RISING SUN — The first time Don Gifford, owner of Gifford’s Farm Market & Feed Store, got an email about his turkeys being featured on a television show, he didn’t think much of it.
“I thought it was silly,” Gifford said.
Then he got a call in early spring from JoAnn Dawson, who operates Fairwinds Farm & Stables and “wrangles” animals for show business, telling him that the producer of the HBO series “Veep” was on the hunt for two tom turkeys that looked like a couple he owned. He obliged, and soon Dawson came by to pick up the animals — named, appropriately enough, Tom and Tommy.
“The whole thing caught me off-guard,” Gifford said. “I thought, ah, nothing will really come of it. But it did.”
In the spring of 2015, Gifford bought six turkeys as chicks — three male, three female — from a customer of his store; not for any particular reason, he said, just for the heck of it. They’re Narragansett turkeys, hailing from the Northeast and named after the Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. The toms can grow to be nearly 30 pounds, while the hens top out around 15.
As it happened, Gifford’s turkeys were a perfect fit for “Veep’s” needs. In their episode — season five, episode five, called “Thanksgiving” — fictional U.S. President Selina Meyer (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, of “Seinfeld” fame) pardons Tom and Tommy, paying homage to the playful presidential tradition that recurs every year around Thanksgiving.
The filming took place back in March, and the episode aired in May, but Gifford didn’t know about it until Dawson sent him a screenshot of his turkeys a couple weeks ago. She randomly stumbled upon it while flipping through the channelsone Friday night — when she selected it, she saw “Thanksgiving” in the corner.
“It was such a random chance,” she said.
Dawson, a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, boasts a formidable list of Hollywood credits, including work on “The Sixth Sense” and, more recently, “House of Cards.” She’s established herself as someone to call for producers looking for animals to feature.
When a producer on “Veep” contacted her about the turkeys, she called all around the tri-state area, to no avail. She was somewhat shocked to learn that Gifford, a fellow Cecil County resident whom she knew beforehand, likely had what they were looking for.
So she stopped by the farm and sent some pictures to the producer, who sent back that Gifford’s turkeys fit the bill. Dawson then took the birds to Washington for filming, and brought them home after their scene was shot.
Because that scene took place on the steps of the DAR Constitution Hall and not in an enclosure, Dawson tied strings around the turkeys’ ankles, just in case they tried to fly away. To her surprise, they didn’t act up at all. They’re well-mannered creatures, albeit not very intelligent, Gifford said.
They were so polite, in fact, that after the first take, Dawson recalled Louis-Dreyfus turning to her and saying, “‘Now can you make them misbehave so it looks funny?’”
She could. For the second take, she told Louis-Dreyfus to pat the turkeys on the back as she approached them, and when she did, Dawson tugged lightly on the strings attached to their feet, which prompted them to fan out their feathers. (The turkeys were not in any way harmed.) Louis-Dreyfus was pleased.
Now as before, Gifford’s turkeys are set to live a life of comfort and ease in their house and enclosure next to the feed store. Recently, Gifford sold one of his toms, so he’s down to five, but that’s no matter. He’s hoping for chicks in the future.
As far as “Veep” goes, Gifford has never watched a single scene of it — he still hasn’t seen “Thanksgiving.”
And does he plan to?