.
Whitney Ransick, writer, director, and producer for shows such as "ER" and "Smallville", made his black-and-white movie, “Texas Chile,” about the legendary eatery of the same name for a class assignment with fellow student Bob Gosse.
Less than three minutes long, it resembles an old-fashioned 1940s film noir. Billie Holiday sings “God Bless the Child” in the background. There’s not a word of dialogue.
Instead, we see customers packed along the narrow counter, paper plates topped with cheeseburgers before them. Strong hands stir pots of chili and spoon it into bowls. The cash register opens; money crosses the counter. Tobacco smoke drifts into the frame. Chef Millie Kaplan—once called “a tough, white-haired bird” by the New York Times—watches over the scene.
“I didn’t set out to make something that looked like it was from the ‘40s, but it captured the flavor and the time,” Ransick said from his home in Los Angeles. “I put it online and a few people saw it, and then a week later it has a couple thousand views.”
Ransick invited Gosse to share it on social media and it wound up on a Facebook page commemorating an old Port Chester bar, The Beat. Rock vocalist Marc Loponte, a Rye resident, spotted it there and shared it with the rest of Facebook, where it got more than 2,000 views.
“A lot of people’s jaws dropped,” said Loponte. “It was a very black-and-white place. The music captured the old diner vibes.”
The 13-stool joint on North Main St. remains popular. Known as Hubba since Carlos Magan took it over 19 years ago, menu items are written in marker on paper plates tacked onto walls papered with dollar bills.
“To go in and shoot was wonderful,” Ransick recalled. “Great food, great vibe, really special.”
Gresko and Gitner are members of the Purchase College Community Reporting Team.