Note: If you have not read the piece I did on the Concorde, please read it first.
Several readers have asked about the time I almost crashed the Concorde.
Well, like most things I write — the better ones (I think) are based on my unusual but actual experiences.
A few decades ago I was writing a screenplay for Andrew McLaglen. He is a world class director and the son of Victor McLaglen, a major movie star from yesteryear.
Andrew is one of the few who directed both John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
Andrew’s great passion was and is tennis. He and Kate, my wife, got along great. Kate was a linesman for Billy Jean King at a Virginia Slim’s Tournament.
In his contract, Andrew had a clause that said during Wimbledon he had three weeks off (and, of course, he had center court seats there.)
I didn’t follow tennis much in those days. Although I did learn to beat Kate and the day I did we stopped playing the game together. Another story.
The movie (FAST EDDIE) I was doing with Andrew was taking longer than expected to prepare. And, Wimbledon arrived and Andrew said he was taking off for England.
I said I’d never been to a pro tennis game and he suggested that Kate and I fly across “the Pond” to England and see what great tennis was all about. He was kind of joking.
I asked Kate if she wanted to go. Well, she got very excited when she discovered some open seats from LA to London. She was a United Flight Attendant. And, we could fly stand-by for a small fee. If there were open seats.
Of course Kate lost her passport.
So we got a new passport for her but by then the flights were more heavily booked — nevertheless, we headed for New York with the thought that we would wait until there was a flight with a few seats to London out of JFK. We only had hours before Wimbledon.
In those days, British Airlines and United had a special relationship and I discovered that we could get on the Concorde for a reduced price.
I think $400 each — regular flights were $3,800 on the supersonic bird. Hooray!
There were a couple of spare seats and we made it to the opening match by the skin of our teeth and that is how I ended up watching my first live tennis game from center court at Wimbledon.
Friends of mine at the Edmonton Journal had supplied me with credentials and we got press passes for Wimbledon. So we had the run of the place and great food in the press tent and a bunch of other freebies that I was accustomed to getting because I’m an excellent moocher. This rather astonished Kate.
And, of course, Andrew was astonished to see us and he was a great host.
FAST EDDIE was based on the life of Fast Eddie Watkins. A first class career criminal with all the trimmings. He spent the majority of his life in prison and was an excellent painter. Here is an acrylic/watercolor he did for me. It hangs in our dining room.
Getting back to the Concorde story.
It was certainly true that we took the flight and there is no question that Kate felt that the salt and pepper shakers from the plane would make dandy souvenirs.
We sat among millionaires. (They hooked everything that was not nailed down.)
And, most everything else in the story is true and happened…including spending time in the cockpit and joking with the pilot about the paper plane he had stuck on the instruments to explain how the nose articulated.
And, I did reach for it and he did knock my hand away from those levers that stick up and I did pull my hand away and he did hit those levers.
Did the plane go into a steep dive and did the pilot have to struggle to regain control of something plummeting at the earth almost three times the speed of sound?
I made that part up.
Did I seize him by the neck to regain my balance?
No. I made that up too.
But it’s a helluva story, don’t you think?
After the hand slapping, the captain ordered me to return to my seat.
I certainly saw him in the London airport and he looked daggers at me while he explained to someone what an asshole he thought I was.
I don’t know if he used the words I claimed he did (“stupider than a speeding bullet”) but we were going faster than a speeding bullet — so that was probably what he was thinking. And he could have said it.
Had he/I put the plane into a dive as a result of my intervention, I fear Kate and I would have had a short marriage, ending up many years ago on the floor of the Atlantic, maybe not that far from the Titanic.
Which could have changed that movie, especially if we had struck the great ship.
But that, as they say, would have been another story.
Trivia: We started to shoot FAST EDDIE in Detroit with Bob Hays in the lead. It had a 30 million dollar budget. The second day, Mr. and Mrs. Short, who said they had the money to produce it, were 31 million short.
Broke my heart. Kate’s too.
Andrew took it in stride although he was disappointed. If you want to see what a great director he is have a look at Shenandoah or watch HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL on Netflix. Andrew did dozens of them. Each a little gem.