"Sure, I read Dan's piece," said Michael Ritchie about the cover story in Sports Illustrated by Dan [WORD ILLEGIBLE] on Ritchie's new movie version of Jenkins' irresistible "Semi-tough," the 1972 best-seller about the amorous exploits of two NFL stars during Super Bowl Week. "I expected some pretty good zingers," Ritchie [WORD ILLEGIBLE]. "In fact, I expected more [WORD ILLEGIBLE] than I got."
Ritchie, the director of "Downhill [WORD ILLEGIBLE]," "The Candidate," "Smile" and The Bad News Bears," was stopping Washington to host a preview showing of "Semi-Tough" at the Eisenower Film Institute's 10th anniversary series. The movie, which co-stars Burt [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and Kris Kristofferson as the football players (running back [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Clyde Puckett and wide receiver [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Tiller) and Jill Clayburgh as the roommate they love (Barbara Jane [WORD ILLEGIBLE], begins commercial engagements today.
Jenkins and Ritchie seem to have differed, more or less amocably, over the abiding issue of how faithful a movie version should remain to its original source. In his article Jenkins indicated a clear preference for an earlier screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr., who kept the comic focus on football, over the final screenplay by Walter Bernstein, who helped Ritchie shift the focus to romantic comedy and satirical impressions of the consciousness movement, notably "Rolfing," which is transmuted into "Pelfing," and est, which has inspired a fanciful regimen called "Bismarck Energy Attrack Training."
"When I approached United Artists about doing a film version," said Ritchie, "it was with the idea of using two guys in love with the same gal for a classic sort of '40s comedy treatment, plus the idea of updating the material by working in the consciousness movement. It's understandable that Dan preferred the first script, since it was just a paste-up of the novel. It added one character, but retained the episodic structure and lock-room humor. Basically, Dan was getting his own book reflected back at him.
"I never thought we could afford to stand pat with the original structure and sources of humor. As a matter of fact, it was Dan himself who suggested the direction we finally took. Much as I enjoyed the article, I think he was being misleading when he implied that I had dreamed up the changes. At the end of the novel Shake Tiller is already into the consciousness movement; he's heading for India to confer with his guru. That's where I got the idea for a slightly different approach. It wasn't a random choice.
"Dan also claimed that I had frivolously changed the heroes' girl-rating system so that on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 was the tops instead of 1. I never said it wouldn't make any difference which way we did it. I thought his way of doing it, with 1 the top rating, made no sense, and everyone else I talked to found it more natural to go from 1 to 10 instead of 10 to 1. I thought a change was definitely necessary for the sake of clarity. Dan even goes on to praise Burt for ad-libbing a joke that couldn't have existed unless we'd flip-flopped his rating system. Dan's a great humorist, but if he was having a little joke at my expense on this point, I think he contradicted himself."
Ritchie said screenwriter Bernstein, whom he approached after reading "The Front," volunteered to go through a "Rolfing" session in order to bring firsthand experience to a sequence in which Lottle Lenya, cast as Clara Pelf, founder of the Pelf Institute of Muscular Harmony, subjects Burt Reynolds to an excruciating treatment.
"Walter came back in consiserable pain," Ritchie said, "but oddly enough he was willing to undergo further treatments. When I asked him why, he sort of shugged and said, 'I guess it's a very Jewish form of therapy.'"
The movie was made with the co-operation of Joe Robbie, the owner of the Miami Dolphins, though without the cooperation of the NFL. "Dan's account of this aspect was very accurate," Ritchie said. "I especially liked his crack about the league having cooperated with 'Black Sunday' but not with us, leading to the conclusion that the NFL preferred to be identified with terrorism and mass murder rather than humor and romance.
"Joe Robbie was wonderful, but we knew we never stood a chance with the league after Pete Rozelle said he'd submit our request to a vote of the owners.
"David Merrick, our producer, is a friend of Carroll Rosenbloom, so for a time we thought we'd have the cooperation of the Rams, too. But then their general manager, Don Klosterman read the script and thought the characterization of the team owner, an oil man played by Robert Preston, was totally unacceptable. We tried to persuade him that the character couldn't possibly be confused with any real NFL owners, that it was closer to Charlie Finley, particularly at the time he was telling Alvin Dark how to run the A's.
"He didn't buy it, so we had to depict pro football without referring to the NFL. That's why the teams can be Miami, Dallas, Green Bay and Denver, but never the Dolphins, the Cowboys, the Packers and the Broncos.
"It complicated my problems, since I was subordinating the football stuff we shot look authentic. A few weeks ago I had to stop a studio press release that referred to Billy Clyde Puckett of the Miami Dolphins. 'Hold it!' I screamed. 'We still don't have NFL permission to refer to the Dolphins.'"