Posts Tagged ‘Bear Bryant.’

“Dr. von Braun Says Rocket Flights Possible to Moon”
May 14, 1950 headline in The Huntsville Times

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that there’s a not so top secret area in the deep south that has some stories to tell.

Last night I stayed in Huntsville, Alabama and took this photo at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center before I pulled out of town early this afternoon.

Though I never saw the 1986 film SpaceCamp I remembered that the story was inspired by a space camp for kids in Huntsville. The movie starred the up and comers Lea Thompson, Kelly Preston, and Joaquin Phoenix.

While most know the name of Neil Armstrong as the first man who walked on the moon, less known is Wernher von Braun the NASA engineer (and Huntsville resident from 1950-70) who lead the development of the Saturn V rocket that allowed Anderson to take those famous first steps in 1969. And according to Wikipedia, “Dr. von Braun also developed the idea of a Space Camp that would train children in fields of science and space technologies as well as help their mental development much the same way sports camps aim at improving physical development.”

In a 1961 President John F. Kennedy said in a speech, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth. ” This was something that the visionary von Braun had thought at least a decade earlier. But do you want to know the other visionary besides President Kennedy and von Braun that helped put man on the moon? Adolf Hitler. Now that’s a part of the story I don’t recall that story ever being told in a movie. (Though I can’t believe it hasn’t at least been addressed in a documentary or two.)

At one time von Braun was a Nazi. He is called “the Father of Rocket Science” not only for his work in the United States, but the early development of rocket technology during World War II for the Germans.  I’m not an expert in the fine details of how von Braun and his team of 118-127 German rocket scientists (known as The von Braun Group) found their way to Alabama, but there no doubt had to be some interesting cultural exchanges and gossip going on in Huntsville back in the 50s and 60s.

In a 2007 New York Times article When the Germans, and Rockets, Came to Town Shaila Dewan wrote, “By the mid-1960s, von Braun had so mastered the local [Huntsville] culture that when he wanted voters to approve a bond issue for the Space and Rocket Center, he persuaded Bear Bryant, the revered University of Alabama football coach, and Shug Jordan, the rival Auburn coach, to make a television commercial supporting the project.” Dewan also wrote that Von Braun himself was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan for hiring blacks.” I find all that quite interesting.

And interesting to think that rocket science was probably the real life “lost ark” that Hitler was hoping to find. If he had of won the space race, he would have ruled the world like he desired. Hitler, Nazis, JFK, KKK, rockets, Alabama football, and plans to take over the world—how come this movie hasn’t been made?

P.S. While von Braun’s genius was never in question, and he became an American citizen in 1955, his background made him open for satire. In the 1963 Stanley Kubrick film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) the main character (played by Peter Sellers) is an ex-Nazi scientist and Sellers said that he based his part as Dr. strangelove on von Braun. And then there is this video by singer, songwriter and Harvard grad in mathematics Tom Lehrer:

Related Post:

Screenwriting from Huntsville
Muscle Shoals Music & Movie (This afternoon I drove through Muscle Shoals, AL and look forward to finally seeing the doc Muscle Shoals as it gets a wider release this month.)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.”
Coach Bear Bryant

Tonight’s BCS game between the 13-0 Alabama Crimson Tide and the 13-0 Texas Longhorns is high drama. Two long-standing, unbeaten college football programs battling for the national championship. (Mini-screenwriting lesson; Drama is conflict and there’s nothing like putting two equal (and successful) opponents against each other and taking them to the end of the line in a battle that will crown one as the victor.)

Over the years I’ve been to both Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Austin, Texas and found them both have their own unique vibe.  The University of Alabama has played college football since 1892 and has won 12 National Championships and has had a cast of characters over the years including Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler as well as the coach of coaches, Paul “Bear” Bryant. (Heck, even Forrest Gump played ball there.) This year’s team has Heisman Trophy winner  Mark Ingram on its side.

