It all began with a piece of paper in a typewriter and a man staring rather helplessly at it, wondering where a character in a novel named Billy Clyde Puckett was going after the first paragraph. Now, for the perpetrator of Semi-Tough—me—it has sort of semi-ended with Billy Clyde crawling into the mind and body of Burt Reynolds and having a few more of those escapades that were never really intended for the enjoyment of priests, grandmothers and Wellington Mara, anyway. Plus, he collides with a Hollywood Super Bowl. Of the many fun-loving things that old Burt does in the movie, some of which are even taken from the book, one is to zigzag his way to a touchdown on a play that a script girl labeled "117 apple, 28 frame." I guess that sets the tone of this for you.
This is an article from the Nov. 7, 1977 issue
On second thought, forget what I said just then; it is not entirely fair to the hundreds of people who worked so hard for several months to get the movie made, no thanks to the National Football League, incidentally. I did not mean to start out sounding like a precious critic, the kind who lets 2,000 members of a film company spend a year in the Sahara and then tells them that their movie is a flop because it wasn't done in Czechoslovakia with subtitles.
In fact, I am compelled for a moment to forget what I personally think about the film's faithfulness to my Great American Literary Classic, which so stunned the world that people publicly burned their Tolstoys because he never mentioned the San Diego Chargers. And I must pause right here to say that with the filming of Semi-Tough, Hollywood at least has finally made a football movie in which the quarterback does not get kidnapped from the malt shop to return for the big game only after Bonita Granville runs all the way from Flirtation Walk to Annapolis and speaks privately to the statue of Tecumseh.
When the shooting of Semi-Tough started last winter, I was happy enough simply to learn that it was still going to be about pro football and had not become the story of these two crazy, zingy pirates who get shipwrecked on Lake Michigan and wind up doing musical comedy in Green Bay.
On the contrary. I threw a victory party when I first heard that Burt Reynolds and Kris Kristofferson were going to be the leading men. To me, it was inspired casting. Burt Reynolds was Billy Clyde Puckett, the running back, and Kris Kristofferson was Shake Tiller, the split end. Assuming they could have acted as well, Butch Gifford and Sundance Meredith could not have been any better choices for the parts.
But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. I want to talk about the whole experience. I have a perfect right to do it, after all. The novel has terrorized my life for the past five years. So I will start off with...
The title had been in my head forever. Semi is an all-purpose word in my part of Texas, and it would be pronounced "sem-eye" at most truck stops. Correct usage: "I'm semi-hungry, Momma." While I always knew that I would call a book Semi-Tough someday, it never crossed my mind that the subject would be football. On the other hand, it was too late for me to take my portable typewriter and parachute into France with the 82nd Airborne. For the past 25 years I had been busily engaged in the TCU and Notre Dame and Cotton Bowl press boxes, as well as a hundred others.
I wrote the book for calisthenics, just to see if I could write a semi-novel. Billy Clyde Puckett told the story for me, in the Texas idiom we both grew up with. It contained a generous amount of raunchy language because that is how I have heard most athletes talk. You don't hear "ah, heck" too often in the locker room or on the sidelines. You don't hear it too often in the movie, either, by the way. It's a "hard R," as they say around the Beverly Hills fettucine.
The story was a little less complicated than The Brothers Karamazov. These two guys and this girl grow up together in Texas, see, and the guys are high school and college heroes who become pro heroes, and the girl, who is merely wonderful, has always been in love with both of them because nobody else ever had a sense of humor—especially her father, who is every rich oilman I ever encountered. They all wind up in the Super Bowl, and the girl winds up with one of the guys, but everybody winds up happy. The end.
I naturally had my little inside jokes. The guys play for the New York Giants, who haven't won a championship since coffee was a nickel. The Giants meet the Jets in the Super Bowl. Pete Rozelle is no longer the NFL commissioner. He's a senator. The Giants are owned by an ad agency. The Jets are owned by two brothers from Newark who have occasionally been indicted. None of this has much to do with what happens in the bedrooms, which was another concession to the truth, as I know it, where athletes are concerned. A lot of bedrooms.
