Heart Like a Wheel (1983)

PG | 113 mins | Biography, Drama, Romance | 3 April 1983

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HISTORY

The film begins with the written prologue: “The following motion picture is based on a true story,” and concludes with: “In 1982, Shirley Muldowney won an unprecedented third Top Fuel World Championship.”
       Referring to the film by its working title, Born to Run, a 25 May 1981 HR news item announced that Aurora Film Partners had optioned screen rights to producer Charles Roven’s latest project, a biographical feature film about Shirley Muldowney. The drag race driver was the first woman to win the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) championship title in 1977, and she recently regained the title in 1980. At that time, Jonathan Kaplan was hired to direct and co-write the script with Ken Friedman, his partner on White Line Fever (1975, see entry), but Friedman receives sole onscreen writing credit.
       On 29 Apr 1981, Var stated that Roven anticipated an $8-10 million budget, and filming was set to begin in the fall of 1982 in Indianapolis, IN, and Los Angeles, CA. However, the production remained in limbo for another year, until a 24 Apr 1982 DV news item reported that the film, now titled American Beauty, would feature Bonnie Bedelia and Dean Paul Martin. Six days later, on 30 Apr 1982, a Var production chart listed a 3 May 1982 principal photography start date in Olympia, WA, and by 11 May 1982, DV was referring to the film by its release title, Heart Like a Wheel. A 2 Jun 1983 HR news item stated that the film got its title from ... More Less

The film begins with the written prologue: “The following motion picture is based on a true story,” and concludes with: “In 1982, Shirley Muldowney won an unprecedented third Top Fuel World Championship.”
       Referring to the film by its working title, Born to Run, a 25 May 1981 HR news item announced that Aurora Film Partners had optioned screen rights to producer Charles Roven’s latest project, a biographical feature film about Shirley Muldowney. The drag race driver was the first woman to win the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) championship title in 1977, and she recently regained the title in 1980. At that time, Jonathan Kaplan was hired to direct and co-write the script with Ken Friedman, his partner on White Line Fever (1975, see entry), but Friedman receives sole onscreen writing credit.
       On 29 Apr 1981, Var stated that Roven anticipated an $8-10 million budget, and filming was set to begin in the fall of 1982 in Indianapolis, IN, and Los Angeles, CA. However, the production remained in limbo for another year, until a 24 Apr 1982 DV news item reported that the film, now titled American Beauty, would feature Bonnie Bedelia and Dean Paul Martin. Six days later, on 30 Apr 1982, a Var production chart listed a 3 May 1982 principal photography start date in Olympia, WA, and by 11 May 1982, DV was referring to the film by its release title, Heart Like a Wheel. A 2 Jun 1983 HR news item stated that the film got its title from the 1974 Linda Ronstadt album of the same name, but the song was not used the picture.
       A 24 Jun 1982 HR brief stated that filming was scheduled between 21-23 Jul 1982 at the Orange County International Raceway in Irvine, CA. The drug rehabilitation organization, Narconon, guaranteed at least 15,000 teenagers to fill the stands as background actors in the scene. Shooting was completed not long after, according to the 30 Jul 1982 DV production chart.
       Shortly before production ended, the 14 Jul 1982 DV announced that Twentieth Century-Fox had stepped in to co-finance the picture with Aurora.
       According to an 18 Aug 1983 DV article, Heart Like a Wheel had a limited release on 3 Apr 1983 in MT, ID, UT, IN, and KY, but it failed to perform well at the box-office. Grossing only $66,219 on 66 screens, Twentieth Century-Fox cancelled the film’s national opening on 27 May 1983 and abandoned the picture, as stated in a 5 Oct 1983 NYT column. When the picture received critical acclaim, however, the studio reconsidered its marketing strategy, which had advertised the movie as an action, exploitation picture. Testing a new market, the movie was screened at the Seattle Film Festival, highlighted by a personal appearance by Shirley Muldowney, and Fox gave the picture a second theatrical release in Seattle, WA, in Aug 1983, where it grossed $10,800 in its first three days of opening. As noted in the NYT, Fox repackaged the movie as an “art film,” exhibiting it at film festivals and giving it a slow release to promote word-of-mouth publicity. While original advertisements featured a racecar and a large portrait of actress Bonnie Bedelia as “Shirley Muldowney,” new ads were created to omit the car and focus on the love story, stating: “Before you can be a winner – you have to put your heart on the line.” In addition, Newsweek’s David Ansen allowed Fox to use a quote from his review, even though it had not yet been published, calling the film “one of the best American movies of the year.”
