The Real Story Behind the NBC Telepic ‘My Kidnapper, My Love’

On the drive back, James Stacy says, “My brother will adapt the script.” I knew this day was too good to be true

Last Updated: December 4, 2011 @ 7:39 PM

There are words of wisdom that flash before you that you don't fully appreciate until the circumstance hits you between your eyes. 

One of those aphorisms that resonates with me is "no good deed goes unpunished."  Let me explain.

Before there was Ari Emanuel, before there was Mike Ovitz, before there was Sue Mengers, there was Stan Kamen. 

Stan Kamen called. "You know Jim Stacy, the actor who had a terrible accident? He's not a client, but he's a friend of mine, and I'd like you to help him. Meet with him, OK? He has a book he loves, and maybe you can help him set it up?" 

James Stacy was a tall, dark and handsome young actor, got lucky in a couple of Disney features and became a working TV lead when he suffered the loss of literally an arm and a leg in a motorcycle accident.

I was never a fan of Kamen nor him of me. Never friendly, he unexpectedly and warmly greeted me at Mrs. Lastfogel's funeral while walking and holding hands with Warren Beatty. That did impress my future wife, who joked, "He must have thought you were someone else."

But, still newly hatched in L.A., I wasn't about to ignore his request and asked Jim Stacy to come in. He brought a book called "The Dark Side of Love" by Oscar Saul (who actually was a client of WMA's Mike Zimring). Saul had major screenwriting credits including Sinatra's "Joker is Wild" and Kazan's "Streetcar Named Desire."

The book told the story of a blind, lonely war vet who operates a newsstand in New Orleans. He finds a runaway "slow" teenager from a wealthy family, puts her up, falls in love with her and gets involved in a sleazy kidnapping hoax to help his troubled older brother. Stacy's idea was to switch blindness to missing an arm and a leg. For once, I didn't need to read the novel. 

Only NBC was "open" and I called, getting a young exec named Deena Kramer. A friend of a client, we kept meeting at all the young industry events at the time, had often dined together and she now considered me her buddy, which is why she was candid when I pitched the story. 

"Oh my god, that's horrible. Who would want to tune in to that? Pasadena, Arthur. Better luck next time." Y

eah, what are friends for? 

CBS and ABC were closed, no meetings. What am I to do? I needed to report back to Kamen that I had taken Stacy to at least one buyer. 

I have to use the "malady card," and I went over Deena's head to Deanne Barkley, the boss of NBC TV movies. 

"I'd like to bring Jim Stacy in to discuss his favorite novel." Deanne says, "I'd love to meet Jim, let's do it? What's the book?" 

"'The Dark Side of Love' by Oscar Saul." 

I was about to do a brief pitch when she screamed, "I love that book! I tried to buy it when I was at Stigwood, but it was under option. Can you come over tomorrow?"

Parking was a bitch in the massive NBC lot. It's hard to believe today, but in 1979 there was no "disabled parking" at most companies and the available spot offered us would have Jim Stacy hopping for a half mile. 

So we complained, with Jim getting out of the car and showing he was missing a leg! 

The guy called upstairs and a secretary, whose little AMC Pacer was illegally parked in a major executive's spot directly in front of the studio door, came down to move it. We took her space — she was not happy.

Much better reception greeted us as we entered Deanne's offices. 

She swung open her door and said, "Get in here!" She kissed Stacy and me, and before we could sit down, she said, "You have a deal! I have loved this novel for years. I have material in one of these files where I found incredible writers who can adapt it, although I know the author has done his own screenplay. You know, Arthur, you might check into that."

Stacy lit up like a holiday candle. 

"Well, you understand I don't want to play it blind. Our character has enough going against him with one arm and one leg. Is that OK or what?" 

"Absolutely," screams Deanne. And the casting for the young girl can be a delight there are so many fantastic young actresses out there …"

Some industry gossip, more hugs and kisses and we were off.

On the drive back, Stacy says, "My brother will adapt the script."

I knew this day was too good to be true.

