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Lights. Camera. Action. Sort'a...

Who Would Have Believed The Truth?

By Brad Niemcek

Lights.  Camera.  Action.  Sort'a...

A lot of questions came to mind while we pounded down those highways in November of 1971. There wasn't much else to do. Oscar, Tony and I were not close enough friends to have all that much to talk about. And, as I've already noted, the inside of the PRDA van was very noisy especially at the speeds we were running so talking would have been difficult anyway.

So, when I was neither driving nor navigating I had a lot of time on my hands. And a fair number of questions came popping up.

"What happens if we get arrested?" "What happens if we crash this thing?" "Is this perhaps the stupidest thing I've ever tried to do?" There were all kinds of questions like that bumping around in my brain. But I do not ever recall asking myself, "Wouldn't this make a great movie?"

Like most reasonably normal folks, I don't see my life unfolding as a screenplay. That may be because I am not a Hollywood type. I love movies, but with popcorn, if you know what I mean.

So I was surprised when Brock Yates called to ask me whether I had any objection to being in a Cannonball movie.

Well, he didn't exactly say we'd be "in" the movie. He wanted to know if I had a problem with being depicted in the movie.

Bud Stanner, Brock's agent, was negotiating a Hollywood deal for him. Brock, as "owner" of the Cannonball, would of course get paid for "use" of the concept and, in fact, Brock was to be the screenwriter.

Stanner looked after Brock's interests in Hollywood, no easy matter. And Brock himself was given the job of negotiating a deal with us. He asked us, in essence, if we would agree to be depicted in the movie for free. And to waive any rights to influence how we would be depicted. Or anything else. No bobble-head dolls. No line of PRDA Cannonball clothing. No diecast models of the PRDA van.

To top it off, he said he had no idea how the PRDA would look in the movie because he had not yet begun writing the script.

Heck of a deal, don't ya think?

All three of the founding members of the PRDA agreed, of course. After all, Brock hinted darkly, if we didn't waive all of our rights in the film project, the Cannonball movie deal might come unglued.

We had no difficulty with Yates making money from the Cannonball. After all, this is America and, besides, everybody knows that magazine writers aren't paid very well. So we signed the written agreements sent to us. And then we waited.

Months went by. Finally, I called Yates and asked about the movie. He told me that the PRDA had indeed been written into the story and had in fact been filmed... driving a van that careened out of control and blew up.

Studio lawyers, Brock said, were appalled. Wouldn't such a depiction of ethnic incompetence offend Polish-American movie fans everywhere? After all, they presumably reasoned, Polacks are not known for their sense of humor. Ticket sales might suffer.

Thus, the entire presence of the PRDA in "Cannonball Run" was eliminated, and our magnificent struggle to beat one of the best drivers in the world in one of the world's fastest cars ended up, as they say in the business, on the editing room floor. The decision was made reluctantly, Brock said. Our one chance at Hollywood stardom was over.

In fact, none of the competitors in the first Cannonball made it passed the Hollywood censors. Not even Dan Gurney or Brock Yates. And what happened? Were the sniveling cowards punished for their stupidity? No, Cannonball Run became the sixth-largest grossing film of 1981.

Just imagine, they substituted Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, and Farrah Fawcett for Oscar Koveleski, Tony Adamowicz and me. Well, so be it. And, yes, I do have a copy of the movie on tape. [Editor's Note: Brad never mentions which PRDA member was played by whom.]

I have only one more thought. Do you know what has always bothered me about this? It's the fact that not one person in the 30 years since that first movie appeared has anyone ever asked me why we weren't in the movie or thought it notable that we were not.

I've pretty much gotten over it. Just don't ask me what I think about Cannonball Run II.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | To Infinite And Beyond...

Brad Niemcek. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.