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Pa. 'untouchable,' Sheetz famous, and Bachelor Phil

Plus, Hershey's make-believe university.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

January 28, 2023
Inside this edition: Land of make-believe, historic find, Punxsy prep, country living, fancy furniture, Mr. Untouchable, and a Shtar is born.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Candymaker Mars is ditching its M&M mascots for Maya Rudolph.

Pennsylvania's Hershey Company still has plenty of cartoon ambassadors. It also has a fake university for which of its flagship products?

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth knowing: Phillis Wheatley Peters is considered the first Black person, enslaved person, and second woman to publish a book of poetry in America. A Pennsylvania find has scholars buzzing.

» One thing worth sharing: The hallucinatory festival known as Groundhog Day is next week, when Punxsutawney Phil — of Cameo fame — will decide our collective future. My question for the designers of the holiday: Why make Phil immortal but not his wife?

» One thing worth reading: Samantha Spengler left the city for remote worker incentives in very rural Kane and wrote in Philly Mag (paywall) of missing "the strange comfort of being just one of millions."

» One thing worth borrowing: A 273-year-old armchair that belonged to a descendant of Martha Washington in Bryn Mawr has sold at auction for $87,500. It was part of Margaret Berwind Schiffer's big collection.

» One thing worth seeing: FBI "untouchable" Eliot Ness died in Coudersport in 1957 (there's an annual festival in his honor). Now his favorite watering hole is getting overhauled on Instagram

QUIZ TIME: Another big week of Pennsylvania news is in the bag. Test your grip on the latest headlines from Harrisburg and around the state with the second installment of Spotlight PA's new weekly news quiz!
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Hopes for Pa. House give way to total deadlock
» Gov. Shapiro loosens Wolf's gift ban for staff
» In limbo with their homes, utilities on the line
» Rural Pa. races to preserve its dark skies
» Penn State hasn't paid for Proud Boys security
» How to apply for mortgage and utility assistance
» Tax caps leave Pa. towns in a revenue pinch
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W.C. Fields warned him, but Tom Hanks didn’t listen. 

Fields, the vaudeville comic who once complained about being forced to live on “nothing but food and water” during Prohibition also steadfastly warned performers against gigs with children and pets. 

They will always upstage you, the thinking went; avoid at all costs. 

A century later, Hanks has violated the adage by working with a cat — this one discovered behind a Pennsylvania gas station — on his new film, A Man Called Otto. It’s a Pittsburgh remake of the Swedish hit A Man Called Ove.

True to Fields’ admonition, the cat from Catawissa, named Schmagel (I’ll explain in a moment), is “a scene stealer to be sure, but a welcome one,” according to Deadline’s review. (The film's critical response has varied.)

Hanks himself seemed particularly impressed, telling the crowd at a recent screening: “I didn’t think you could train a cat, but Schmagel is, well … he’s actually a pilot now for Delta Airlines.” 

I caught up with Schmagel's coach, Britany Hufnagle Long, 37, for tips on adding my own family pets to our list of household earners.

My hopes were quickly dashed when she identified "impulse control" as a prerequisite: "Also not being shy of people or noises."

It takes human discipline too. 

Britany started showing dogs at six, studied animal behavior in school, and opened a business applying what she'd learned. She also owns a boarding, grooming, and training facility in the Bloomsburg area. 

“I met the right person along the way who got me started [in the pictures] as one of my agents, and now I have five agents,” Britany added. 

A Selinsgrove native, she turned her focus to cats after one of those reps said “there’s nobody on the East Coast with really good” ones.

Enter Schmagel.

He was found behind a Sheetz not far from Britany’s Columbia County home, the name an ode to a breakfast sandwich on the Shmenu there

(Sheetz has "Shmagel" — without the "C" — trademarked.)

Schmagel — not “Smeagol,” as Tolkien fans in the British press have taken to calling him — has a growing list of credits, including several 2022 American Horror Story episodes, under his belt. 

Britany had eight weeks to get him ready for A Man Called Otto.  

Producers gave them a set of actions they would need to replicate with cameras rolling (here's a sample), and Britany said they got to work. 

“Every day I put him in the car to drive my daughter to school so it wouldn’t be a stressor for him,” she said. They also practiced in public.

“It’s less about teaching a task and more about teaching with distractions.”

The Otto set was full of them. 

Schmagel didn't like the fog used to give the production “that hazy look.” He also didn’t like the sound of the crew’s work boots on the floor. 

“This particular movie was probably the most challenging for me because a lot of it was outside and off-leash, and it was in a city,” Britany said. “The actions themselves were not that difficult, but when you pair it with all of those external factors, it becomes extremely challenging.”

She added: “They’re not a little toys that you wind up and say ‘Go.’”

Otto was Schmagel's biggest role and Britany's favorite production thus far. (They don't call Hanks "America's sweetheart" for nothing, she explained.) 

The duo is preparing for another, yet-to-be-revealed part as we speak

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor 

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Our favorite photo of the week submitted by a PA Local reader.

Snow day, via @valleyforgeparkallianceSend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A stone house with a snowy roof and a field and bare trees around it.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
Reese's University is the (fake) school created by Hershey's around the (real) top selling candy in America: Reese's Peanut Butter cups.

The U boasts a 99.99% acceptance rate, calls its sports teams the Fighting Cuppies, offers courses like "301 Advanced Peanut Butter Ratios," and has an unpolarizing mascot that's always ready for fisticuffs.

Because it bears repeating, all of this is fake. However, the online "student store" selling $50 branded footballs and $31 water bottles is very real. 

For what it's worth, I think Altoona-made Boyer peanut butter cups — specifically the butterscotch ones — would make a great fallback school. 

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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