Louie Elias was Stacy's brother and, by profession, a stunt man. 

Stacy could not be talked out of his wish that his brother write the teleplay. Knowing Deanne's affection for the novel, I was concerned that this might end the deal. 

But I had to move forward and called her with the news. Louie had "found the book" and a promise was made. 

To my amazement Deanne agreed. "We can get a cheap first draft and if it's terrible, we'll bring in someone to rewrite."

Since he had no writing agent, I made the deal with NBC and it was for $15,000.

His draft was good, actually impeccably good. Deanne requested minimal changes, and it was ordered to production. 

NBC attempted to get it for "in-house," but I was able to keep it open for a supplier as an agency package. 

I was working closely with Bob Banner at the time, and we visited his offices, but Stacy was not impressed.  He liked Roger Gimbel's office at Studio Center much more and, since living nearby in Sherman Oaks, advised me to make a deal with Gimbel and EMI.  Stacy would star and produce.

Actor Sam Wanamaker was chosen to direct and Glynnis O'Connor cast as the young runaway. 

Shooting took place in New Orleans. 

Rick Nicita, O'Connor's agent at the time, called me early one morning to advise that Glynnis had called him to complain about producer-star Stacy's alcohol-fueld harassment in the middle of the night.  Both of us got into it with Tony Converse, Gimbel's line producer, a truly nice man, and I called Stacy and attempted to question his actions.  Of course he denied it all.

Stacy wanted Mickey Rooney to play his brother, although everyone believed Rooney, 15 years older than Stacy, was too old. He also wanted $40K, which was $20K more than was budgeted.  Gimbel said absolutely no, so Stacy paid the difference from his pocket.

The picture. with J.D. Cannon as a Javert-like cop pursuing Stacy and Mickey Rooney as Stacy's gambler brother, turned out pretty well. 

It was the night of the industry screening that agency legal chief Roger Davis called me down to his office. A would-be-producer had threatened a lawsuit against WMA, Stacy and NBC as he claimed he brought "Dark Side" to Stacy with the switch from blindness to Stacy's condition and he wanted compensation and credit. 

He sent over a document indicating that he had once optioned the book. 

Davis looked at me (and I will never forget that hostile glare) as if I had conspired to fraudulently get Stacy's movie made by intentionally cutting out some other producer. This was totally contrary to Weisbord and Lastfogel's code: our people, our family, our agents are always in the right.

"I don't understand, first of all I never heard of this guy, Stacy told me his brother, who adapted the novel, brought the book to him. I reminded Davis, "options expire all the time. Once his option was over, his position was over."  That was my position then and it is now. The Morris office, I understand, settled.

The other more troubling news I learned long after the picture was telecast, was that Stacy and his brother, along with a prior unmentioned "producer," had, through him, access to Oscar Saul's adaptation of his own novel.

It makes one suspect that rather than "adapting" Saul's novel, could it be that someone simply made the "blind" switch, the rest of the screenplay solely by Oscar Saul and not the work of anyone else?  Could it be?  We will never know.

For whatever reason, Oscar Saul, who may have been entitled to more compensation and credit, took the money offered and went to Paris. 

When Stacy wasn't getting immediate attention during the course of the network movie development, he would call my house at all hours, frightening my new bride. 

I learned that the repurcusions of his horrific accident, which afforded him a multi-million dollar payout, had affected his self-esteem in reverse; he believed his was totally entitled to special treatment by everyone. 

It also led to hard drinking and its mean consequences. 

But that wasn't the most disturbing aspect of this situation.

In a mutual agency-EMI staff meeting, producer Roger Gimbel complained: "I hope in the future we will not have to do movies like this one." 

As there would have been a half dozen production companies who would have been thrilled to be given a network production order (value of the negative from "backend" at the time: $1.5 million), I silently vowed that I would never bring his company any new deals.

The NBC version of Dark Side of Love was telecast as "My Kidnapper, My Love," was very well received and has emerged as a popular video worldwide under its original title.