Working for the Times in Europe I covered the sport, if it was a sport, for seven seasons. I officiated, for nothing was official in those days or now until the Times wrote it up, at the fatal crashes of many drivers. Many spectators too. Before, during and after races I hung over so many booming cockpits that my hearing today is in a deteriorated state. The drivers were my age, and they talked constantly, blithely about getting killed. They fascinated me, and so did those sleek, deadly machines, the last word in invention, that murdered so many of them. I wrote what I saw. Hardened fans disapproved of me; said I was hurting the sport. I wrote three of my early books about all this, two of which are still in print. The third was a novel called The Fast One which did not sell well. The fans had had enough of me, and it was a subject about which, apart from fans, no one in those pre TV days knew or cared much about.
We moved back to America,, and my phone started ringing. Hollywood. It was 1965. Two Grand Prix films were being planned. Both impresarios pretended they had to have me, couldn’t go forward without my knowledge, my insights. Both pretended to have signed Steve McQueen as star. One of them in a press release claimed to have signed me. I understood without being told that my New York Times connection, not me especially, might help raise the millions needed to make their films.
I signed with one of them. They bought one of my books and paid me to write a long treatment containing all of my priceless “knowledge and insights.” The other film then sued me for millions for breach of contract. I turned in my treatment which was immediately junked, and I was immediately dropped from the project. By then I guess they had got the money they needed. Better still, they had successfully, if temporarily sunk the other film, beating it into the theaters by several years.
Both films focused on speeding race cars. Neither contained any believable characters or events or emotion, not to mention any insights, brilliant or otherwise. The fast cars and the fantastic, dramatic world in which they raced came out on film as empty and dull. Both films died at the box office.
And poisoned the waters for any other Grand Prix film.
Fifteen years went by before another, sufficiently brave producer came forward. He optioned The Fast One and paid me to write a screenplay. But he was never able to raise enough money to go forward, which didn’t surprise me. The waters had stayed poisoned.
Another twenty five years began to pass. From time to time I received feelers from Hollywood. Were my books available, was I available? Nothing came of these queeries, the waters being poisoned still, I supposed.
And then this year along came Ron Howard and RUSH, written by Peter Morgan, a film I found delightful, brilliant, full of real people, full of the glamour, tension and dying of the Grand Prix world. Neither man ever called me. Probably they don’t know I exist. But for two hours they showed me the world I had known, and I admired them for knowing how to give it back to me, and to everyone else. RUSH is already in profit, I believe, having taken in over $90 million so far.