Carsey-Werner Moving Pictures has acquired “Teenage Idol,” the chronicle of Ricky Nelson’s life, which it plans as its first theatrical feature with production to begin this fall. The script by Floyd Mutrux will encompass Nelson’s life as the youngest son of “Ozzie and Harriet” fame through to his tragic death in 1985.
Mutrux, whose writing and directing credits include “Freebie and the Bean,” “Dick Tracy” and “American Hot Wax,” has spent more than two years negotiating with members of the Nelson family for music rights and cooperation in the development of a feature film. Mutrux first met his subject during pre-production of his screenplay “The Christian Licorice Store,” a romance with a tennis setting. Nelson, then pursuing a serious acting career, had been a seeded player as a teenager.
Though the former TV icon wasn’t cast, he did wind up working with Mutrux on the writer’s first directing effort, “Dusty and Sweets McGee.” Nelson served as the film’s music supervisor.
“He was a very serious and complicated guy,” said Mutrux. “He worked very hard on his music but always felt that he wasn’t appreciated. He was really floored when he was asked to dinner by the Beatles and George Harrison invited him to perform at the concert for Bangladesh. He was real upset that he couldn’t do it because of a contractual conflict and that’s when he wrote ‘Garden Party.’ ”
The announcement comes on the heels of the A&E Cable documentary “Ozzie and Harriet: The Adventures of America’s Favorite Family.” During the initial negotiations for feature rights, the Nelsons had discussed retaining the right to make a documentary.
Carsey-Werner, which opened its theatrical division, headed by Polly Platt, two years ago, has had an ongoing association with the project. It’s only coincidental that the company famous for such families as the Cosbys and the Roseanne brood found themselves attracted to a project involving the first famous TV clan. Carsey-Werner’s TV successes include “The Cosby Show,” “Roseanne” and “3rd Rock From the Sun.”
“We’re already well into how to tell the story,” said Platt. “It’s extremely emotional material and Floyd gives it a unique perspective that we think will surprise people.”
No director has been attached to the material but apparently several actors have been sent feelers about the title role. The term “teenage idol” was coined by Life magazine in a 1958 cover story of Nelson, whose 25 gold records included “I’m Walkin’,” “Traveling Man” and “Garden Party.” In his induction speech into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, John Fogerty cited Nelson for legitimizing the music by bringing it into the living room.
Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner and Caryn Mandabach will serve as executive producers on the film with Mutrux, Platt and Tracy Nelson — Ricky’s daughter — attached as producers.