Less than six months after pulling his screenplay Blaze of Glory off the market, Joe Eszterhas has set up the Otis Redding project at Universal Pictures in a seven-figure deal that has Fried Green Tomatoes producers Jon Avnet and Jordan Kerner attached to produce. Avnet may also direct.
Blaze of Glory focuses on the friendship between the black singer and his white manager, Phil Walden.
Speaking from her home in Macon, Ga., Zelma Redding said she has been approached several times since her husband's death in a plane crash 28 years ago about a movie based on his life.
"I've been praying on this ever since I met Joe (last spring)," Mrs. Redding said. "I'm so happy this is going to happen. Otis did so much for the music industry and he was such a nice person."
"The story is, to a large degree, about Otis Redding's relationship with his family and myself, to the South as a region and to his music," said Walden, who heads Capricorn Records in Nashville. "This is an optimistic story of black and white relationships. The timing is most appropriate for a positive story along these lines."
Eszterhas, best known as the screenwriter for Basic Instinct, was probably the last person to interview Otis Redding. As a young reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he caught Redding in a gig at Leo's Casino in Cleveland on Dec. 10, 1967, and spoke with him hours before Redding's twin-engine airplane went down in a lake near Madison, Wis.
"Otis always stayed in Joe's mind," Mrs. Redding said.
When he died, Redding was on the verge of developing a strong national following such as the one enjoyed by fellow soul singer Ray Charles.
Black R&B artists began crashing the Top 40 charts in the early 1960s after years of watching white singers climb those very charts with cover versions of their R&B songs.
Soul with its blues and gospel orientation was coming into its heyday in 1967 and Redding was about to be crowned its king.
Redding's songs included I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now), Try a Little Tenderness, Tramp and _ most famously _ (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, recorded less than three weeks before his death and issued in January 1968. The record sold 4-million copies by that May. It was the first posthumous No. 1 hit of the rock 'n' roll era.
Whether the movie soundtrack will consist of old Redding recordings or new recordings has yet to be determined, Walden said.
"I can tell you this," he said, "the movie will be filled with incredible music."