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Douglas's iconic movie story is up where it belongs on Sheffield stage

Emma Williams as Paula Pokrifki and Jonny Fines as Zack Mayo in the iconic last scene of An Officer and a Gentleman
Emma Williams as Paula Pokrifki and Jonny Fines as Zack Mayo in the iconic last scene of An Officer and a Gentleman
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The man behind the musical based on his screenplay for the Oscar-winning film spoke about how it was based on his own youth.

Douglas Day Stewart also wrote scripts for many TV shows inciuding western Bonanza, detective show Cannon and other films such as Blue Lagoon and The Scarlet Letter, which he also directed.
He was called up for compulsory military service in the US in 1965, when the US was fighting in Vietnam. He said: “I was an actor in a Shakespeare repertory company and we’d just finished doing Richard III.
“Still in make-up, I rushed to a dinner engagement. There was a man in a white uniform, looking resplendent.
“I knew I had a big decision to make soon. I thought, do you want to die as an army man or marine in some muddy ditch or as a naval officer and live to see the end of the war?
“That was a no brainer so I signed up for officer cadet school on Rhode Island.
“We had a drill instructor like the guy I wrote about.
“We would rush into town when we finally got liberty (leave) and date these girls from the Fall River factory who wanted to meet a naval aviator and escape their dead end life.
“I fell in love with a factory girl and went through all these experiences.
“When it came time to write about it, I made Zack a little tougher than I had been, more of a working class hero with a motorcycle and a tattoo.”
Although we may think of the 1982 movie, starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger that made Luke Gossett Jr the first black actor to win an Oscar for his portrayal of the hard-driving drill sergeant as a Hollywood blockbuster, Douglas said the film was made for very little money.
He remembered having arguments with director Taylor Hackford and Richard Gere over the now iconic ending, which they thought was too sentimental.
“Normally you’re shut off the set and really there isn’t anything left of your script. This terrified me so I said maybe you could let me be an associate producer.”
Douglas said: “I became close with Richard Gere because our dads were both insurance salesmen, so he could relate to the ‘tough love’ dad I had written in the film.
“Richard said he didn’t believe the ending as at all realistic, it really wouldn’t happen in the modern era.
“In the scene, Richard and Debra were walking out of the factory. I said, ‘What happened to the way I wrote it?’ They said, ‘You don’t believe that some officer would walk into the factory and pick a girl up in his arms?’ I said, ‘Just one time do it my way’, so he did.”
Douglas said that it has taken him 15 years to get the story made into a musical. “The basis for it was on how emotionally people reacted to the film, that the stage should be a perfect home.
“I didn’t know whether it should be a stage show or a musical.”
He praised former Sheffield Theatres associate director Nikolai Foster, who directed the show, for helping him to realise his dream.
“It has been one of the great experiences of my artistic life. The result is true to the movie but embraces a lot of the new feelings of female empowerment without feeling tacked on.”
The show features many of the big pop hits of the day, including Up Where We Belong, which was sung by Sheffield’s own Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes and was a huge hit that came from the film.

An Officer and a Gentleman: the Musical is at Sheffield Lyceum from June 4 to 9. Box office: www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk