Will SCOTUS Rulings Help Greenlight Gay Film ‘The Front Runner’?

Deadline Hollywood reports that a film version of Patricia Nell Warren's novel The Front Runner, perennially trapped in development hell, may be receiving renewed attention from Hollywood producers and development executives given this week's historic decisions handed down by the Supreme Court:

Frontrunner"The subject matter — a handsome ex-Marine college track coach who has
kept his sexuality secret until he becomes the coach of a world-class
runner he falls in love with, until they declare their love right before
he becomes a gold medalist, and deal with the tragic consequences of an
intolerant society — has long tempted Hollywood but always fell short
of the start line.

'For me, as the author, this was always about two characters who wanted
to be married,' she said. 'In the early ’70s, that wasn’t possible. The
closest they could get was a personal commitment ceremony, which was a
big thing in the early ’70s. If my characters were alive today, they
would be tremendously excited by what the Supreme Court did this week.'"

Many have tried to turn the groundbreaking 1974 novel that has sold over 10 million copies into a feature film, including Paul Newman, director Frank Perry (Mommie Dearest), and producer Jerry Wheeler. The story also received revived interest after the success of Brokeback Mountain when many in Hollywood were looking to capitalize on the financial success of that film. Though financing has yet to be secured, Perry has finally regained the rights to her novel after a protracted battle, thus clearing the way for production to begin should backers step up to the plate.



  1. UFFDA says

    This is very interesting although the tragic ending to the novel would not now resonate in any positive way with our far more positive present. We need no more tragedy. Patrician Neal Warren should re-write the ending. The animals among us have no place in our better story.

  2. Tatts says

    I hope this doesn’t get made. The Front Runner was from a time when all gay stories had to end tragically. We weren’t allowed to be happy because we were gay. And Patricia Nell Warren toed that line for the sake of the publisher. Those days are past.

    We don’t need to make a movie in 2013 of a story whose ending was already old hat and predictable when it was written.

    On the other hand, we could use a GOOD, modern gay movie. God knows, by and large gay films suck. We deserve a LOT better than we’re getting, as any gay film festival will show in crystal clarity–bad stories, bad acting, bad editing (horrible acting and editing, actually).

  3. Lymis says

    What we need for a cultural breakthrough is an action thriller with car chases and assassins and all that sort of spy vs spy stuff, but with two gay men – both of whom can hold their own on the action front, or one government agent/ex-military and the other a computer genius or something similar so that they are both needed to solve the problem – or something like the recent Bourne Identity with two men.

    Not that we can’t have wonderful tragic gay love stories, and certainly, an Olympic athlete and coach break the stereotypes, too.

    How about the next modernized remake of A Star is Born with two men or two women in the leads?

  4. Douglas says

    I was shocked when I read this about The Front Runner, but it points out that gay men and women are not so different after all :

    “She started outlining The Front Runner as a story about a lesbian coach and one of her runners, who became lovers. Very quickly, she began to realize that, in that concept, there were a couple of inherent flaws.

    “There were no women coaches when I wrote this book. When I finally looked around at real life I thought, nobody will believe this because there aren’t any women coaches in track.” The story simply wouldn’t have credibility if it involved two women.

    “Plus, if you were going to have a cliff-hanger story about being outed on the way to the Olympics, if you were a woman athlete, you’re automatically suspect by many people anyway.” She decided to develop the story about a male couple, instead.”


  5. tieMYlaces? says

    there were rumors back in the 80s of ONJ’s hot boyfriend/now exhusband playing the athlete, enjoyed the book but it did not end well…. if the ending is kept it should be a period piece or do two versions, modern & period 😉

  6. says

    I worry this book is now too dated for a movie. 40 years ago this would have been great but no one would make it. Also, the ending…oy. hardly anything with gay people in it had a happy ending, even novels which no one but other gay people were ever going to read. We’ve moved on. It was groundbreaking in its time, but that time has passed, I think.

  7. Caliban says

    I read The Front Runner as a teenager and it helped me come out to myself at least, but I agree with the others here. We’ve had enough the-queer-dies-in-the-end movies, thanks.

    And I definitely agree that sexuality no longer needs to be the POINT of the movie. Make it a mystery, thriller, adventure, comedy or whatever but with gay characters.

  8. UFFDA says

    Lymis has some great ideas. Plus, the gay stereotypes ought to be just as “over” as the tragic endings. Although the heel of a draq queen stuck in the gut of a neo-Nazi could be pretty satisfying.

  9. Henry Holland says

    “The Front Runner was from a time when all gay stories had to end tragically”

    That’s one of reasons that EM Forster didn’t publish “Maurice” in his lifetime. Given the horrible legal climate for homosexuals in England until the Wolfenden reforms of 1967, he was afraid that he’d be prosecuted because Maurice and Alec live happily ever after.

    As for “The Front Runner”, it’s horribly dated and the choice in a movie is to make it a period piece or to change the ending, neither of which appeals to me.

  10. Russ says

    I remember in the early/mid 80wv reading an article about Paul Newman being interested in making it (both behind & in front of the camera. Paul playing the coach, with among others, the very young (pre Scientology) Tom Cruise. Also talk of Jan Michael Vincent, before he lost his looks, Rob Lowe.

    If she rewrote the tragic ending to be a happy one, I think it’d be great. Damon or Affleck as the coach, with one of the young out actors, or even Efron as Billy. John Barrowman as Billy’s dad, & I bet Ru Paul could do Billy’s transgender stepmom.

    Outside of the Frontrunner trilogy, Ms Warren wrote another good one which had a much better ending. The Fancy Dancer, about a Native American fancy dancer (he’s out, in SD no less) & a closeted young priest, who fall in love.

  11. Caliban says

    Actually, of the novels she wrote in the 70s Warren’s The Beauty Queen, about an Anita Bryant-like anti-gay politician discovering that her father is gay, might make the best movie.

    I think in the book she might not have been a politician but, like Bryant, an anti-gay celebrity. Update it a bit to make her a Bachmann-type politician and it has the potential to be a really great film. Lots of potential drama and scene-chewing there. Oscar bait, even.

  12. Alan Arthur Chiras says

    This was interesting to read esp since I just became friends with Ms. Warren this week. We talked about some of these thing with what happened this week and she knows about some of the criticism. As someone who has an interesting, I would like to see this done As IS. The killing at Olympic Stadium needs to be in there. Ironically, The Montreal Olympics was the first one I attended and can see still how the direction should be done. I’m going to forward these comments to her and see what she thinks. Thank you all.

  13. (the other)jamesintoronto says

    I disagree that this movie should not be made because it’s “of it’s time”. That would mean that Brokeback Mountain couldn’t be made. While the ending is tragic it also reflects the times and how gay rights were viewed. i would want to keep the script set in 1976 to accurately reflect the times and the social views held in this period. The Front Runner could be a great movie and a great reminder of how far we have come.

  14. jaragon says

    This is one of those movie projects that may never get made-I tried reading it and if does feel very late 60’s early 70’s- it would have to be done as period piece or need major re-write. There are plenty of young actors who could play the runner but you need some older name star for the coach- too bad Michael Douglas is too old.

  15. simon says

    There did exist gay novels in the 70’s with happy ending. One example is “consenting adults” by Laura Hobson. It was even made into a TV movie in the 80’s starring Marlo Thomas and Martin Sheen.

  16. aj says

    Yes a tragic ending love story but in 1974 it was an amazing story of what life could be…. still a classic……and trust me everyone of those 10 Million copies helped 20 million young/middle age/older gay Americans to have hope that the future might be brighter…that Love was there, that one day in 2013 – 13 American States and the DC would actually be the reality.. I know because i was one of them in 1974 who bought the book, loaned the book to a friend, and I still keep that book on my shelf and today i loan it out to younger gay men who have never heard of it.. and every time it comes back it has more tear stains.. But every time it comes back hope is born in a new reader…..

  17. says

    I was a college freshman at the University of the Philippines when I first read The Front Runner, in 1977. Only Mary Renault’s The Charioteer surpasses it as my personal soul-shaping favorite gay novel, to this day. Believe me, the emotional / intellectual / spiritual touch stone Patricia Neal Warren created rippled and resonated with way beyond the borders of American culture and millieu. Even if it had never been translated into other languages (and I don’t know that), an informal internet survey will in all likelihood suggest that at least 50 million gay men 40 yrs old and older from all over the world will be able to afford the ticket to see this memory lane movie. Even if they don’t change the ending.

  18. Scooter says

    This story f*cked up my psyche as a teenager. While Brokeback Mountain for gays is a cautionary tale, (live out & with love because life is too short) Front Runner just depressed the hell out of me because when they finally accept their love, the front runner dies in the end. As gays the message was received as “your beautiful love will never be tolerated by the universe,” even though the assassin was gay. The love scene in the theater was amazing for its time. If she could change it so maybe the assassin’s bullet is not fatal, then I might see it. But if he truly dies in the end, there is no reason to see it, much less make the movie to begin with. On a side note, a huge deal is made that Harlan Brown is a hairy man & Billy Sive is not. They should keep the casting in line with that. For it speaks to the whole concept of complimentary aspects, older man/younger man, brunette/blond, kicker/front runner, hairy/smooth.

  19. Ronny says

    While there are not a lot of gay films being made, we certainly still have a problem with violence against the community. I think the original ending should stand. And I appreciate the fact that Ms. Warren takes the time to demonstrate Billy’s legacy at the end of the novel. The film should do the same.

  20. stick says

    The best film I have seen with primarily gay characters was just released on DVD (Jun 25). It is¨Ïn The Family¨ . Written, produced, directed, and acted by Patrick Wang, it was the #1 hit of this year´s Ebertfest, and got an immediate standing ovation from the predominantly straight crowd. I am sure it will gradually become known as the best gay film so far.

  21. Brent says

    I disagree strongly. A movie version should be produced…if only to remind us of how far we have come! PNW-I’ll donate and thank you for your writing TFR!

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