Pure Country writer Rex McGee on the film’s turbulent past and musical theater future – Wide Open Country | Episode Movies

Over 30 years ago, Rex McGee was given a difficult task – write the 1992s Pure Landa feature-length drama set to boost the career of a country superstar with no acting experience.

“I was hired to write a film for George Strait,” McGee said Wide open country. “Jerry Weintraub, the producer of Pure Land, had a contract with Warner Bros. and was the protégé of Elvis’ manager Col. Tom Parker. Col. Parker was the one who suggested that Jerry take George to the movies [Parker did for Presley]. It took a while to convince George because he didn’t want to be an actor and he’s not demonstrative on stage. He stands up there and sings, and that’s about it. He doesn’t jump around like Garth Brooks.”

McGee was a good fit to write the story of Strait’s character, Wyatt “Dusty” Chandler. After growing up near filming locations in Fort Worth, Texas, the lifelong film buff moved to Hollywood to study film at USC. Though he didn’t follow country music closely in the late ’80s and early ’90s, McGee had sung onstage with the legendary Hank Thompson by age 5, and the veteran author cites Jerry Reed as an all-time favorite artist. When you are tasked with writing Pure LandMcGee once again lived in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, where he got a feel for Strait’s past by immersing himself in the area’s rodeo culture.

“My only directive from the producer was that it had to be 10 songs because they were going to put out an album, and somewhere in the film George has to screw something up because he’s an album rodeo guy and Team Roper and loves doing that,” added McGee.

Courtesy of Rex McGee

Strait’s character, who is uncomfortable in his own skin, was inspired by another king.

“I think I’ve thought about it [Elvis Presley] back then because of the connections with Weintraub and Parker and all that,” McGee explained. “I thought, ‘What would have happened if Elvis had changed his looks and gone from all the yes men and the whole Memphis mob and gone back to his original music? His original gospel and rhythm and blues, you know? If Elvis had done that, would he still be alive?’ That made me think about where the story is, and it’s about a guy who’s completely unfulfilled with his fame, his money, his position.”

While writing a screenplay for one music icon inspired by another, McGee created something that viewers have known for over 30 years.

“In a way it’s a midlife crisis story, and I think everyone hits this place in their mid-40s or 50s or whenever it hits,” he added. “,Is that all? I’m successful, I have money, I have a family, I have a business, but I’m not happy. I’m not fulfilled.’ I think that touches people and that’s the secret [the film’s] staying power. I can’t think of anyone who hasn’t had that moment in their life.”

There is an additional personal touch from McGee that hides in the first script he wrote that was made into a film.

“There’s a scene where George’s character goes to this old cemetery, and he goes to his parents’ headstone, who seem to have died,” he said. “It’s a fake tombstone that they made for the film. On this tombstone were the names of my parents, both of whom were deceased at the time. When I first saw this I cried like a baby. It was my thank you to her. I almost can’t see this shot. My father’s name was Theo and my mother’s name was Lucille and those are the names on the tombstone.”

Such thought and care about the story and its deeper meaning helped ease Strait’s burden as a first-time actor.

“I thought, ‘Okay, if I write a script for an actor who can’t act, it’s not going to work. I have to write it like I’m writing it for Lawrence Olivier’,” McGee said. “Well, write as best you can, and I did. George was awkward at times, but Christopher Cain, the director, helped him. I remember [Strait’s] Son Bubba, who was 8 or 9 at the time, gave him acting lessons.”

NASHVILLE - OCTOBER 20: Country singer George Strait with country songwriter Dean Dillon at the party for the film premiere of George Strait on October 20, 1992 in Nashville, Tennessee

NASHVILLE – OCTOBER 20: Country singer George Strait with country songwriter Dean Dillon at the premiere of the film “Party for George Strait” on October 20, 1992 in Nashville, Tennessee (Photo by Beth Gwinn/Getty Images)

Pure Land disappointed at the box office upon its release, earning around $15 million on a budget of $10 million. However, the film became a long-term success for two reasons. First, it gradually gained an audience via cable television. More importantly for Strait, the Pure Land The soundtrack album became the best-selling full-length album of his career, with “I Cross My Heart” and “Heartland” among his 60 No. 1 hits of his career.

Enough momentum grew away from the theaters for Pure Land be seen as a title that would spark fan interest in two otherwise unrelated films.

“Warner Bros. owns the title Pure Landso that hung up– Pure Land 2: The Gift. That was a script that had been floating around for a long, long time and it was about a singer,” McGee said. “There’s one more thing [Pure Country: Pure Heart] with Willy Nelson. I think it’s an addition that they gave them that name.”

In recent years, McGee has retooled Pure Land into a musical featuring new songs from Heartland co-writers Steve Dorff and John Bettis.

“It was part of my script deal that if Warner Bros. hadn’t developed it into a musical, those rights would revert to me two years after its release,” McGee explained. “So it turns out I owned the musical stage rights to the story.”

The project allowed McGee to revisit scenes missing from the film while increasing his focus on the romantic subplot of his story.

“A lot of scenes that I thought were important were cut,” he said. “I saw them being filmed because I was there, so I knew they were edited out. I wanted those scenes back. I wanted to do better.”

McGee did some editing himself. Namely, the requisite roping-and-riding scene because, as he put it, “It’s hard to do barrel racing on stage.”

As for additional tweaks, the Dusty character’s identity and destiny is more closely tied to his hometown.

“I slightly changed the plot where the girl he meets in the musical is the girl he left behind when Lula, the manager, spots him at a honky-tonk in a small town in Texas,” McGee said . “In the film he meets the girl and then the romance develops. When he returns to the musical, he had left her and she was very mad at him. So I had a romantic conflict going on.

“I didn’t think the musical should end in Las Vegas because it was a homecoming story,” he continued. “It was about how he found his roots again, and his roots weren’t in Las Vegas. I wanted to end the show with him leaving his star-driven life behind and going back to the honky-tonk home where he started.”

Photo of the Pure Country stage production at the Lyric Stage in Dallas, Texas.

Courtesy of Rex McGee

Theater taste buds in New York avoided the project, partly because of the stage version Urban cowboys Poor performance tarnished the reputation of country films turned musicals. Undeterred, McGee looked elsewhere for support after considering the film’s marketing strategy.

“I remember Jerry Weintraub saying, ‘I don’t care if this movie is ever set in New York or LA. That’s not the audience we’re looking for. We’re looking for the Heartland audience here,'” he said. “He was right, and it’s still popular there.”

So the piece found a home in Texas. It was first fully produced in Dallas in 2017, with another run scheduled to take place in Houston just before the COVID-19 lockdown.

McGee and his team are now looking at other options in markets that could prove Weintraub as a stage show fortuneteller.

READ MORE: ‘I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow’: The Story Behind the Signature Song of the ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ Soundtrack

Similar videos

Leave a Comment