Ed Feldman, a producer known at the time for "Save the Tiger," visited my offices frequently as the '70's turned into the '80s. He had a cynical sense of humor that I enjoyed. He often invited me to lunch, never picked uo a check, but I didn't mind. He was looking to produce TV movies while awaiting his next theatrical greenlight.
Ed (pictured at left) co-wrote his biography, "Tell Me How You Loved the Picture," several years ago, Somehow "300 Miles for Stephanie" didn't make it to his book of memories.
I had just been introduced to Clyde Ware in a first floor meeting by the head of motion pictures literary. Ware (below right) was a fortyish independent filmmakler who began as a novelist, then a TV writer, responsible for most of the "Gunsmoke" episodes.
Primarily he wrote, produced and directed self-financed features. I knew his name and had read about his little movies over the years. I knew he had a close personal relationship with Martin Sheen and Spencer Tracy.
Notorious for dating an assortment of '60's and '70's-era starlets, he had married one of the era's most adorable young actresses Davey Davidson.
I thought it ironic that someone most of Hollywood would describe as a country bumpkin had starved in the East Village while attending the Actor's Studio and writing two well received novels. While experiencing the depths of being artistically down and out in Manhattan, he was the protege of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, hung out with James Dean and Lee J Cobb, Jack Palance and Michael Gazzo, he was the hippest guy around but he looked like West Virginia, tall, husky and blonde.
Clyde was so blonde with startling blue eyes that he was often thought to be an albino. Not traditionally handsome, there was something about that twinkle and glib repertoire that got the girls into bed. Many famous girls. There was always a parade of women hanging out at his tiny Hollywood office when he signed with WMA.
And then Norman Brokaw called me down.
In his office was Tony Orlando. I had watched Orlando on TV first when he was teenager and had some east coast hits -- and then again when he was an out-of-shape record promoter who dared to return to recording with "Candida" that became a national hit.
It was on one of those local Manhattan talk shows. I couldn't believe the industry perceived him to be a new rock star, but it happened. He added two attractive black girl singers he named "Dawn" and recorded several more songs including "Knock Three Times" that became hits, and with "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," a new sensation was born.
I don't know when he came to William Morris but this was a period that followed a surprise hit TV series and he was a major attraction in Las Vegas. And he was sitting in Brokaw's celebrated office awaiting my opinion.
He had with him a newspaper article from a San Diego paper. He asked me to read it. I looked at it and saw that it told the story of a Mexican American cop with a failed marriage and a gravely ill daughter named Stephanie. The cop, Alberto Rodrieguez, vowed to run 300 miles in five days until he arrived at a church in the Rio Grande Valley as a novena to God to inspire the holy powers to allow his daughter's diminishing health to improve. And he achieved it.
That was it. Was this a TV movie?
I brought with a hyper young man in a gray suit, a recent New York transfer named Michael J. Wilson. If I had earlier needed coffee to jump start my mornings, I also grew to welcome the enthusiasm, spontaneity and drive of Michael Wilson. He was always on the ceiling with restless energy and joyful eagerness. He also appeared smart, aggressive and guiless. I was right about the first two.
Why not I thought? No network at this time gave any consideration for the growing Spanish population that was also watching network TV movies. This would be a great marketing tool, not to mention a splashy vehicle for Tony Orlando.
I told Orlando I believed it was brilliant and that I had just the writer for it. Clyde Ware! Brokaw pretended that he had heard of Ware and said "Wow, that's great." And I believe Ed Feldman, the producer of "The Other Side of the Mountain," an inspirational, true-life feature, would love this. I had just merged two of my recent meetings and it would turn out to be a slamdunk.
Fearless, Michael jumped right in. "Yes, Clyde will love this. And Ed, too!" He hadn't yet met Clyde nor Ed. That didn't stop him. "Ed was just telling me that he was in search of a story with a star attachment just like this!" No he didn't but I didn't care. Everyone was singing out of the same prayer book.
Only problem will be convincing Ware and Feldman.
That turned out to be easy. So used to talent agency meetings leading to nothing, silence, with little or no followup, both Ware and Feldman jumped in with great interest. It smelled like a network deal.
We set a meeting at NBC. It was Michael's first network meeting. Our exec Dennis Considine bought it the moment Orlando sat down. "Perfect, great, who's gonna write. "Clyde Ware?" "Arthur will educate me as to Ware's history which I am certain includes a Pultizer and a Nobel that I'm not aware of ..." That was Dennis. Officially approved by the time I returned to the office, Ware began to interview the true life charactersand took notes for his first draft.
Two immediate surprises for Ed Feldman. One was that the person who gave Orlando the article had an agreement from our star to be a producer. Second was that Clyde sent a note to us all that he was only writing "Stephanie" so that he could direct. He was approved by NBC to write but not to direct. Considine and his boss, Irv Wilson, were, in fact, already discusssing other directors.