So, anyhow, somebody decides to give me $37.85 to publish the book. I expect to sell three copies, provided my wife buys one. But all of a sudden it gets embraced by the choreographers of the best-seller lists, who are evidently charmed by all those Texas expressions I did not invent, and all of a sudden William Styron is saying hello to me. And just as suddenly I am on Carson, Cavett and Griffin, being introduced as a sportswriter who will say anything. So I have a few cocktails before "air," and I leave the audiences in confused silence with my views on sport—i.e., ice hockey needs a 500-pound puck, baseball could use more third basemen getting hit in the face with line drives, tennis not only shows us which player's shirt fits the worst but who has the dirtiest hair, automobile racing is four huge tires with a little guy in a helmet trying to climb out before he burns to death, you have to feel sorry for thoroughbred owners because they can't take their pets indoors, the only thing worse than track is field, and the main thing an Olympics proves is which teen-age Communist does the best handspring. At one point, a man connected with The Tonight Show said, "Next time, let Johnny do the lines."
Fans of the novel, who are known to outnumber the population of Wink, Texas, keep asking who all of the characters really are. At first I would say, "Well, Jake Barnes is Mickey Rooney, and Daisy Buchanan is Martha Nell Burch, who got kicked out of Tri Delt." I was never any good at literary chitchat, primarily, I suspect, because I don't have a beard and don't know who Carlos Castaneda is.
The characters were generally composites—when they weren't either me or my closest friend, Bud Shrake, who is also a writer and a rogue. I would never deny to Frank Gifford, Don Meredith, Sonny Jurgensen, Tucker Frederickson and Doug Atkins that they were in and out of the book at times; but then so were the thoughts behind many of Kristofferson's songs and the style with which Reynolds deals with film-type women and talk-show duties. I always felt that if Billy Clyde ever grew up, he would be Burt Reynolds. During the shooting, Burt said, "I'm getting very possessive of Billy Clyde but I probably won't win an Academy Award. I haven't had a tracheotomy."
At any rate, in the midst of all the commotion about the novel, and just as I was getting ready to buy a smoking jacket and invite Alexander Solzhenitsyn over for chess, I got a telephone call from David Merrick. Which brings up...
I have a confession. I did not think David Merrick's idea—to make Semi-Tough into a musical comedy for Broadway—was absurd. Somehow, I thought, it had a chance to be the Damn Yankees of professional football. So when David Merrick went ahead and bought the stage and screen rights to the novel, I started working on my acceptance speech for the Tony award.
But several problems soon developed with the Broadway idea. One was Merrick's giving me the opportunity to write the libretto, even though I had said, "I can't sing." Another was me suggesting constantly that it ought to be the first country and Western musical. Merrick would look at me as if I had said Cole Porter couldn't write a limerick. Friends kept telling us that we ought to forget about the musical and do it as a movie, ostensibly because it seemed to them impossible to envision a performer standing on the stage at the Winter Garden and singing a ballad taken from a line in the novel, one of the team's favorite pass plays, "Niggers Go Long."
This prompts an aside. One of the nicest things that happened to me in connection with the book is a letter I received one day from Alex Haley, who was then pretty busy himself working on Roots. Haley understood, as did every black I ever met who read Semi-Tough, that such seemingly scurrilous material was in fact anti-racist, if it was anything other than a true reflection of the unphony way that athletes live, laugh and love together.
But back to Broadway. I remember the day in Merrick's office when the musical idea came down with multiple sclerosis. For me, anyhow. It was the day we were to hear the first four songs that were produced by this moderately successful song-writing team, two guys whose names I will not use as a favor to their close friends and kin. I had begun to worry when one of them, several weeks earlier, handed me a newspaper clipping about Evel Knievel, saying he thought it would be valuable to me in trying to write the libretto, which is the "book" for a musical, I had found out. But now here they are at the piano in Merrick's office. Frankly, all I remember about one of the songs is that it had something to do with either apples or acorns, and being homesick. And I never really listened to one other song after the lyricist introduced it with the explanation that Billy Jack Puckett and the leading lady were going to be singing it to each other while they roller-skated through Bloomingdale's.
Later, David Merrick said, "I think we'd better make a movie."
Well, if that was the case, then what was needed was...
The screenplay was originally taken on by Ring Lardner Jr., a man whose work (M*A*S*H, The Cincinnati Kid), character (endured blacklisting) and brother (John, the best sportswriter who ever lived) I admired tremendously. I also basically liked his first draft. He cleared the gigantic hurdle of taking the story out of first person. And he added the one character I would like most to have thought up myself—an Iron Curtain, soccer-style placekicker who speaks only through an interpreter. This touch of Ring Jr.'s has stayed in the completed film, even though it had become time for the project to take on that most powerful of all forces known to mankind ...
