William Kennedy Screenplay for the Ray Bourbon Story

Searching for some images of Ray on Google recently, I ran into a curious listing of a previous eBay auction I missed at WorthPoint.

“THE RAE BOURBON STORY, SCREENPLAY BY WILLIAM KENNEDY

The RAE BOURBON story, screenplay by William Kennedy

-125 page manuscript THE DETOUR , an original unproduced screenplay imagining a happier time for RAE BOURBON, the bawdy female impersonator who died in prison . . . but whose LP records are still eagerly sought after

-The screenplay is by Albany writer William Kennedy, who won a Pulitzer for Ironweed . . . but also wrote the screenplay for The Cotton Club. The Detour will never be produced

-This is a photocopy of a mimeographed original, very dark and sharp and clear”

I’m wondering about the story of how this wound up on eBay.  Back in the early 2000s, I was contacted by Ernest Cunningham in California.  Ernest had the original manuscript of Ray’s prison autobiography and we worked out an arrangement where I would try to get it published.  That didn’t happened, and later as Ernest felt that the manuscript and other research material he had should go to a good home, he gave me the manuscript and the copyright on it.

Ernest tracked down the original manuscript in the late 70s or early 80s and bought it from Brian Paaul, a housepainter friend of Ray’s who was going to help Ray get the book published.  Ernest had the idea of turning Ray’s story into a feature film.  He set up Dandelion Productions to produce the film, poured quite a bit of his own money into development and even got some then-name stars interested in the project through the William Morris Agency.

Ernest hired then-unknown author William Kennedy to write the screenplay.  Kennedy, a resident of Albany, wrote “Detour”, based on Ray’s story.  Kennedy, shortly after that, won a Pulitzer for his novel “Ironweed” and Hollywood came calling as, overnight, he became a hot property.  (“Ironweed” would get made into an Oscar-nominated film with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.)

Kennedy wanted more money for “Detour”.  Ernest wasn’t able to get financing for his Ray Bourbon film and the project fell apart.

I have a copy of the screenplay that Ernest sent me when I first talked with him about Ray’s autobiography and, while interesting, the screenplay is more a Kennedy “slice of life” thing than a biopic.

Kennedy’s still alive.  I wonder if he still has a copy of the screenplay and what he thought of Ray’s story.

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