They even asked if a TV movie director with Spanish origins existed. Michael Wilson advised the network that Ware was indeed Spanish, this West Virginia coal miner's son. The closest Clyde came to anything Latin was his tendency to eat dinner at El Cayote.
Michael and I discovered that Clyde at notes meetings for his second draft was an excellent actor. He acted as if he was listening and responding to changes Dennis and Irv Willson suggested for the new drafts. But Clyde rarely changed a word. When we delivered his second draft, we waited and waited.
And then the letter came. On NBC letterhead from Irv Wilson, came to the succinct note. "We are regretfully passing on "300 Miles for Stephanie." No reason nor warning.
Devastated, I would only share this terrible news with Michael. But I couldn't find him. For three days he had appeared to have left the planet. I was concerned enough to try his apartment until Katzman called me and asked what happened. Could it be my fault that Michael left the agency and is now at CAA? I had even bought him an outrageously expensive Turnbull & Asser shirt for his birthday. He never even said thank you or goodbye.
My energy booster gone and "Stephanie" (you should pardon the expression) "dead" -- and I could tell no one, not Feldman, not Brokaw, not Orlando, certainly not the first floor. I didn't know if it was possible but I had to have the pass rescinded.
I had a close and important friend at the network, Brandon Tartikoff, who was running series programming. He had little to do with movies for TV as he often told me, but I called him. I recited my pitch about the lack of awareness of the enormous Mexican-American viewing audience and how they are underserved. Brandon seemed to get it. "I can't promise anything, Arthur, but let me check it out."
I had been called downstairs. What did I do? I was advised that the office was for the first time in 90 years awarding eight agents, department heads, the title of Vice President. I would be a Vice President, not merely an agent. My wife and I were thrilled.
I receieved a flurry of congratulations including a hand-written note from Fred Silvermam, then newly officed at NBC in Burbank. He hated Burbank. By accident, attached to the little embossed Fred Silverman note with the NBC logo that offered heartfelt congrats was a duplicate, blank example.
Not getting any traction from the network, I immediately stapled the blank note to a copy of Ware's second draft. I then scribled on it "This movie must be made!" I thought about signing the initials "FS" but chose not to. Prior to an unrelated network meeting, I visited Irv Wilson's office, hoping he would not be present. He wasn't. I dropped the script with the stapled and imprinted note on his desk.
Three grueling days pass and I receive the phone call from NBC business affairs. Forget the Wilson letter, if Ed Feldman will run his movie through Paul Klein's firm movie deal with the network, then they would order it to production. I called Feldman and advised him of the status. "Fuck 'em, I'm gonna sue." "OK, Ed then you will be busy in court, spend a lot of money on lawyers and have no movie. Listen, why not reluctantly agree to the pickup, go into production and then sue?" Huh? After 45 minutes of obscenities, he agreed.
"Oh, and Arthur, that albino is not going to direct, do you hear me?"
Ed, he's not an albino and everyone agreed you would give him a shot.
Another 45 minutes and Feldman agreed to sit down with Clyde and hear him out. Following that meeting, he told me that he actually planned to tell me that he was walking away from the deal. Then he realized that he would be getting a bus load of money to Exceutive Produce and set produdtion for San Antonio with his new unwanted partners.
But first we had to see what Tony Orlando looked like.
Feldman, Brokaw and I flew to Las Vegas and drove over to Orlando's hotel.
For just under an hour, we banged on the door of his suite with Brokaw yelling, "Tony, it's Norman and your producer, please open up!" We were assured by the concierge that Orlando was in the suite. I was certain that the headlines were forthcoming. Orlando had been a close friend of comedian Freddie Prinze and I fully expected us to be the first to find his body. No one could ignore the repeated banging that we administered.
As it turned out, Tony was "groggy" and out of it. But he had casually showered, shaved and dressed while we attempted to get his attention. Once we were all seated, he came to life.
"This movie will give me the greatest opportunity, not only to demonstrate what I can do as an actor but that I can actually get into great shape to accomplish the running. There will be no camera tricks or stunt runners. It will be all me."
And it was. Orlando, throwing himself both into physical and dramatic training, was superb. His cast included the best of the working Hispanic actors Pepe Serna, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Sierra and Julie Carmen.
Feldman was not wrong in his concern about Clyde's directing. Clyde, like many TV directors, devoted little attention to the actors. The actress portraying Alberto's sister was simply not directed and she chewed the curtains, misinterpreting her part as the mean-spirited villain of the piece who practically spat out at her brother for attempting the sacred run. Her eyes, face and demeanor cried out "hatred," which was totally wrong for the character.
Ware and Feldman battled right up to the moment production was wrapped, Clyde fighting for another week.
"300 Miles for Stephanie" won its time period and briefly was a video favorite. Never released on DVD, it is today impossible to find in any format.
Orlando went on to act in several TV movies. He has had a renewed performing success in Bramson, Missouri and is a beloved entertainer to middle America.