...who knows more about life, death, divorce, laughter, sorrow, money, even pro football, than anybody else in the world, and who usually wants a new script because he has just overheard something relevant to the project on a tennis court or at a consciousness seminar.
Nobody knows how you get to be a director. It just happens. But once you get to be one, you know what people want to see in a movie theater a lot better than people do, especially writers, actors and producers. There is the old story of a writer trying to talk Sam Goldwyn into letting him direct a film. "You're a writer, not a director," Goldwyn said. "But Frank Capra, John Ford, King Vidor, they all had to start somewhere," the man said. And Goldwyn said, "Don't you believe it!"
Only the public will decide whether Michael Ritchie was a wise choice as the director of Semi-Tough. He had certainly made movies I enjoyed and laughed hard at—The Candidate, Smile, Bad News Bears. And against considerable odds, he did get this movie done. It was Michael Ritchie who persuaded Kristofferson to be in the film. It was Ritchie who knew that Jill Clayburgh was an actress with enough depth and class to play the role of Barbara Jane Bookman and say all of those unprintable words, making them seem natural and almost downright charming. It was Ritchie who had to stage all of the football action in three different stadiums and make it appear real—it does—even though the NFL, with the exception of Miami owner Joe Robbie (bless him), refused to cooperate with the movie. It was Ritchie whose overall casting was fairly brilliant, I must say, when it came to some of the lesser roles out of the novel. Richard Masur, who is trying to live down being Brenda's boyfriend in Rhoda, is a suitably oily business manager. Carl Weathers, the Apollo Creed of Rocky, is a perfect Dreamer Tatum. And you would never guess that a couple of professional actors—Brian Dennehy as T. J. Lambert, and Roger E. Mosley as Puddin Patterson—had not stepped right out of somebody's interior line.
It was Ritchie who hired Tom Fears to see to it that all of the "players," whether they were athletes or not, looked like, acted like, spoke like and moved around like pros. It was Ritchie who told Fears to tell the guys that they would get a line of dialogue if they hit Reynolds or Kristofferson particularly hard on a play, all the better for reality.
It was Ritchie who cast an old friend of mine, Norman Alden, as The Coach, having appreciated a story Norm told him during his audition. It was a story those familiar with TCU's onetime coach, Abe Martin, had often enjoyed.
To put it as descriptively as possible, Abe, with his crumpled brown suit and cigar stub, was folksy. During a game against Rice back in the 1950s, I was standing near Abe on the TCU sideline when he summoned a player off the bench to make a defensive substitution.
"Tommy," Abe said, putting his arm around the lad's shoulder. "I want you to look at that. They wearin' old Billy out with that end sweep. I want you to go out there and stop that sweep for me."
"I'll try, Coach," the kid said eagerly.
"Sit down, Tommy," Abe said, removing his arm from the player's shoulder. "Billy's tryin'."
But for all of this, along with the clever selection of some old Gene Autry recordings as the theme music—it works—Michael Ritchie is also a fellow who went to Harvard (uh-oh), lives near San Francisco (trouble), had read a book called Powers of the Mind (more trouble), had also read something about the late H. L. Hunt crawling around on the floor for his health and spirit (big trouble), and something else about how a Philadelphia hockey player scored five goals after holding his stick under a magic icon for 15 minutes (monumental trouble).
It was with such notions in his head, plus the proximity of his home to a hotbed of the consciousness movement, plus his feeling that the stars, Burt, Kris and Jill, would not be convincing as 28-year-olds, that he ordered a new script from a new writer. Semi-Tough had to be updated, he said to Walter Bernstein (The Front), who took on the job of doing the screenplay Ritchie wanted.
In reference to the new script, which I once hurled against the wall of my office, pretending I was Irwin Shaw reading the TV pilot for Rich Man, Poor Man, Ritchie said, "The screenplay naturally has to transcend the episodic nature of the book. All we've done is take a relationship hinted at in the final pages and expanded on it. Think of it as a few years later in the lives of your characters."
I told Michael Ritchie I would do that just as soon as I stopped thinking of it as a movie that could have been about pro football instead of a movie about the consciousness movement. But I also told him he was a semi-genius for figuring out how to work around...
