A look inside Hollywood and the movies. : How Hollywood Works: The Saga of Mickey Rourke and the Two Writers
As screenwriter Mark Geldman remembers it, the phone call came from actor Mickey Rourke and it sounded sinister.
“If I were you,” said the raspy, Godfather-like voice on the other end of the line, “I’d be looking out over my shoulder.”
Then the line clicked dead.
“Later on, he (Rourke) claimed it was a joke,” Geldman recalled, “but at the time I thought it was too creepy to disregard.”
Today, Geldman, 37, and his writing partner, Ron Yanover, 36, are involved in a contentious dispute with Rourke’s production company, Red Ruby Productions, over a treatment they wrote for a film called “The Ride.” It is a semi-autobiographical story about a motorcycle racer who returns to his cancer-stricken brother after a long separation and then embarks on a journey with him.
In Hollywood, where having a star attached to a project can be a shortcut to success, Geldman and Yanover saw Rourke as a golden opportunity. But the two never bargained for the tumult that ensued when they agreed to write a treatment based on Rourke’s relationship with his real-life 32-year-old brother, Joey, who is currently in remission for Hodgkin’s disease.
Rourke, says manager Jayne Kachmer, “loves his brother more than anyone.”
The writers claim that they were fired without just cause and are still owed at least $33,000. Red Ruby alleges that the writers violated their contract by failing to attend numerous story meetings and working simultaneously on a script for another production company. The dispute is being arbitrated by the Writers Guild West and a decision is expected next month.
Kachmer said the writers are trying to capitalize on Rourke’s bad-boy image in Hollywood with their allegations, including the Mafioso phone call, which she said never occurred. Rourke did not respond to a request for an interview.
“Everyone would like to condemn Mickey and make him look like a crazy man,” Kachmer said. “But he’s been in this business a long time and proved himself as a artist. These guys (Geldman and Yanover) have been in the business a long time and have yet to prove themselves.”
Perhaps best known for his pouting anti-hero roles in “Diner,” “9 1/2 Weeks” and “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” Rourke in recent years has cultivated a sleazier outcast image in a string of clunkers like “Wild Orchid” and “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man.”
His dispute with Geldman and Yanover had its genesis last year when the writers were working with a producer named Raju Patel, an East Indian whose family comes from Kenya, who is developing a movie with Rourke based on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”
It was through Patel that the writers met Rourke’s manager in August, 1991, and discussed working on the actor’s pet project, “The Ride,” which has been in development for nearly eight years and has gone through several writers.
In October, 1991, Rourke invited the writers to the set of “White Sands” in Santa Fe, N.M., where they spent a weekend going over the story.
And that’s when they entered Rourke’s orbit.
Geldman said that at one of their first meetings, the actor pulled out photographs of Carre Otis, then his girlfriend and now his wife, who had been wounded after a .357 magnum accidentally discharged when she was moving a sack from a table to a countertop in Santa Fe.
“It was of the actual gunshot wound,” Geldman said of the photos. “I believe it was her shoulder. It must have been taken fairly soon after the shooting. These were photographs that were included in (Rourke’s) portfolio of photography. He likes artsy photographs.”
The writers also said they met Rourke’s entourage of “biker types” and “tough guys” who all go by nicknames, like Pink. “They were definitely a colorful bunch,” Geldman said.
(Earlier this year, USA Today noted that Rourke has a tattoo between his left forefinger and thumb that shows a green shamrock, his initials and his lucky number, seven, and that the same tattoo with different colors, numbers and initials has been etched on the skin of 16 Rourke friends.)
And eyebrows were raised when he once showed up at the murder and racketeering trial of New York Mafia boss John Gotti, saying he met the mobster while researching a film about the old Irish mafia.
In November, the writers were back in Hollywood and Rourke’s manager sent them some material to look over before entering into a contract. One afternoon, they said they received a phone call telling them they needed to meet with Rourke at 5 o’clock. When they said it was impossible to meet on such short notice, they could hear Rourke roaring obscenities in the background. After several more phone conversations, Geldman said he finally told Kachmer to stop calling.
It was then, Geldman alleged, that a final call came in.
“Is this Mark?” said the voice in a Marlon Brando-like whisper.
“Yeah,” Geldman said. “Who’s this?”
“I just want to tell you, you’re (expletive deleted) around with the wrong people.”
“What?” There was a long silence, then the voice resumed. “If I were you, I’d be looking out over my shoulder.”
To this day, Kachmer insists that Rourke never made the call, but Geldman said said Rourke later admitted he did but that it was done in humor.
Despite the ominous nature of the call, Geldman said, they agreed to work on “The Ride” because funding for a project with Patel temporarily dried up.
Their work began on Jan. 15. They had been sent previous versions of the screenplay along with hundreds of pages of transcripts consisting of dialogue between Rourke and the director then attached to the project, Leslie Dektor, who said that Rourke was so immersed in the story that he spent two years recording conversations with the actor that when transcribed, went on for “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of pages.
In the weeks that followed, Geldman claimed that meetings would be called and canceled at the last second. But Kachmer blamed the writers for missing 10 of 15 meetings with various excuses. “We didn’t miss any meetings that I am aware of,” Geldman responded.
In one particularly stormy meeting, the writers said Rourke blew up while they were reading aloud from a 40-page treatment.
“Where is the scene with the Indian!?” Rourke screamed at the top of his lungs. The writers looked at each other as if to say, “What Indian?” Rourke then stormed off to his office.
He had mistakenly thought there was supposed to be an Indian scene in the treatment, Geldman said, but he was referring to a scene from a previous draft.
Geldman and Yanover didn’t think the scene would work. “Literally, one character would sit down and begin talking to another and a page-and-a-half later he was still talking.”
Geldman said Rourke saw the movie as a motorcycle journey across the West, beginning in Los Angeles, including a mustang round-up in Montana and concluding with a biker rally in South Dakota. But the writers thought the previous scripts dealt too much with the issue of wild horses and told him he either had to cut that scene or the rally.
“Mickey is an amazing writer,” she said, estimating that Rourke wrote “75-85% of the stuff we provided them. . . . I think anytime an artist is involved in something so completely personal that evolves as your life evolves, it takes on different shades and colors. Even with the prior writers, Mickey had written monologues. He started this whole script.”
The day after Rourke stormed out of the room, another meeting was held, and this time Rourke called and said he would join them. He apologized for his blow-up, Geldman said, but he still had critiques.
“What he said was, ‘Who told you to include these scenes?”’ Geldman recalled. “I said, we wrote them based on discussions we had and the material we went through. We went over this with Jayne.’ He said, ‘I don’t want you to write any scene on your own. I want you guys to consider yourselves hired guns. You’re gunslingers. You come into town and you get out. This is not the place to show how talented and creative you are.’ ”
However, after some discussion, Geldman said it was decided that Rourke would stay out of it. But when they turned in their treatment in early March, they told Kachmer that the overall story now seemed to be an unsatisfactory blend of different directions and objectives.
Two days later, they were informed that Rourke didn’t want to work with them anymore.
“I think they were trying to write their own picture,” Dektor said. “They were not hearing him. Mickey was the subject. (The script) just needed someone to step in and help realize his life.
Kachmer said Rourke is “really upset about this whole thing with these writers” because he opened his life to them and became vulnerable “and now they turn around and do this.”
“The press would always like to portray Mickey as a crazy lunatic which he is not,” she said. “He’s a generous, outgoing, good-hearted human being who is completely misrepresented.”