January 13, 2008

The Real Story of The Bear And the Hollywood Scriptwriter

 By Sam Kobren   

 Just about everything that can be said about the movie "Glory Road" has been said.

Unless you are another Rip Van Winkle, you know it tells the story of Texas Western College's 1966 national championship basketball team.

If you live in El Paso you've seen it, probably more than once. You even know all the classic lines and repeated a dozen times the one where Neville Shed ordered a "hot dog-o" instead of a taco or burrito. (Shed claims he really said it.)

Two things remain to be told before the book is closed on "Glory Road," the movie.

How did Walt Disney Pictures happen to get the rights to produce it, and who was responsible for calling Don Haskins' attention to their interest?

And more than that, who convinced Haskins to listen to Disney's pitch, after a half dozen or more studios and scriptwriters had bugged him over a period of four or five years, and all had been turned down by "The Bear"?

That's the first chapter of the story.

Things never change with the coach. If you want to play for him, you have to prove you are worthy of the job.

No one was able to do that until Christopher Cleveland, a well-known Hollywood scriptwriter, managed to wrangle an audience with Haskins.

It evolved one Sunday morning when Haskins got a call from Ray Sanchez, a long-time El Paso sports writer and columnist for El Paso Inc.

Sanchez was having breakfast with Cleveland at the Camino Real Hotel. Cleveland had read Ray's book, "Basketball's Greatest Upset," that told the story of the '66 Miners and their astonishing success.

Cleveland was inspired by the story, and thought it would make a good movie. He persuaded Sanchez to call Haskins, and ask him to come to the hotel to discuss it with him.

Haskins was not interested, and told Sanchez to forget about it. He had just finished turning down a major studio's offer, and was fed up with scriptwriters and producers who wanted to do the movie. He had heard it all. None of them were willing to do it his way – the way it really happened, and not the way Hollywood would like for it to have happened.

One of them even told Haskins that for a movie to be successful it had to include sex, drugs or crime. Another pulled his checkbook out during the conversation and was ready to write a check for $350,000 on the spot. He left with the check still in his checkbook. Haskins was not interested in his sales pitch.

Money was not the deciding factor. He insisted the movie had to be factual or not at all.

Sanchez persisted. He said he was impressed with Cleveland and convinced Haskins to at least come down and give him 15 minutes.

It didn't take that long. Instead of a lot of hype, Cleveland said if he got the job he would do his best to write the script as factually as possible. He proposed doing the movie for Disney, but admitted he couldn't guarantee the studio wouldn't make some changes.

Haskins was swayed by Cleveland's integrity and forthrightness. He felt he was a straight arrow who would do his best to write the script and tell the story as it happened.

Cleveland was the first scriptwriter to understand the story. He liked the facts just the way they were, Haskins thought.

Haskins was also impressed with the idea of Disney producing the movie.

He felt Disney's reputation and history would ensure the movie would be more family oriented, and kids would be able to see it.

No crime, no sex, no drugs.

Cleveland invited Haskins to his ranch in Hillsboro, N.M., and they had an agreement. Seven months later a deal was struck with Disney.

And as they say, the rest is history.

That meeting at the Camino Real was the first step that clinched the deal with Cleveland and Disney.

"Ray Sanchez was totally responsible for 'Glory Road' being produced and shown as close to the way it really happened as Hollywood would allow," Haskins said.

February 2, 2006  

Headline: ’66 Iowa-Miners movie game was great editing
© Ray Sanchez
One of the complaints most often heard about the movie Glory Road concerns the way the Texas Western Miners-Iowa game was depicted ...  It showed the Miners trailing by as much as 20 points and coach Don Haskins telling Bobby Joe Hill to go ahead and play his style of game … Actually, it was a masterpiece of editing, and I’ll tell you why …
 
THE ABOVE incidents didn’t happen in the Iowa game – but they happened in other games. … The Miners came from 20 points behind to win and David Palacio was a key player and Hill went wild, just like in the movie, but that was against New Mexico!  … And as for Hill unleashed to play his game, that didn’t happen in the Iowa game, or even that season, as the movie showed. It happened the previous season ...
 
DO YOU see what Disney did? The Iowa game was important because it was the first time the Miners beat a ranked team (Iowa was No. 5 at the time). The Miners’ victory over New Mexico was the greatest comeback of the season and showed what the Miners were made of. And Hill was unstoppable after Haskins threw up his hands and let Hill loose … Filming separate games would have made the movie much longer so director James Gartner and whoever else was responsible incorporated those three extremely important facts into one scene …
 
OKAY, SO you would like to find out how, where and when those key things really happened? There’s only one place you can find that in detail – as well as the way other things really happened that season -- and that’s in the book “Basketball’s Biggest Upset.” … As the book’s promo says: “Here you will find the true story of the Miners’ march to the 1966 NCAA championship.” …

January, 2006       Headline: Glory Road movie makes the 1966 Miners come to life

 
The 1966 Texas Western College Miners have brought us fame, thrills and joy beyond our wildest dreams and will continue to do so for generations … The books written about them are fine, but there’s nothing like a movie. You can see, feel and almost touch the people in a movie. Disney out-did itself in making it all come to life with Glory Road …
 
