WIth the rights to Chester Himes' "A Rage In Harlem" in hand, I set out with little else but naive dogged determination to see it on screen someday.
Knowing next to nothing about producing a movie, I realized that I needed to have at least a screenplay to get started, and with no money to fund what I would later come to know is called "development", I turned to a friend in Chicago, the actor John Toles-Bey, who I had seen in a short film called "Honky Tonk Bud" that was directed by Scott Laster and was one of the shorts submitted to us when we were soliciting for the "American Film Showcase".
John had never written a script before, which made us perfect collaborators - we were either the blind leading the blind, or two guys full of confidence and unburdened by any preconceptions of what we couldn't do.
Through an early mentor, Barbara Boyle, I met producer Kerry Boyle (no relation) who had recently started working with British producer Stephen Woolley. They became early believers and my producing partners in "A Rage In Harlem". It was through Woolley, who had produced the remarkable Neil Jordan film "Mona Lisa" and whose company back then was called Palace Pictures, that I first heard the name uttered that would come to define the marketplace for American independent films for much of the last two decades for better or worse depending on your own personal experience, Harvey Weinstien.
Of course like any project, it wasn't a straight line from script to screen and there were several writers who had a hand in crafting the script that finally got shot, including Bobby Crawford who shared writing credit, and my friends Topper Lillien and Carol Cartwright, who made a major contribution, but were not.
In the end, Woolley and Boyle were able to sell the project to Weinstien's nascent company Miramax Films, and put together a great package that included director Bill Duke, and stars Forest Whitaker, Gregory Hines, Robin Givens and Danny Glover.
And in the supporting cast, playing one of a trio of bad guys including Badja Djola and Zakes Mokae, was my hometown friend and co-screenwriter John Toles-Bey, which made me quite happy indeed, as we had started this improbably journey together so many years earlier.
By the time the film was in production, I had made a major change in my own life having taken a full-time job as a creative executive at Paramount Pictures in April 1987. So I became an Executive Producer on "A Rage In Harlem" while I continued to try to help Kerry and Stephen nurture my baby through the vagaries of the moviemaking system.
I did get to go on location, to Cincinnati, Ohio believe-it-or-not, whose own un-gentrified area of the old downtown lower depths stood in quite nicely for our 1950's Harlem locations. It was for the wonderful scene of Screamin' Jay Hawkin's singing his classic "I Put A Spell On You", while Robin Givens, as Imabelle, who was literally sewn into her form-fitting blazingly red dress, put a spell of her own on Whitaker's hapless character Jackson, as well as the audience, which that night included myself and a certain chain-smoking, Diet Coke guzzling, type A++ studio chief named Harvey.
In the end, it was the first film that I was ever involved with that was accepted to the Cannes Film Festival! It premiered in the Grand Palais there to a five minute standing ovation. Chester Himes had come home to France at last!
At the time, it felt like the first step in bringing Himes' work back into the public eye.
None of us imagined then it might be the last theatrical movie made from his work, but it is kind of hard to imagine how something as raw and multi-toned and politically incorrect as Blind Man with a Pistol or All Shot Up or The Real Cool Killers would find their way into the movie world of today.