They came wearing Pirates caps in modern or old-school designs in gold, black, blue and brown and in T-shirts celebrating the Bucs, Roberto Clemente or 1979 World Series.
Several had stories about brushes with Dock Ellis as children, including a 9-year-old dropping off a glove at the pitcher’s Pittsburgh house and returning the next day to pick it up, autographed, from the player’s girlfriend.
They were among the lucky who got tickets for the sold-out “No No: A Dockumentary” at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room. It will open a regular run at the Harris Theater, Downtown, on Sept. 5.
The documentary is about Ellis, the Pirate who famously threw a no-hitter in 1970 while on LSD but later went to rehab and became a counselor to addicts.
Through interviews with those who knew him — old friends, relatives, two former wives and fellow Pirates including Dave Cash, Al Oliver, Steve Blass, Bruce Kison and Manny Sanguillen — a portrait emerges of Ellis before, during and after his playing career.
He was sometimes “high as a Georgia pine” (his words), helped to keep the clubhouse loose so the team could be tight on the field and was devastated when Clemente died in a plane crash on a relief mission to earthquake-ravaged Nicaragua.
The movie in some ways is shaped by death: The loss of Dock’s father, the death of Clemente, the end of Dock’s pitching career and then his death in 2008 at age 63 of liver disease.
Still, it’s filled with history, hijinks and revelations about brief, tragic episodes that ended his marriages or how Dock pushed back against silly rules about not drinking at the hotel bar or wearing curlers, how trailblazer Jackie Robinson wrote a touching letter to him and director Ron Howard learned about the no-no on LSD while filming the comedy “Gung Ho” in Pittsburgh in 1985.
It was the first screening not tied to a film festival and it featured a question-and-answer session after with director Jeffrey Radice, producer Mike Blizzard and agent Tom Reich who represented Dock.
They told a story about Ellis giving a youthful Shea Stadium autograph seeker, who was wearing a facsimile Stargell jersey, one of his own authentic Ellis jerseys. The pair stayed in touch and Dock later wrote him a note, “Believe in yourself, I do.” That was typical of Ellis.
The director said he didn’t move as fast as he should have once he conceived of the movie as an Errol Morris-style documentary. “Where it’s just one-on-one talking head, and I thought that would be great with Dock because he’s so expressive,” and had a way with turns of phrases.
The former Pitcher said, “Let’s make a movie,” but then Radice couldn’t get back in touch with him because it turned out he was ill.
“When he died, I had a lot of regret. Really just did not want to carry that burden of regret through the rest of my life. I talked to my father about it and he said, ‘Well, just reimagine the film’ and that’s what I did. I reimagined it as sort of an elegy where you had the people who knew Dock best telling his story. It transformed the film entirely.”
Tuesday night’s movie and appearances were sponsored by Pittsburgh Filmmakers and Steeltown Entertainment Project which served as an associate producer on the project.
Photo, by Les Banos, of Manny Sanguillen and Dock Ellis. Photo of Ellis pitching by Ron Mrowiec.