Kelly Film still in Development…

Jack Kelly, Snr., and Jack ‘Kell’ Kelly at Henley.

17 May 2017

Göran R Buckhorn is looking forward to the Jack Kelly film, but…

I, and I believe many of HTBS readers, enjoyed reading Tim Koch’s two-piece story about the rowing Kellys – and a little bit of Grace – of Philadelphia on Monday and Tuesday. It is not only Tim who wonders what happened to the film about the Kellys which I wrote about on 6 January 2014. The film, based on Dan Boyne’s book, Kelly: A Father, A Son, An American Quest (2008), was then, in the beginning of 2014, ‘in development’, but what has happened since then, will there be a movie, or not?

Tim proclaims that it would be an easy movie to pitch. He writes:

… it must have been an easy movie to pitch to the producers. In the Kelly saga, John ‘Jack’ Brendan Kelly Sr, one of nine children of poor Irish immigrants, becomes a sporting hero, a millionaire businessman and a classic American patriarch. However, the haughty English establishment (allegedly) robs him of Henley glory – but he gets revenge three times over when he beats their man at the Olympics and when his handsome son, Kell, twice wins the prize denied to him. Further, his beautiful daughter, Grace, becomes an Oscar-winning Hollywood movie star and marries a Prince. Years later, all is apparently forgiven and Henley names a race after the Princess. Roll the credits…

It is a good sum up of the Kellys’ tale, and one would think it could work as a synopsis for a film – well, if it would be a Gone with the Wind-length movie (which is 238 minutes long, according to Wikipedia), which the Kelly film is not going to be. How do I know this? I have read the script. Or, maybe better expressed, I have read one of the early drafts of the script for the Kelly film (this due to being the editor of Boyne’s Kelly: A Father, A Son, An American Quest).

While we rowing history buffs might look forward to a ‘rowing film’ – after all it is supposed to be based on Boyne’s rowing biography of Jack Kelly and his son, ‘Kell’ – Hollywood film producers might see it differently.

As Tim mentions, Jack Kelly, Snr., lived an interesting life: he was a tough boy, who grew up in a rough neighbourhood; an Army ambulance driver in France during World War I; started to box in the Army and got far; came home to the poor neighbourhood in Philadelphia to continue to work as a bricklayer and to row (successfully) on the Schuylkill River and other waterways on the east coast; started a company, with the slogan: ‘Kelly for Brickwork’; played professional football (ah, every American boy’s dream); got snubbed to row in the Diamonds at Henley in 1920 (‘bloody Englishmen’, an Irishman would think); but defeated the Diamonds’ winner, Jack Beresford, by one second in the Olympic two-boat final the same year; took one more Olympic gold at Antwerp, in the double sculls (with his cousin, Paul Costello) and then became Olympic champion in the boat class again in Paris four years later; by then Kelly had married the beautiful fashion model and swim star Margaret Majer, who was ten years his junior; started a family, which grew to include three beautiful girls and one handsome boy, who would avenge his father’s Henley rebuff (twice); became a wealthy man (ah, the second American dream); saw one of his daughters become a celebrated Oscar-winning movie star (Kelly didn’t really like Grace’s acting dream), who married a European Prince but first after Kelly had coughed up a $2 million dowry; Kelly became a politician in Philadelphia and on a federal level (National Physical Fitness Director for President Eisenhower), but maybe the film makers should skip this part, as politics in the U.S. right now is a minefield best avoided.

Which parts of Kelly’s rich life will be in the upcoming film? War is always popular in movies, and other themes are poor against rich, lower class against upper class (read: American/Irish against English), American sport (read: football, and after the book The Boys in the Boat now also rowing, if it means an Olympic gold medal), boy gets beautiful girl, alternative ‘princess’ gets prince.

A rare image of a young Grace Kelly in a boat. Photo: Pinterest.

The draft of the screen play I read some years ago – and yes, it needed some work – probably has very few similarities to the final script that the three script writers, Will Conroy, Paul Tamasy and Eric Johnson, now have delivered to Flashlight Films, which is making the movie. Allyn Stewart and Todd Hagopian are the producers, and Kipp Nelson is the executive producer. One of Flashlight Films latest films, Sully, which was released last year, became a great success. This film is about the hero Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot of flight 1549, who made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in January 2009. Sullenberger was played by Tom Hanks and the film was directed by Clint Eastwood.

So the Kelly film is still a go, and Flashlight Films has it up on its website as a ‘project in development’. So far, nothing has leaked out who is going to play Jack Kelly, his parents, sisters and brothers, Jack Beresford, Paul Costello, Kell Kelly, or Grace.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will be a good rowing film as too many previous rowing films have been a turkey. Please call in Kelly expert Dan Boyne, who has experience working with rowing in films. He was the expert for the rowing scenes in The Social Network (2010) though Boyne’s movie career started much earlier. He had a small part, as an extra, in the rowing movie Rowing Through (1996).

Update: In an e-mail this morning, rowing historian Chris Dodd reminds me that some years ago, the River and Rowing Museum in Henley had plans to open an exhibit about Jack Kelly and Jack Beresford. Unfortunately, lack of funding made it impossible to mount the exhibit. However, the script for the exhibit still exits.

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