Chuck Klausing was hired to coach the Braddock High School Tigers football team. I was just starting High School, but I was going to a parochial school that didn’t have a football team. I had played grade school football and some of my teammates were going to play on the Braddock High team.
Klausing took a less than mediocre football team and went undefeated during his coaching time there. The team set a national record as the best high school football team ever and was a beam of light to a dying community. Braddock was dependent on the Edgar Thomson Works of U. S. Steel for its employment. The Works was the largest steel mill on earth, employing most of the community because of open hearth furnaces that needed huge numbers of steelworkers. The basic oxygen process was being introduced for more efficiency and that eliminated labor requirements in the industry by a factor of a thousand. Devastating.
There was a strike of the steelworkers protesting these moves and others that further devastated the community. This extended strike virtually destroyed the American Steel Industry and the town. Some have said that this football team was the only light in their lives. No one can challenge the importance of the sport of football in that area, not Texas, not Ohio, nowhere.
Klausing, an ex Marine, bought extraordinary discipline to the team. They were crisp, militaristic, dedicated, physical. To put things in perspective, the WPIAL, Western Pennsylvania Interscholasic Athletic League, was responsible for the best slate of great football players, including Tony Dorsett, Joe Namath, Joe Montana, Mike Ditka, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, and especially Johnnie Unitas, so what Klausing achieved was remarkable. Sports Illustrated gave the town some fame with an article called, A TOWN AND ITS TEAM.
Some of my grade school teammates were part of those teams and I sometimes wondered what would have happened had I gone to that school, rather than my Catholic school. Some of my other friends were interesting. One was ostracized by the Catholic neighborhood because his mother was divorced. Yeah, believe it. His father was an extreme alcoholic, almost the town drunk. Something you can’t see today. Another was a badboy but great athlete. He was a good friend, but my father forbade me to hang out with him. I disobeyed my father. The Greek had an after school hangout, and Petey had a great car, a chopped and channeled Mercury right out of James Dean. Petey worked three jobs and still went to school. He married a fourteen- year old when he was sixteen. Jackie had an affair with his high school English teacher when he was sixteen. Jackie was far older than his years. Mina was a little older and willing, worked in what would now be called a bodega, and we hung out there and caused problems on the corner. The police came around steadily to ‘break us up.’ Didn’t work. Several of us were arrested for loitering, but it was just a sham from bored cops. When we wanted to get laid, we would go to the local AZA where we could always find a willing Jewish girl, not unlike stuff in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. The Cathoilc girls in the neighborhood were too tough.
I never was much interested in the scripts of others. I wanted to tell my own stories my way. This probably came from my early experience making documentary films. So, I wrote my own stories, and this one was based on the people I knew but I didn’t know anything about the coach.
I had Coach Klausing interviewed extensively about his experiences at Braddock High and I wrote the script about the the ’town and its team.’ After I met Bill Heater, I asked him to work on it and he added some magnificent stuff, especially the dialogue. The story was a version of McMurtry’s LAST PICTURE SHOW, a book and film I admired, a study of a small town’s decline.
At the same time, I was offered the film, ALL THE RIGHT MOVES, with Tom Cruise. I met with the producer and told him I didn’t like his script and that mine was better, more accurate, honest, and interesting. Of course, my agent screamed at me for behaving in such an insulting manner, but she got Warner Brothers to commit to my script.
The deal fell apart after a while when the studio wanted to attach other writers.