The Truth Behind ‘The Buddy Holly Story’
That orchestra is dramatic license, said Bauer, because that’s the direction the producers of the film thought Holly would have taken had he lived. Norman Petty, for one, feels that’s an unreasonable assumption: “Certain liberties were taken there. There’s no way to predict what Buddy would have done. They forget — or didn’t know — that Buddy was initially opposed to recording with strings. I had to talk him into it. In fact, that whole scene in the New York studio with Buddy producing himself and writing charts is all wrong. For one thing, Buddy couldn’t read music and for another Dick Jacobs was the producer at the session. That’s unfair to Jacobs.
“I think that everyone in Buddy’s life was done an injustice because the movie makes Buddy look like a tyrant, a personal and musical tyrant, which he was not. He was very definite about his musical ideas but he was also a very warm, nice, human individual. People like Jerry Allison were very important to Buddy’s life, musically and personally.”
Allison and Mauldin are now in the process of suing over the use of the service mark “Crickets.”
Niki Sullivan, who is not involved in the suit, liked the movie. “I thought the portrayal of Buddy was wonderful, as lifelike as could possibly be. I know the movie was not as true to life as it should have been, but you have to make it salable. I was shortchanged as a Cricket. I was left out because they used the Goldrosen book as the source and I was not interviewed for that book. But some things were incorrect: the first two days that we played the Apollo, we were booed. The third day, Buddy said, ‘Let’s do Bo Diddley,’ and from that moment on we were a hit.”
Cricket Joe B. Mauldin, who couldn’t say much because of the pending lawsuit, said, “I’m not highly impressed with the movie. I feel the producers made something teenyboppers can relate to. It was presented as biography and it is a long way from that.”
Peggy Sue Gerrow Allison Rackham, for whom the song “Peggy Sue” was written, married Jerry Allison in August of 1958 and then honeymooned in Mexico with Buddy and Maria Elena. “The movie’s typical Hollywood, gobbledygook fantasy,” she said. “I had thought there would be more of a story than what there was. There was never a Cindy Lou — the song was ‘Peggy Sue’ from the start. And Jerry and Buddy were very close, closer than most brothers.”
Omitting Norman Petty greatly simplifies Holly’s career, rendering it inaccurate. (Why he was omitted remains unclear: the producers say he wanted script control; Petty says he asked only to be allowed to read the script.) In the movie, after an abortive Nashville session, a live tape of “That’ll Be the Day” is accidentally released and a mad disc jockey plays it nonstop. Instant stardom. The band moves to New York and Holly writes everything himself and produces himself.
Holly and the Crickets actually had three producers. Owen Bradley produced three Nashville sessions in 1956 (and he doesn’t recall being punched out by Holly, as the movie depicts). Dick Jacobs produced six songs in two New York sessions in 1958. But most of the songs and the hits were produced by Norman Petty in 1957 and 1958 at his studio in Clovis, New Mexico. “That’ll Be the Day” was cut there in 1957 as a demo for Roulette Records, which turned it down. Petty then got Bob Thiele at Decca (now MCA) to release it on Decca’s subsidiary Brunswick label. He simultaneously worked out a deal for Holly’s solo records to be released on Coral, another Decca subsidiary, to double the group’s chances for success.
Even though controversy lingers over the extent of Petty’s cowriting with the Crickets, Goldrosen’s biography amply documents that he did much of the writing and arranging, played keyboards on many of the records and overdubbed the background vocals (either overdubbing Holly himself or using two Clovis groups, the Picks and the Roses. The Crickets themselves, contrary to The Buddy Holly Story, never sang on any records).
“I do find it amusing that the producers put mountains in Lubbock,” said Petty. “But I was purposely left out of the movie. I felt like a nonentity, like some very important years of my life had just been wiped out.”
One of the key points of the movie is that Holly was the first rock & roller to have total production control. Was that so? “Actually, I think this is inaccurate,” Petty said. “Jerry always said I was fairly tyrannical in the studio. I don’t think Buddy had production control. Buddy had musical control, but I don’t think it ever entered Buddy’s or Jerry’s mind to usurp the position of the man in the control room.
“I was also disappointed because, in my book, Buddy’s father is the real hero of the Buddy Holly story. He was the man who gave Buddy this tremendous strength. Buddy knew he had his dad’s backing on everything he did, and the picture doesn’t show the help his father gave him. The movie makes Mr. and Mrs. Holly [Buddy dropped the ‘e’ from his last name after it was misspelled on his first recording contract] seem like some sort of religious zealots. I do think the movie was a disservice to everyone concerned with Buddy’s life and I don’t think it’s fair to call it The Buddy Holly Story when in fact it isn’t. There were so many liberties taken. His real life story was meteoric and, if anything, the film makes it dull, makes it dull, makes him an individual with only one thing on his mind — to succeed.
If you, like many others, went out after seeing The Buddy Holly Story and — heeding the words in the closing credits — tried to buy the Ballantine paperback version of the movie, you were unable to find it. That’s because it doesn’t exist. John Goldrosen, whose book is credited as the movie’s source, says he blocked publication of the book once he’d read the script. Goldrosen, meanwhile, is trying to get his book back in print.
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