       Several days after the film’s New York City opening on 6 Oct 1983, drag racer Connie Kalitta filed a lawsuit against Twentieth Century-Fox in an attempt to halt distribution, claiming the picture invaded his privacy and violated his “rights to publicity, among other charges,” according to a 13 Oct 1983 HR article. In his $1 million suit, Kalitta charged that he was entitled the same payment for story rights as Muldowney, who reportedly received $300,000 from the producers, along with a consultant fee. The outcome of the case has not been determined.
       End credits acknowledge: “Special thanks to: The National Hot Rod Association; Anheuser-Busch, Inc.; Associated Film Promotion; Bell Helmets, Inc.; CARQUEST Auto Parts stores; Champion Spark Plug Company; Chrysler Corporation; Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company; Infield Ambulance & Fire Control Service; Norm Marshall Associates; Pepsi-Cola Company; Pioneer Electronics (USA) Inc.; Southern California Racing Fuels; Unique Product Placement; Valvoline Oil Company,” and conclude with: “Portions of the film were filmed on location in Irvine, California and Olympic, Washington.”
       Some of the music credits on the print viewed for this record were unreadable, and are therefore partially incomplete. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
24 Apr 1982.
---
Daily Variety
27 Apr 1982.
---
Daily Variety
11 May 1982.
---
Daily Variety
14 Jul 1982.
---
Daily Variety
30 Jul 1982.
---
Daily Variety
1 Aug 1983
p. 3, 6.
Daily Variety
18 Aug 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 1981.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jun 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jun 1982.
---
Hollywood Reporter
13 Oct 1983
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1983
p. 38.
Los Angeles Times
4 Nov 1983
p. 6.
New York Times
5 Oct 1983.
---
New York Times
6 Oct 1983
p. 30.
Variety
21 Apr 1981.
---
Variety
30 Apr 1982.
---
Variety
28 May 1982.
---
Variety
6 Apr 1983
p. 16.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Aurora productions
in association with Michael Nolin
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Addl 1st asst dir
Addl 2d asst dir
2d unit dir, 2d unit
Prod mgr/1st asst dir, 2d unit
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Coord prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Key grip
Still photog
Dir of photog, 2d unit
Dir of photog, Olympia, Washington, 2d unit
Cam op, Olympia, Washington, 2d unit
ART DIRECTORS
Prod illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Negative cutter
Ed facilities by
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set des
Prop master
COSTUMES
Women`s cost
Women`s cost
Men`s cost
MUSIC
Mus ed
Songs coord by
Synclavier II synthesizer programmed and performed
Synclavier II synthesizer programmed and performed
SOUND
Supv sd eff ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd ed staff
Sd ed staff
Sd ed staff
Post-prod sd by
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff coord
Asst spec eff
Matte artist
Titles and opticals by
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Creative consultant
Casting
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Tech adv
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Picture car capt
Extra casting
Prod coord
Loc mgr
Loc auditor
Loc auditor
Asst to Mr. Kaplan
Asst to the prod
Office coord
Prod asst
Loc mgr, Olympia, Washington, 2d unit
Extra casting, Olympia, Washington, 2d unit
Watches supplied by
Travel arr by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt racing driver for Shirley Muldowney
Stunt racing driver for Connie Kalitta
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
SONGS
“Born To Win,” music and lyrics by Tom Snow, performed by Jill Michaels on Scotti Brothers Records, copyright © 1983 Aurora Film Partners, all rights reserved
