Moviemakers set to tell Moe's story

…he first heard of Norman seven or eight years ago, when Golf Digest ran a long cover feature on the Canadian, an autistic savant once described by Lee Trevino as "the best ball-striker I ever saw come down the pipe.''…There has never been a Canadian — been anyone — quite like Moe Norman.

The Toronto Star
October 24, 2003

Moviemakers set to tell Moe's story
Rain Man co-writer puts together deal
Dave Perkins

Canadian golf great Moe Norman is out of hospital — and on to the big screen.

A Hollywood production on the life of the ball-striking legend is being assembled by the man who won the Academy Award several years ago for writing the picture Rain Man.

Norman, 74 and recovering from a recent hospital stay in Kitchener, earlier this week got a cheer-up phone call from screen writer Barry Morrow, who several years ago optioned Moe's life story for a movie. The project, Morrow told him, looks like a go. Actors, likely including Dennis Quaid and possibly George Clooney, and a Canadian director, as yet unnamed, have been contracted and financing is in place. Shooting can begin next spring in the Kitchener area, Morrow said yesterday from his home in Los Angeles.

"It's all getting there. We have an actor and director committed, although I'm not at liberty to identify them just yet. We have financing in place. All we need is the distribution to get sorted out,'' said Morrow, who shared the 1988 best original screenplay Oscar for Rain Man.

Norman, who has a weak heart despite triple-bypass surgery six years ago, was admitted to hospital Oct.8 with heart problems and things looked grim for a while. After what his great friend Gus Maue said "were a couple of pretty scary times,'' Moe has recovered to the point he has been installed in an assisted-living facility in the Waterloo area.

So the news is turning good for him; he's already received a $50,000 (U.S.) first payment from the moviemakers.

His decades of living in a motel room are over, although the motel gave Maue the bed from his room, which he had transferred to Moe's new digs so he'd feel a little more comfortable. Norman won't be able to make his annual Florida winter visit, for the first time in 54 years, but doctors say he should be able to play golf again if his diet improves and he gets his health back under control.

Morrow said he first heard of Norman seven or eight years ago, when Golf Digest ran a long cover feature on the Canadian, an autistic savant once described by Lee Trevino as "the best ball-striker I ever saw come down the pipe.'' A quote in the story from Maue's wife Audrey, said Moe might be described as the Rain Man of golf. That caught his eye and he read the piece and decided there was a story there worth telling.

"I'd just started golfing and I was fascinated. I said I've got to meet this guy,'' Morrow said.

He spent a long time tracking down Norman. Moe would proudly show Morrow's letters around, but didn't act on them. Then Norman had his heart surgery and the project idled.

About six years ago, Morrow got it going again and flew up to meet the golfer.

"I drove through a cold rain and got to his motel and knocked on his door,'' Morrow said. "He came to the door in his boxers, holding a 3-wood, then turned around and walked away. Gus (Maue) talked to him and Moe finally said to me, ‘Do you want to talk to me, Knucklehead?’ Ever since then he calls me Knucklehead. That's how I knew he liked me.''

Morrow said the project bobbed along, with Warner Brothers interested. "Then The Legend of Bagger Vance came out and did zero business and golf went from being the darling child to something nobody wanted to do a movie about.''

Warner Brothers dropped its option, but Morrow, who had completed the screenplay, continued it as an independent project and secured financing. Now production wheels are turning and locations are being scouted in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. Norman showed Morrow around, showed him the hill where he was in a terrible toboggan accident as a 5-year-old, the scene Morrow said will begin the picture. Morrow also said shooting locations will include Florida "and I even thought of Cuba, which still has that 1950s look, the vehicles and so on. There are still things to be decided.''

He felt the time had come to confirm to Moe that the project was moving forward, so Morrow called him earlier this week.

"The other night I said, ‘Moe, we’re going to make the movie. You might have to go to the premier in a limo. Is that okay?' He said, ‘I don’t need to see it.'''

Well, a lot of us do. There has never been a Canadian — been anyone — quite like Moe Norman. Unless Hollywood tears it apart — and remember Hollywood made up stuff about sports characters such as Babe Ruth and Seabiscuit — it should be a picture worth seeing.

Morrow's other projects often feature what he calls "outsiders … good-hearted people who aren't always understood.'' His credits include the television production Bill, starring Mickey Rooney, about a retarded man who gets married, and a 1996 picture called Race The Sun, starring Halle Berry before she became a big star, about a group of misfit kids who build a solar-powered vehicle and win a competition with it.

"We were concerned with how Moe would be portrayed,'' Maue said. "Our lawyer, Ron Mark, spent a long time handling the contract, spelling that out. We were satisfied. Barry Morrow is obviously sensitive in this area. Moe got $50,000, he'll get $150,000 when the picture's done and he has a small percentage of the profits.''

Everybody in golf, it seems, has a Moe Norman story and Maue thought he had heard them all. But Morrow has gotten so interested in Norman that "he has Moe stories that even I haven't heard yet,'' Maue said yesterday.

Between his new home, his many friends including Maue and his Hollywood connections, it sounds as if Moe Norman's in great hands these days.

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