But in the last decade or so Alabama’s football teams have not shined so brightly. They’ve  shuffled through five coaches over that time trying to get back that winning tradition. They brought Nick Saben in to get them back on track and gave him a $32 million contract. The September 2008 cover of Forbes magazine asked about Saben,  “Is he worth it?” Even if the doesn’t win tonight, the answer is yes.

The University of Texas at Austin on the other hand has won four national, has had two Heisman Trophy winners, and their legendary football coach is Darrel Royal.  If you want to read a knock your socks of book on college football read Gary Shaw’s Meat on the Hoof, about his days as a player at the University of Texas.

The championship game tonight pitting #1 against #2  in Pasadena should be a great game. Drama at its best.

This week is the first time since 1954 where Bobby Bowden is not coaching college football. Last week he won his last game as the head football coach at Florida State University, where he had been head coach since 1976. Bowden also has an Alabama connection having been born in Birmingham, played his freshman year at the University of Alabama before transferring to Howard University (now Samford University in Birmingham), where he also began his coaching career.

Bowden led FSU to two national championships and is the second winningest coach in Division 1 college football history.  Congrats on a great career Coach Bowden–one that is not only  measured in wins, but in respect and appreciation. He also helped change how football teams from Florida are perceived. Since 1984 teams from the state of Florida have won nine national championships in football which is a staggering number. Bowden probably would have had a couple more national championships if they would have made a couple field goals against the University of Miami.

Speaking of the University of Miami, when I was in Florida last month I happened to catch Billy Corben’s documentary The U that was featured on ESPN’s 30 for 30. One write-up on the documentary said, “For Canes fans, this will be a reminder of what they loved about this team. For Canes haters, this will be a reminder of what they hated about this team.”

Many don’t know how controversial the documentary is in Miami. In the film, the Miami football program is not always shown in a positive light and it’s been reported that the school made it known to former players and coaches they would rather they not participate in the documentary. Corben definitely played up the bad boy image of the program (yes, rapper Luther Campbell is featured so that gives you a hint), but I think he also did a fair job of showing the rough areas where many of the players were from. They were playing for respect and they got it. (Well, respect mixed with a little hatred. Is calling a program “classless” its own form of trash-talking?) Miami’s program hasn’t been around since the 1800’s so it’s still working on being refined like those southern gentlemen in Alabama.

The U also takes time to show how Howard Schnellenberger was the architect for building a championship program out of a school that just a few years earlier was thinking about dropping football. The football program has not been without its scars, which makes it all the more amazing that in the last 25 years they have won five national championships—more than any other school during that time.

And who was Schnellenberger’s mentor? That happened to be none other than Bear Bryant. Schellenberger was an assistant at Alabama and helped Bryant lead the school to win three national championships in the 60s. Schellenberger was also an assistant on the 1972 Miami Dolphins Super Bowl championship team that is the only pro team to ever go undefeated in a single season. In fact, I’d love to produce a documentary on just Schnellenberger.

In fact,  to the University of Miami officials and/or alumni who didn’t care for the documentary The U and want to produce another angle to the story, give me a call. I was a briefly a walk-on player in the early 80s (still have my letter from Coach Schnellenberger), was a film major there, and have a couple decades of experience producing, directing, writing, shooting and editing many award winning projects.

The Miami football team doesn’t need a sugar coated version of the program, but their are other dimensions that could be covered that were missed on The U documentary. A good start would be  interviewing players like Jim Kelly, Warren Sapp, Vinny Testaverde and coaches Bowden, Larry Coker, Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt (the Georgia coach who was also a player at Miami, and an assistant at FSU). Corben and his rakontur production team covered a lot of ground, but Miami football  is its own mini-series & soap opera rolled into one, and you can only cover so much ground in an hour and a half.

Anyway, many eyes will be on Southern California tonight, but not because of USC, UCLA or the latest movie—but for two teams from fly-over country who have risen to the top of their field.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: