David Lauderdale

Cameo role in blockbuster movie still performs magic

Teresa Denton of Beaufort has a special reason to volunteer during Lt. Dan Weekend. She was once engaged to marry Lt. Dan -- at least, in the movie.

Like a lot of people, Denton responded to an open casting call when Hollywood came to Beaufort almost 20 years ago to film "Forrest Gump."

No one had a clue that the movie starring Tom Hanks would become a beloved piece of American culture. It won six Academy Awards and was nominated for seven more. It grossed $677 million worldwide. Its soundtrack became one of best-selling albums of all time at 12 million copies.

Still, Denton must have felt the odds against her participation were astronomical. Why would Hollywood want a Korean in a movie about an Alabama simpleton? But she was asked to read for the part of Susan, the fiancee of Vietnam paraplegic Lt. Dan Taylor.

"It was a long time before I got the call-back," she said. Everyone at the bank where she worked at the time kept asking.

Denton stepped into celluloid history in the climactic scene near the end of the movie when Forrest Gump finally marries Jenny. As Jenny comes out of the house, Forrest sees Lt. Dan walking across the lawn, using a cane, with a woman at his side.

Forrest: "You got new legs. New legs!"

Lt. Dan: "Yeah, I got new legs."

He lifts his pant leg to reveal a metal leg.

Lt. Dan: "Custom-made titanium alloy. It's what they use on the space shuttle."

Forrest: "Magic legs."

Lt. Dan: "This is my fiancee, Susan."

Forrest: "Lt. Dan!"

Susan shakes Forrest's hand.

Susan: "Hi, Forrest."

Denton said people recognized her from her cameo role everywhere she went. She was sometimes asked to pose for pictures, but she told people, "I'm not really anybody."

She's a mom with two sons. Her husband, Tony, is a former U.S. Marine and now a captain in the Parris Island Fire Department. She works at Mayfair Custom Homes. Her family is active in the Praise Assembly of God church, and she and Tony are in a Christian motorcycle club.

Lt. Dan Weekend honors and supports wounded veterans. It is headlined by Gary Sinise, who played the role of Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump." His Lt. Dan Band will play tonight at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

Denton felt a tug to get involved when the first Lt. Dan Weekend was staged last year. When she was reunited with her "fiancee," Sinise said he remembered her. This year, her role is to help fellow volunteers Vicky Ray and Karla Austin pull together whatever the Lt. Dan Band needs.

Denton said she's impressed that her Hollywood "fiancee" is using his role for something good. She says she still plays a bit part in getting wounded veterans magic legs.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.