A number of biopic rumors have surfaced in the last few years-Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye and Dusty Springfield just to name a few. This week, however, a Sam Cooke biopic took a significant step toward becoming a reality. The screenwriters behind the Beatles musical "Across the Universe" have finished their adaptation of Peter Guralnick's definitive biography of Sam Cooke for ABKCO, which owns Cooke's publishing and the bulk of his master recordings. ABKCO CEO Jody Klein is now looking for a director.
The screenwriters, Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, recently completed their adaptation of "Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke," which Klein optioned in the fall of 2009. The book was published in 2005, two years after Guralnick had written the script for "Sam Cooke: Legend," the only authorized documentary on Cooke. It won a Grammy Award for long-form video in 2003.
"We had been looking for a long time for a writer to develop Peter's book," Klein says, "and it clicked when we met Dick and Ian. They understood the artist; they understood the times. It's like when you meet the love of your life and you know you have met your [future] wife. They have written a fantastic script."
Klein says the script covers Cooke's entire life-1931-1964-from childhood through his years as a gospel singer, a pop star, civil rights activist and eventually a label owner and music publisher. His music ushered the transition of R&B into soul music.
Cooke is widely regarded as the first major R&B performer to appeal to black and white audiences as well as multiple generations through such songs as "You Send Me," "Twistin' the Night Away" and "Only Sixteen." Shortly before he was murdered in 1964, Cooke penned and recorded "A Change Is Gonna Come," a song often listed as the most significant musical piece to emerge from the civil rights struggle of the '50s and '60s.
Clement and La Frenais have worked together since the late '60s when they collaborated on numerous British TV shows. Their first major music film project was 1991's "The Commitments"; their most recent film is the U2-rooted "Killing Bono." The latter opens April 1 in the United Kingdom but doesn't yet have a U.S. distributor.
Klein, whose father Allen was Cooke's business manager, expects to continue to self-finance the project through ABKCO.
"All of the elements have aligned themselves," Klein says, noting the usual biopic roadblocks-music and life rights-are already in hand. "We have secured rights from the Cooke family. One of the benefits of being a private company is that it enables us the appropriate amount of time to develop the script and make this happen. It will not get lost."