Informers tell me that the men most opposed to cooperating with the making of the movie were the old NFL owners, who still have more to say about the running of Pete Rozelle and the league than the AFL gentlemen who once paid six hundred billion dollars for the privilege of joining their club. Wellington Mara, I heard, was more adamant about it than anyone. If that is true, then I find his posture even more amusing because the Giants once drafted Joe Don Looney No. 1, if I can be cryptic.
It is probably unfair to lump all of these names together for the sake of a gag, but I can't resist the temptation to say that the sport that gave you Bobby Layne, Joe Namath, Doug Atkins, Max McGee, Sonny Jurgensen, Ernie Holmes, Big Daddy Lipscomb, Joe Gilliam, Warren Wells, W. K. Hicks, Bill Kilmer, Mack Herron, Randy Crowder, Ken Stabler, Lance Rentzel, Jim Brown, Duane Thomas, Pete Gent, Dave Meggyesy, George Atkinson, Alex Karras and Paul Hornung, among others, refused to have anything to do with a movie in which people were going to do nothing more harmful than use naughty words and discuss the economy with ladies on barstools.
"Some of those people just can't take a joke," said Miami's Joe Robbie, who, to his everlasting credit as far as I'm concerned, arranged for the film company to use the Orange Bowl—and whatever else it needed that the Dolphins might be able to provide.
Joe Robbie had also cooperated with another film, Black Sunday, but so had the NFL itself, even though it was aware that the film was generally about some maniacs in a blimp who were going to blow up the Orange Bowl on Super Sunday.
Not so long ago, in a moment of rare brilliance, I said to Joe Robbie that I supposed what this meant was that the NFL was in favor of terrorism but was taking a rigid stand against humor. Joe grinned, having come from the AFL, of course.
The problems created for the movie by the NFL's lack of enthusiasm for my book were immense. They had something, but not everything, to do with some of the changes in the story as well as a few traces of authenticity that moviegoers may find missing.
Billy Clyde Puckett and Shake Tiller were not about to be allowed to keep playing for the Giants, obviously, because of Wellington Mara. For a while, it looked as if they might play for the Rams' Carroll Rosenbloom, but then General Manager Don Klosterman read the script and saw how Michael Ritchie had ordered the owner depicted. Foolish, sort of. That's what Klosterman thought. I privately wondered how you could make an NFL owner look more foolish than he does himself. Anyway, for the sake of "tidying up the plot," or whatever they call it, the team owner in the movie has now become Barbara Jane's father, Big Ed Bookman. Ideally, I would have wanted John Connally in that role. The film has Robert Preston. And I wouldn't call him foolish any more than I would call him a believable Texan. I would just say that he's The Music Man passing through Dallas.
The team the heroes wind up playing for is Miami—because of Joe Robbie—except the team is owned by a Texan. So Burt and Kris live in Miami instead of New York. And as long as Miami goes to the Super Bowl, the opponent might as well be Dallas instead of the Jets, especially because Ritchie has managed to get the use of the Cotton Bowl for his own game action, along with some footage of the crowd at the 1976 Texas-OU game.
Mind you, these are not the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys. They are just Miami and Dallas. Talk about your No-Name defense—and offense. Nor could the teams wear uniforms that remotely resembled the Dolphins' and Cowboys'. NFL law. Burt and Kris' team is adorned in all white with dark red trim. Carl Weathers' team wears bright red with white trim. The same thing happened to the two playoff opponents, Green Bay and Denver, that Miami must face. Green Bay looks vaguely like Baylor in 1938 and Denver looks strangely influenced by the burnt orange of the Texas Longhorns.
You may ask, as I did, how it is possible for Miami of the American Conference to find itself in a playoff game against Green Bay of the National Conference. It happened essentially because the director wanted to shoot some foul-weather football action. Burt and Kris getting buried in the mud, and all that. A scene on that road trip was also important to the film. It is an interlude in a bar where Burt makes a move on a sleaze, who is wonderfully played by an actress named Mary Jo Catlett.
But in an attempt to rescue the film from what I considered to be a minor, but nevertheless horrifying, technical oversight, I said to Ritchie, "There are foul-weather cities in the American Conference, too. Make it Buffalo or Cleveland, what's the difference?"
He only smiled and said, "Let's say there's been a realignment."
I was instantly struck by a line I had heard or read somewhere in the past: "There would never have been World War II if somebody had let Hitler direct movies."
But it seems I have moved us into what was...
