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Stumbling 'Runner'

September 14, 1986|dClark Taylor in NYC

The long-stalled film version of "The Front Runner," finally set to roll in Northern California this week, has once again pulled up lame. The hurdle this time: apparent timidity by Hollywood's leading men about playing a homosexual coach.

That's the assessment of Jerry Wheeler, who's producing (for $3.6 million) the pic based on Patricia Nell Warren's 1974 novel about a college track coach whose relationship with a long distance runner forces him to acknowledge his gay feelings (at one time, Paul Newman owned the property and planned to star as the coach).

"Almost everyone we've approached has expressed fear of the subject matter," said Wheeler, who said he's pitched the part to nearly a dozen major middle-aged stars. "They've used a lot of euphemisms, and some have (blamed) the script to get around their homo-phobia. . . . One very well known actor told me directly, in writing, that 'at this point in my career, I couldn't play a homosexual.' "

"Some actors have expressed legitimate concerns," added first-time director Marshall Mason (artistic director of New York's Circle Rep Company). But Mason also told of actors who revealed personal fears about "delving into parts of their lives they haven't dealt with--after all, this is a story about acceptance of one's homosexuality." Some agents, he said, have deliberately kept the producers away from certain clients--"This, in spite of William Hurt's recent Oscar for 'Kiss of the Spider Woman.' "

Already cast are "Ryan's Hope" heartthrob Rick Hyde as the openly gay runner, Matt Lattanzi as another gay runner and Olympic diver Greg Louganis as a heterosexual world class runner.

Wheeler now is seeking "a second level" star for the coach.

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