THE BLOG
02/13/2012 04:17 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2012

Whitney's Tragic Death... and My Small Involvement in Her Life

In the mid-80s I had a production deal and offices at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank. I had sold them a screenplay called Heartbreak Ridge, which writer Jim Carabatsos and I had developed, and we were in the midst of a rewrite requested by studio head Mark Canton before sending it to Paul Newman, our desired lead. My agent at the time messengered me a screenplay called The Bodyguard, which he said had been written in the '70s by a Chicago client of his office, a fellow named Lawrence Kasden. ("And don't lose this copy 'cause it's the only one we have; the writer can't find the original.")

I learned that the script had been optioned by another studio but the option expired that very evening, and it reverted to the original owner, Warners. Of course they had no idea they owned the property and didn't even have a copy in their files. When I read it, I immediately walked across the studio lot with it to Canton's office and walked in unannounced. (We had the kind of relationship.) "You must read this immediately," I said. "It will make a terrific film, and I know how to cast it."

The next morning Mark called and said that he agreed. I gave him the background and the good news that it now belonged again to Warners. I said that the musical star in it, whose life is threatened and needs a bodyguard, would work for Diana Ross, who had starred in and been nominated for my production of Lady Sings The Blues. And the bodyguard role was perfect for Steve McQueen who had once been my publicity client.

He told me to proceed and I began the moves that a producer makes, sending it to both stars. Weeks later, after they had both unexpectedly passed, I told Canton that I would like to give it to Sidney Poitier, who had starred in my film, For Love of Ivy, the first big studio film to star two black leads. "Okay, do that" he said. "What about the female lead?" I said that if Poitier agreed to do it, we could go with a relatively unknown in the singing diva role... and there was a beautiful new Arista singing star named Whitney Huston who might be ideal for it.

A copy went out to Sidney... when Canton called me with the traditional comment: "I have some good news and some bad news for you." The good news is that we have a director for it. The guy who wrote the script, Larry Kasden, heard about our plans and claims that for various legal reasons we can't make it without him directing and producing. So the bad news is that you are no longer involved."

Of course, it finally got made some years later with Kevin Costner in the male lead. Whitney's singing of the Dolly Parton song, "I Will Always Love You," still sends chills up and down the spines of the world. It grossed about $400 million worldwide, with Mick Jackson directing and Kasden producing. And it made Whitney a movie as well as a musical star. (Remember the dialogue: "Would you give your life for me?" she asks. He replied: "That's my job.")

Incidentally the Chairman of Warners, Terry Semel, called me to say, "Don't do anything with Heartbreak Ridge. Clint read it and is interested." Clint as in Eastwood, the biggest star on the studio lot. Eventually, Semel told me that Eastwood was proceeding but didn't want another producer and writer involved, so they would pay Jim and me our full fees... but we would not be working on the film.

I took my large payout and went to Europe with my wife for several months... but that's another story. Sunday night I had the pleasure of watching Diana Ross, winner of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, sitting in the audience, knowing that I was somewhat responsible for her first (and best) film role... and wondered what would have happened to her and Whitney if she had taken The Bodyguard role. Here she was, very much alive and kicking, feisty, funny, stil incredibly talented and diva-ish. Poor Whitney... yes, life can sometimes be a kick in the ass.

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