First, there was the man. Then there was a book, and a play, and now a film about Jack Durant, founder of Phoenix's best-known steak house and, well before anyone thought to write about him, the subject of lots of really amusing rumors. But is the truth about Durant, a colorful character who was at least a notorious ladies' man and at most may have been connected to the mob, fodder for a feature film? That remains to be seen.
The script for Durant's Never Closes concerns a single day in the life of Durant, who died in 1987. The man rather famously left his house and an annual allowance of $50,000 to his pet English bulldog, Humble. He made a mint, and spent some of it to help build Good Samaritan Hospital. He liked to boast the Don Bolles murder was planned in his restaurant's lounge. He reported enjoyed ridiculing his patrons, and was briefly, in the 1950s, one of the FBI's Top Ten Most Dangerous Men in Arizona.
See also: You Don't Know Jack
The independent film will be produced and directed by local filmmaker Travis Mills, who attended film school at ASU.
"The only good thing I got from ASU was my friendship with Gus Edwards," says Mills, referring to his business partner; Edwards is a well-respected local playwright.
"We partnered up with the plan to develop Arizona cinema. We do all the stuff they teach you not to do in film school: We work with small budgets and we shoot quickly."
Mills isn't kidding. The entire shoot for the Durant's movie is 10 days. Like so many indie filmmakers, Mills is relying on a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the post-production budget of his film, which he says was inspired by a 2005 cover story about Durant in New Times.
"There are things to pay for after a movie is shot," Mills explains. "There's marketing, and festival costs, and DVD printing expenses, at least until you pick up distribution. We're doing good so far. We've got $30,000 and we have a little less than two weeks before the Kickstarter is done."
Mills hopes to raise $100,000 by February 3.
Shot as a co-venture between Mills' Running Wild Films and something called 5J Media, the movie, if it gets made, will offer an eclectic and admittedly impressive cast. Tom Sizemore (the super-intense leading man of Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan) has been signed to play Durant. Supporting players include '70s blaxploitation star Pam Grier and Seinfeld crony Michael Richards, who will play baseball star Dizzy Dean. Film legend Peter Bogdanovich is also, somehow, in the cast list.
"He has such a really interesting presence," Mills says. "I was writing this character, George, and I just thought, This guy is so totally Bogdanovich. He knew Tom Sizemore, and really wanted to work with him again, so we got him."
But will Mills get an audience for a film about Jack Durant, outside of Phoenix? Durant is, like Ladmo and Acquanetta, well known around here. But is a small-town restaurateur who rubbed elbows with Bugsy Siegel and the occasional movie star enough to carry a picture?
Time will tell.