How Jerry Bruckheimer landed Tom Cruise for ‘Top Gun’


By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Several actors claimed to have been first choice to play hot-shot pilot ‘Maverick’ Mitchell in ‘Top Gun’ but producer Jerry Bruckheimer told me Tom Cruise always had the part.

Bruckheimer, who turns 80 today, has had huge success with entertaining pictures including ‘Crimson Tide’, ‘Beverly Hills Cop’, ‘The Rock’, ‘Con Air’, ’Training Day’ and the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise plus the long-running TV hit ‘NCIS’.

When I interviewed him in 1996 for my pal Ron Base’s excellent book about movie casting titled ‘Starring Roles’, Bruckheimer insisted on being off the record except about how he and his then partner, the late Don Simpson, got the man they wanted for ‘Top Gun’. 

’Whoever tells you they were considered for the part, that’s not true,’ he said. ‘We went to Tom first. We waited for Tom. We romanced Tom. We made script changes.’ 

Cruise was not an enormous star at the time and he didn’t make up his mind until Bruckheimer arranged for him to take a ride with the famous U.S. Navy Blue Angels team. Cruise had just finished Ridley Scott’s fantasy picture ‘Legend’ and still had long hair in a pony-tail. 

‘The Blue Angels are as clean-cut as you can imagine,’ Bruckheimer said. ‘They said, “Oh, this Hollywood kid, we’re gonna take him for a ride”. They took Tom for the ride of his life. He got down on the ground and ran to the first phone booth he found. He called me and said, “I’m doing the movie!”’

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Why Anthony Quayle was upset about the movie ‘Sleuth!’

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – British actor Anthony Quayle, who was born on this day in 1913, was instrumental in the enormous success of the stage thriller ‘Sleuth!’, and he was angry about being ignored for the hit first film version.

Written by Anthony Shaffer, the play was really Quayle’s baby. A knight of the English stage, he had a great many credits on stage and screen including films such as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’, ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ and ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’ for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for best supporting actor playing Cardinal Wolsey (with Richard Burton as Henry VIII, below). Continue reading

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Laughing with Betsy Russell about screen nudity

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – A card arrived in the mail with the inscription ‘Thank you from the bottom of my heart.’ Inside, in strong cursive were the words, ‘Dear Ray, Thank you so much for that wonderful interview. I’m so glad someone finally captured the humor of it all. Best wishes, love, Betsy Russell.’

‘Tomboy’

My interview with the actress, who turns 60 today, ran in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner on March 8, 1985, with the headline ‘Queen of Schlock wants to abdicate’. She went on to have many credits including including five episodes of the ‘Saw’ film series playing Jill Tuck . In 1985, she was 21 and famous for a series of sexy teen movies – ‘Private School’ (top picture), ‘Avenging Angel’, ‘Out of Control’ and ‘Tomboy’. Continue reading

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Going to Bat for Cricket in Los Angeles in 1993

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Thirty years ago today, the Los Angeles Times published a freelance story of mine about the popularity of cricket in parts of Los Angeles. Here’s that story:

A cricket ball is 5 1/2 ounces of furious flying red leather. It comes at you at speeds in excess of 100 m.p.h.

No wonder cricket players take their time. Continue reading

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Frederick Forsyth did more than write great thrillers

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – English writer Frederick Forsyth, who turns 85 today, has not only written clever and exciting thrillers such as ‘Day of the Jackal’ (starring Edward Fox, above)  and ‘The Odessa file’, he’s also prescient about world affairs. Continue reading

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‘Titanic’ Oscar-winner James Horner saw music in colour

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – ‘Composing is so much like painting,’ the late James Horner told me. ‘I patch colour into certain things until I hear the sounds and then I know how much of the magenta or how much of the teal-blue to put in. It’s something I have to do when I hear it and I hear it sort of all around me. I start to paint the scene and then that will an element that I’ll write an orchestral part around, adding the orchestral part on top of it later on.’ Continue reading

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Don Black: ‘When I have a song to write I’m very happy’

By Ray Bennett

London’s leafy Green Park means many things to many people, but to lyricist Don Black it will always be the place where he wrote the hit song “Tell Me on a Sunday” to the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The kitchen in his Sixties home in Mill Hill in Northwest London always comes to mind when he thinks of the Lulu smash hit “To Sir With Love,” which he wrote with composer Mark London.

Black, who turns 85 today,  won an Oscar at 27 for “Born Free” with music by composer John Barry; he has Ivor Novello Awards and a Golden Globe; he’s an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and an inductee in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Continue reading

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Lyricist Sammy Cahn had a song for all occasions

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – American lyricist Sammy Cahn, who was born on this day in 1913, wrote scores of songs that everyone remembers but he told me that what kept him busy was penning lyrics for special occasions.  Continue reading

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‘Knots Landing’ star Joan Van Ark preferred voice-overs

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Joan Van Ark was among the most popular TV stars of the Eighties in the ‘Dallas’ spinoff ‘Knots Landing’ but she told me she made more money doing voice-overs for commercials and cartoons.

‘It’s as good a salary as you get from acting,’ Van Ark said. ‘Of course, I work for Lorimar, so how good can it be? You can print that, I don’t care. Unless you’re Larry Hagman. The reason the rest of us are doing floors and windows is because of what Larry’s making. You know, we clear up the sets after it’s all over. I make more, and I always have, from my voiceover work than from any other form of acting.’ Continue reading

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That time I was way-laid by the Happy Hooker

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – I went to London to see the Queen and met the Happy Hooker, who led me astray.

Fifty years ago this month, Queen Elizabeth II was touring Canada and The Windsor Star newspaper sent me to cover the leg of her trip in the closest city in southwest Ontario.

After she did a walkabout and departed, photographer Cec Southward and I repaired to the London press club, as you would, for a libation or two. That’s where we unexpectedly ran into Xaviera Hollander and I got distracted. Continue reading

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