THE ACTUAL SHOOTING
As a location, Dallas was sometimes Miami, and Long Beach, Calif. was sometimes Dallas, Green Bay and Denver, and, in a pure Hollywood upset, Miami was occasionally Miami.
The crew started out in Dallas and stayed there for roughly a month during January and February. For one huge and vital party scene that was supposed to take place outdoors around a swimming pool at Big Ed Bookman's mansion in Miami, somebody found a place in Rendon, Texas, near Dallas, which belonged to a couple named Bill and Bobbye Walker, who raise quarter horses. Almost before they knew it, Bill and Bobbye Walker not only had Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh, Robert Preston and David Merrick in their living rooms for several days, they also had an incredible tangle of cables, lights, cameras, brute arcs, athletes and starlets milling around the premises—to say nothing of hundreds of people trying to climb their fences. To ensure that Rendon, Texas would look like Miami, the film company painted the Walkers' lawn green and brought in palm trees. But not even Michael Ritchie could do anything about the 20° weather. That no one shakes to death or exhales frost during the party scene, especially the bikini-clad starlets, seems a bit remarkable to me.
It is around the pool that Reynolds delivers one of his better lines. His own, by the way, one of many he made up, all of them good, all of them in keeping with the spirit and flavor of the novel. At the pool we find Burt, Kris and Jill casually observing bikinis, and referring back to a girl-rating system of their college days. Kris thinks he may have spotted a Nine, the nearest thing to perfection. Jill claims to be a Ten. No way, according to the guys.
Jill: "In college, you said Emily Kirkland was a Ten."
Burt: "No. I said Emily Kirkland and her sister together were a Ten."
This brings me to an example of what an author of a book can find terribly annoying and then discovers it has no effect on a theater audience. In the novel, a One was the best, not a Ten. It was based on who's No. 1 in college football. And No. I was considered the best on record charts, best-seller lists, top 10 grossers, etc. I asked Michael Ritchie, "If a Ten is the best, what's an Eleven?"
"Good question," he said. "I've heard it both ways. One to ten, and ten to one. I think it's something we can't win either way."
"So why not go with the book?"
"This is the movie," he said, smiling as usual.
When everybody moved to the Cotton Bowl for a whole week's shooting of the football sequences, Tom Fears had his gladiators ready. When Reynolds and Kristofferson found out who had been recruited, they didn't worry so much about the aches and bruises they were bound to accumulate, they worried mostly about embarrassing themselves in front of the pros, although Burt had played football in high school in Georgia and at Florida State, and Kris had played in high school in Texas and at Pomona College. Still, it had been a while.
Among the modest group that Fears had trained to simulate serious football mayhem without damaging a $1 million halfback or split end from good old United Artists Tech, there were: Too Tall Jones, Tom Henderson, Burton Lawless, Bill Gregory, Herb Scott and Tom Rafferty from the Cowboys; Steve Kiner, Zeke Moore, C. L. Whittington and Don Hardeman from the Oilers; Tim Guy from Tampa Bay; Louie Kelcher from the Chargers; Bud Magrum from the Chiefs; Jeff Severson from the Cardinals; all sorts of laborers from the Canadian League; any number of Fears' old chums from the World Football League; and Joe Kapp from the Supreme Court.
The best way to get spectators out to the "games" in a football movie, whether it's in the Cotton Bowl, the Orange Bowl or Veterans Memorial Stadium in Long Beach, is to have Reynolds and Kristofferson on hand. At times, Burt also had Chris Evert, Sally Field or Tammy Wynette on hand, but not many spectators realized it. In any event, if you start with Burt and Kris, you've more than likely assured yourself of 5,000 screamers. But then you have to give away things to get the other 15,000 you need in order for a skilled cameraman to make it seem like a game between somebody other than the Itasca Wampus Cats and the Hutto Hippoes.
In Dallas, the rounding-up process involved enlisting the aid of charities and merchants, distributing leaflets, running radio spots and newspaper ads, recruiting some of the Cowboys' cheerleaders and, for a possible clincher, announcing that a man named A. J. Bakunas would attempt a world-record jump from a helicopter onto an air mattress, and that another man named Marcus Graves would dangle upside down under a helicopter 1,300 feet above the stadium and wriggle out of handcuffs, thumbcuffs and a straitjacket.
The stunts were performed but everyone was looking for Burt and Kris at the time, and I'm not sure if anyone present can tell you today if Bakunas and Graves are still alive.
