Tuesday, August 14, 2007

'Buddy Holly Story' & 'La Bamba' and...
Will the Big Bopper finally get his movie?

Eighteen years after the frozen, shattered corpses of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper were found strewn around their plane's wreckage in an Iowa cornfield in 1959, somebody made a movie that ended with rock's first tragedy.

And 9 years after that, Hollywood made another. Same ending.

But while Death treated them all with cold fairness, Hollywood (not to mention the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) hasn't been as equitable to the Bopper. While a clownish J.P. Richardson character appeared briefly in both "The Buddy Holly Story" (1978) and "La Bamba" (1987), nobody ever made a movie about the Beaumont deejay who would write more No. 1 songs than Holly and foretold a day when individual songs would be performed on film. He called them "music videos."

Now, the Bopper's son and a Houston screenwriter will co-produce an independent biopic about Richardson, focusing on the pop star's meteoric career ... and the turbulence his death caused for his family.

And according to Johnette Duff, who wrote "The Day The Music Died," it won't follow the classic mold of the earlier films: young man wants to make music, finds success, dies tragically, fade to black.

"Anyone who ever had a parent could relate to this story of wanting to know where you came from and how that impacts where you are going," Duff said this week. "I saw the movie as a dual journey: both father and son trying to find their home in the world."

For many, the Bopper was always "that other guy" who died with Holly and Valens. To others, he was merely a novelty act - hardly the influential musician that Holly was, or the cultural symbol that Valens was.

While everyone else on the fateful Winter Dance Party Tour - Holly, Valens and Dion and the Belmonts - has been inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame, the Bopper has not.

And until his coffin was exhumed and his remains examined by a world renowned forensic pathologist last March, Richardson had been all but forgotten, even in his hometown.
And that always grated on his son, Jay P. Richardson, who was born 84 days after his dad died and often performs his father's songs in a popular tribute act. He'll co-produce "The Day the Music Died."

"Jay is the heart and soul of this film, no question," Duff said. "I see the same wit and huge heart in him that I see in his dad's music. Jape [J.P. Richardson's nickname] wrote some lovely ballads and had a great voice - this movie will introduce a new generation to his music and some unknown songs to those who already appreciate him. I would like this project to open the world and Beaumont's eyes to a talented native son who hasn't been given his due.

"He was a music visionary who would have had a huge impact on the music business if he had lived."

No actors, director or cinematographer have been hired. Many locations are still being scouted in Beaumont and Houston, but Duff said filming should start in October and end in January at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, where the singers gave their last show. And investment in the $2.4 million picture is still trickling in.

Duff, a fortysomething lawyer who also teachers screenwriting, has no production credits, but has plenty of scripts under her belt. She was approached by a friend of Jay Richardson last spring shortly after the Bopper was exhumed and son Jay's emotional journey to "meet" his dad had ended.

And their stories will be entwined in the film.

"(The Bopper's) life is told through his music and the second-hand memories of a son born after his death," Duff said. "The son's search for the truth of the man who was both his father and a world-famous entertainer takes him down a long road to finally meet his father face-to-face, finding his own identity along the way."

The story hasn't yet been embraced in Hollywood, Duff said. One producer even wondered out loud if she could kill the son in a plane crash like his famous father. But Duff and Richardson can't wait on Hollywood's glacial processes when the 50th anniversary of the crash is less than two years away. So they're producing it independently, which offers more speed, control and creativity.

Still, audiences already know the ending of this story. They've seen it in two prior films, and it's part of rock 'n' roll lore. No matter how creative she might be, Duff can't rewrite the final scenes in the Bopper's short life. But if she could change the ending, what would she write?

"That he lived to make more music and make the world a better place," Duff said. "What a legacy 'Chantilly Lace' is, with its mixture of innocence and naughtiness - he was timeless."

See the Big Bopper sing 'Chantilly Lace'

This story first appeared in the Beaumont Enterprise 8/12/2007


Jill said...

Sounds good to me!

almadenmike said...

Ron -- I was delighted this morning to see this article, complete with your and the Beaumont Enterprise byline, printed in the San Francisco Chronicle (Page E3 in the "Datebook" (entertainment) section).

I love your writing and blog. Keep up the good work.

-- Mike (an E&J alum)

Ron Franscell said...

Thanks, Mike! You are an alum of the Enterprise & Journal ... and I am alum of the Marin Independent Journal! How transient we ink-stained wretches can be.

But you don't have to worry about too many hurricanes in the Bay Area ... and we don't worry about too many earthquakes. Still ... SF is one of my favorite cities of all time. Let's make a deal: You can stay with me when you visit Texas if I can stay with you when I visit SF!

Anonymous said...

Big Bopper should get his time and the world should know his story. it's a part of history that needs to be told. Love the idea hope it will still come to light.