Zucker comedy team planned JFK assassination movie

August 28, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

With all the hoopla over Oliver Stone's John F. Kennedy assassination movie, a bit of history is in order.

Former New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, the central figure in Stone's "JFK," first sold the rights to his story to the producing-directing team of Jerry Zucker, David Zucker and Jim Abrahams (known mostly for comedies like "Airplane!" and "Naked Gun").

Team Zucker got interested in Garrison's story in the early 1980s, approached him and subsequently bought the rights to Garrison's life story. The flamboyant Garrison came to national attention when he challenged the Warren Commission's version of events surrounding Kennedy's assassination.

In 1983, screenwriter William Stadiem spent several months with Garrison and wrote a 200-page script (which translates into about three hours on screen) that covered Garrison's investigations and his fall from office. The Zuckers encouraged Stadiem to take an ambitious, serious approach to the project, Stadiem recalls, because the Zuckers were convinced that their success in Hollywood at that point would give them the liberty to make a serious movie with the scale of Stadiem's "Garrison."

Instead, "Top Secret" (1984), a comedy after the hit "Airplane!" (1980), was a disappointment at the box office. "That really shook their confidence to do something so far afield," Stadiem says, adding that their interest in his project sagged.

This year, when details of Stone's movie surfaced, they were shocked to hear that Garrison (who also plays a small part in the movie) had sold Stone similar rights. But the Zuckers' lawyers said their contract left enough wiggle room for Garrison to also sell certain rights to Stone.

A couple months ago, the Zucker project almost got a new lease on life. Hoping to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the Stone project, TV producer Preston Fischer obtained the Zuckers' permission to shop Stadiem's script to the networks and cable stations. Despite a "very good" script, Fischer says, no one wanted to produce it.

Apparently, the Zucker project was news to Stone too. Sources say that Jerry Zucker received an angry phone call from the director after he heard about the attempts at a TV production.

Stadiem believes that it was Stone's "brilliant stroke" of casting Kevin Costner in the role of Garrison that made his project viable. "Jim Garrison was considered crazy, a questionable character," Stadiem says. "But when you cast Costner in it, that gives him a dignity as a folk hero."

Is there any future for Stadiem's script? "You never know," says the screenwriter, adding that his account covers more time than Stone's. "There's still a story that hasn't been told. Maybe Garrison will become a folk hero. Maybe people will want more."

*

"My father took me to a lot of films," said John Singleton. "We went to movies all the time."

Among them, Singleton remembers seeing "Stars Wars," "The Godfather," "A Clockwork Orange," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial."

"That, he said, "makes you want to be a film maker."

And at the age of 23, he is.

By now most people know that Singleton, who grew up in south central Los Angeles, is the writer and director of "Boyz N the Hood," about a group of young blacks who grow up in that neighborhood, where crime, drugs and violent death are commonplace.

Singleton has been causing a stir since about the time he entered the University of Southern California's Filmic Writing Program in 1986. Before he graduated last year, he won three writing awards and was signed by the powerful Creative Artists Agency.

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