The truth is, I found an ad in the newspapers to be more fascinating than almost anything United Artists may be held responsible for in the movie. Part of the ad was devoted to instructing the spectator on what to do at a football game. In Texas?
While I have shortened ii somewhat, the ad said:
"Just wear what you would normally to a game but bring an extra bulky coat to fill another seat. You can also bring cameras, binoculars and stadium seats.
"But if you really want to get noticed, well, there are a few tricks to catch the cameraman's eye.
"Just as in a real football game, cameras tend to focus on the ardent fan who is cheering wildly, the pretty blonde in a skimpy T shirt despite sub-zero weather, the fan with a funny homemade poster or the exhibitionist who has two pennants waving from the top of his hat made of recycled beer cans."
You surely can't tell it from the final print but a major difficulty in shooting the game action was that at first many of the pros could not bring themselves to take a real shot at Burt or Kris, who insisted on running their own plays. In the beginning, Reynolds could have been Maureen Stapleton and still gained substantial yardage off tackle.
Of all people, the most timid pro was the Cowboys' Tom Henderson, who is only one of the most vicious headhunters in the league. Henderson has brought a new dimension to hitting at outside linebacker, but he couldn't hit Reynolds or Kristofferson. One afternoon Reynolds said, "Good thing he's saving himself for the season. These pins of mine. Churn you to ashes."
On the various locations, almost everybody wore T shirts that said SEMI-TOUGH on the front and MANY THANKS, BURT REYNOLDS on the back. Reynolds had them made and gave them away by the gross. They were mainly meant for the athletes, whom he claims to admire more than actors.
"Pro football players are very aware people," Reynolds said. "I identify with them. They're not dumb. They have a sense of humor. When I say to Too Tall Jones, who could plant me in the ground if he wanted to, 'Good morning, Too Tall, nice day, isn't it? We haven't met. I'm Shirley Temple,' he can laugh."
When Reynolds and Kristofferson finally did begin to collect some licks, they did not lose their senses of humor. At times, it may not have been easy. Kris kept going up for passes in traffic and coming down with broken fingers and charley horses. But he would say, "I guess I ain't no cardboard cutout, after all."
Kristofferson would also say, "The great thing about football players is they have a great sense of their unimportance. They know the first thing that goes is your legs, the next thing that goes is your reflexes, and the next thing to go are your friends."
One of the interesting things about talking to Kristofferson is that you get to hear rather frequently, if unintentionally, the making of another song. Play E6, honey. The Next Thing to Go Are Your Friends.
This is not, however, what my wife said was the best thing about talking to Kristofferson. After we visited with him on the set one day, she said, "His eyes are the color that Elizabeth Taylor's are supposed to be."
I guess there are women who might also be relieved to know that up close, when it comes to sex appeal, Burt Reynolds is no package of dried fruit. And he is as rapid and charming in person, relaxing, as he seems to so many on TV or in films.
Only a Reynolds could dig himself out of a muddy pileup of players on a watered-down, carefully slimed field in Long Beach, having been hammered repeatedly on the same 10-yard run, take after take, and then come to the sideline and say, "That AstroTurf really bubbles up, doesn't it. Hello. I'm Al Pacino. I live in a loft."
Well, shortly thereafter, the shooting was finally over, leaving only Michael Ritchie's editing, and...
Is Semi-Tough a funny movie? At times, very. Especially if you haven't read the book or never cared for it. As Kristofferson said, "We made Son of Semi, is what we did."
Will it offend anyone? Not grown-ups.
Will it embarrass the NFL? I don't know. How many people in the NFL are into est?
Do Reynolds and Kristofferson take off their shirts? Once each.
What do I think of the whole journey? Mainly, I discovered that people like Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh, Michael Ritchie and David Merrick would be well worth knowing, regardless of their professions. In being continually sensitive to my feelings about the project, David Merrick gets my own personal Oscar in the category of Producer-Writer Relationship.
But as the author of the book, am I not disappointed with the screen version? Well, I never heard of an author who wasn't, including those who wrote the scripts themselves. But Burt Reynolds' portrayal of Billy Clyde certainly eases the pain.
What the film of Semi-Tough actually does is remind me of a conversation I had with a group of movie junkies. The discussion got around to which movie was more faithful to the novel than any movie all of us had ever seen. The consensus was Gone with the Wind.
"That's right," somebody said. "In Gone with the Wind they only left out two of Scarlett's children."