AND DID you like the movie? Many, many people do. And who better to ask for opinions than those close to me ... My daughter Anita, who saw it in Las Vegas where she lives now: “I loved it. People applauded. I went to school there when it happened. What a thrill. I cried.”… My son Victor, who saw the movie in Austin where he lives now: “It was great. I hadn’t seen people applaud after a movie in a long time.” …
 
Another son, David, who lives in Irving: “I didn’t hear any applause but everybody in the theater was crying.” … A neighbor, Mario Erivez: “I got chills from start to finish.” … Golfing buddy Martin Smith: “One of the best movies I ever saw.” …
 
COACH Don Haskins got applause and laughs when he appeared in the movie in El Paso theaters and even got some out of town … Anita reports she heard a couple of chuckles when his scene showed up in Las Vegas ... Figures. He played many games there …
 
REVIEWS from around the country were mostly great. Here’s my favorite because it’s short and to the point: "Glory Road's greatest strength is that it's just a great story, acted well." -- Bob Strauss, LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS … There have been stories in newspapers nationwide, from the Dallas Morning News to the New York Times, plus radio and TV interviews with Haskins and some of the players …
 
BUT THE two things that count the most in rating the movie: Glory Road was the country’s top money making movie for the 4-day opening weekend, hitting $16.93 million … And Roger Ebert, the most respected critic of all, gives it thumbs up and three stars …
 
BUT I would be remiss as a newsman if I said there was no disagreement. Several folks I know believe the race angle was overdone. One who doesn’t mind speaking his mind in public is Kevin Lovell, general manager of KVIA-TV Channel 7 in El Paso. Here’s what he wrote:
 
 “Had the movie depicted racism just as it was for the Texas Western team in 1966 that would have been story enough. However to greatly exaggerate the racism detracts from the real story. I found the fictitious scene where Haskins tells the team he will only play the black players to be nothing short of appalling. It soured for me on what otherwise was a very enjoyable film. Haskins would never make such an overt racial statement. He was playing his best players and because they happened to be black and that shows he was entirely color blind - something Disney obviously felt was not compelling enough to sell tickets.” …
 
EVERYONE is entitled to his opinion. I can only speak for myself. I loved the movie … It was exciting, inspiring and historic … I think it will go down as a classic as time goes by … Would I even dare say that it’s better than Hoosiers?
 
Ray Sanchez is a veteran sports journalist and author. Suggestions for his
column welcome. Call him at 584-0626 or email him at rayf358@yahoo.com

                   

Headline: Bear, players and their share of ‘Glory Road’ money
 
By Ray Sanchez
   Some people think Don Haskins is a rich man today because of the movie Glory Road, which is about Texas Western College’s march to the NCAA national basketball championship in 1966.
   “I have been asked if I’m a millionaire now,” the former UTEP basketball coach says with a frown.
   Not so, although he would have been a lot better off financially if it weren’t for an extraordinary act of generosity on his part.
   Disney Studios paid him $300,000 for the rights to his part in the movie. Each of the seven black players who played in the championship game against University of Kentucky was paid $7,500. The five white players on the team were not included in any up-front money.
   When Haskins learned how much his players received he wasn’t satisfied. He told Disney officials to split his share with the players and his assistant coach and trainer. Not only that, he told Disney he wanted some money to go to members of the athletic department who were at Texas Western College at the time.
   And he insisted that Disney do the bookkeeping.
   “I must have driven the accounting department crazy,” Haskins says. “They kept telling me how difficult it was doing all that figuring and writing all those different checks but I kept insisting on it. After all, this was a team victory, not just my victory.”
   There was some other earlier front money and Bobby Joe Hill and David Lattin had signed a contract with ESPN which had been planning another movie. So when all was done and figured, each of the principal members involved wound up with, roughly, $32,000 – as did Haskins.
   Haskins can’t remember exactly how much each of the then-members of the athletic department (which included the athletic director, sports information office, secretaries and others) got but, Haskins says, “it was $4000 here, $4500 there and so on.”
   There may be more money to come, depending on how the movie does financially.
   All that was before it was announced that a Disney subsidiary, Hyperion Press, wanted Haskins to collaborate with author Dan Wetzel on a book which would carry the same name as the movie. Haskins could make more out of that than he did with the movie.
   Hyperion Press paid him a fee up front (Haskins can only say it was a “good sum”) and he will get a share of every book sold since he is listed as the co-author with Wetzel.
The book has the full backing of Disney and its promotion department and is expected to do very well financially. The book, in paperback, retails for $14.95 and is already in book stores and on internet web sites around the country. Haskins has been asked to attend book signings.
      The seven black players on the team were Hill, Lattin, Harry Flournoy, Orsten Artis, Nevil Shed, Willie Worsley and Willie Cager. The white players were Jerry Armstrong, David Palacio, Dick Myers, Louie Baudoin and Togo Railey.
   Shed, an outspoken member of the team, said from his home in San Antonio that he can’t remember the exact amount he received and added that money was not a big thing with him. “It’s a great story and I’m glad it’s being told,” he said.
   The players were in town this week for a Sunday book signing of the book Glory Road and were to attend a special showing of the movie on Monday at Cinemark Theater on the West Side.
   The Miners finished their memorable 1966 season with a record of 28-1 and a 72-65 victory over Kentucky in the finals of the NCAA tournament. It was the first time five black players had started in the finals of the meet.