The Doors may finally be opening in movie theaters.
For years, people have attempted to sew up the rights for a movie on the life of '60s rock star Jim Morrison and the Doors. There was even one film--"Eddie and the Cruisers"--that many people thought was a fictional account of the charismatic singer's mysterious death.
But with word this week that Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Imagine Entertainment, Inc. have picked up the project from Columbia Pictures, it looks as if it is soon to be a reality.
"We hope to be able to make the film in five months," said Grazer, who shares the title of Imagine chairman and chief executive officer with Howard. "Ron and I loved the Doors and we think there's a very inspirational story to tell."
Grazer said that he doesn't rule out the possibility that Howard might direct the film, but a decision about a director won't be made until a new script is ready. Imagine has assigned the script to Ralph Thomas, a former Canadian journalist who wrote and directed "A Ticket to Heaven."
Morrison, an enigmatic figure who died in Paris shortly after abandoning his rock career, has been the subject of prospecting film producers ever since his 1971 death. At one point, Morrison's younger sister tried to put together a movie, as did Danny Sugerman, who wrote the Morrison biography, "No One Here Gets Out Alive."
But attempts to round up all of the necessary rights had failed until agents Tony Krantz and Tony Ludwig, of Creative Artists Agency, put Israeli producer Sasha Harari and San Francisco rock impresario Bill Graham together three years ago.
Harari already had movie rights from the three surviving Doors band members and Graham--who had produced Doors concerts--was able to negotiate for the others.
Krantz and Ludwig sold the project to Columbia and then-chairman Guy McElwaine two years ago. Ludwig has since become president of Imagine's motion picture division and when he found out Columbia, under new management, was making it available, he completed the odd cycle of buying a project that he had previously sold.
Grazer said that Imagine will finance the film and attempt to negotiate a distribution deal with one of the majors. The movie's success would add an ironic footnote to the whole affair. Columbia's biggest 1986 hit is "La Bamba," a biographical film about Ritchie Valens, a lesser rock figure than Morrison and one with a far less dramatic story to tell.
Neither Valens nor Morrison was around long. Valens died in a plane crash nine months after cutting his first hit song. Morrison died under curious circumstances, reportedly from a heart attack about five years after beginning his career.
But Morrison and the Doors were huge overnight successes and were among the most popular groups internationally in the late '60s.
Their popularity has not waned. According to Bill Graham, who will co-produce "Riders" with Harari, the Doors are selling as well now as they did 20 years ago. Graham said the Doors catalogue (seven albums) is selling more than 1 million albums a year in the United States and almost as many abroad.
For comparison, Graham said, Janis Joplin--another major and ultimately tragic figure of '60s rock--is currently selling fewer than 50,000 albums a year.
Morrison himself has almost become the James Dean of rock 'n' roll, a cult figure whose persona and talents have been magnified by his death.
The Doors music, most of which was written by Morrison, was often lumped in with the "psychedelic rock" movement of its time, but it has transcended that label to help fuse the musical tastes of two generations. The group's best known song, "Light My Fire," is a perennial Top-10 finisher in audience polls of all-time rock favorites.
Said Imagine's Ludwig: "I think this is the first time in modern history where both parents and children are listening to the same music. That explains why 'La Bamba' is doing well, and why this picture will have something to say."
What "Riders on the Storm" (the title of a Doors hit) will specifically have to say is being kept secret by the principals involved. Grazer said he and Howard like the mythic quality of the story. Graham said his interest in the project is to accurately depict the atmosphere and mood of the '60s, which he said hasn't been done in a rock setting yet.
"The '60s was the most exciting period I would ever expect to live through," Graham said. "No matter how you lived, or how you felt about what was going on, we all knew there was an attempt by young people at affecting a positive alternative society. . . . Morrison and the Doors were thrust into a position of leadership. They were made to be sociological heroes rather than entertainment heroes."
Graham thinks the suddenness and intensity of the Doors' success was responsible for a lot of Morrison's self-destructive life style and his erratic behavior on stage. Morrison often performed drunk and in one highly publicized incident, he was arrested for exposing himself during a Florida concert.