“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season),” as performed by The Byrds, courtesy of Columbia Records/CBS Inc., all rights reserved, adaptation and music by Pete Seeger, words from the Book of Ecclesiastes, copyright © Melody Trails, Inc., all rights reserved
“Just Walking In The Rain,” as performed by Johnnie Ray, courtesy of Key Seven Music, all rights reserved, words and music by Johnny Bragg & Robert S. Riley, copyright © Golden West Melodies, Inc., all rights reserved
+
SONGS
“Born To Win,” music and lyrics by Tom Snow, performed by Jill Michaels on Scotti Brothers Records, copyright © 1983 Aurora Film Partners, all rights reserved
“Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season),” as performed by The Byrds, courtesy of Columbia Records/CBS Inc., all rights reserved, adaptation and music by Pete Seeger, words from the Book of Ecclesiastes, copyright © Melody Trails, Inc., all rights reserved
“Just Walking In The Rain,” as performed by Johnnie Ray, courtesy of Key Seven Music, all rights reserved, words and music by Johnny Bragg & Robert S. Riley, copyright © Golden West Melodies, Inc., all rights reserved
“I Only Have Eyes For You,” as performed by The Flamingos, courtesy of Roulette Records, all rights reserved, lyrics by Al Dubin, music by Harry Warren, copyright © 1934 Warner Bros., Inc., all rights reserved
“Happy Together,” as performed by The Turtles, courtesy of Flo & Eddy, Inc., all rights reserved, words and music by Garry Bonner & Lee Gordon, copyright © 1967, all rights reserved
“Locomotion,” as performed by Little Eva, courtesy of Emus Record Corp., all rights reserved, words and music by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, copyright © 1962, all rights reserved
“Louie, Louie,” as performed by Jack Ely, courtesy of Key Seven Music, all rights reserved, words and music by Richard Berry, copyright © 1967 Flip Records, Inc., all rights reserved
“Free Flight,” music by Michael Lloyd, copyright © 1982 Michael Music (ASCAP), all rights reserved
“Soft Drinks,” music by Michael Lloyd, copyright © 1982 Michael Music (ASCAP)/Wheatley Music, Ltd. (ASCAP), all rights reserved
“Gimme This Moment,” words and music by Creed Bratton, copyright © 1982 Kindred Music, all rights reserved
“Built For Comfort,” sung by Hoyt Axton, words and music by Willie Dixon, copyright © 1982 Kindred Music, all rights reserved
“You Taught Me How To Cry,” sung by Hoyt Axton, words and music by Hoyt Axton, copyright © 1977 Lady Jane Music, all rights reserved
“Waitin’ For Love,” written by Michael Lloyd and Jim Dunn, copyright © 1982 Michael Music (ASCAP)/Jim Dunn Music (BMI), all rights reserved
“Open Air,” music by David Wheatley, copyright © 1982 Michael Music (ASCAP)/Wheatley Music, Ltd. (ASCAP), all rights reserved.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
American Beauty
Born to Run
Release Date:
3 April 1983
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 6 Oct 1983; Los Angeles opening: 4 Nov 1983
Production Date:
began 3 May 1982
Copyright Claimant:
Aurora Film Partners & 20th Century-Fox Film Corporation
Copyright Date:
9 May 1983
Copyright Number:
PA171805
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by CFI
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Prints
Prints by Deluxe®
Duration(in mins):
113
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
26895
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1956 Schenectady, New York, a young waitress named Shirley has an unusual passion for automobile racing and inspires her high school sweetheart, Jack Muldowney, to compete against a fellow car enthusiast in a game of “chicken.” As the two cars race side by side, Jack loses his courage and yields to oncoming danger, losing the race. However, Shirley does not lose faith in the boy and encourages him to ask her father, Tex Roque, to approve their marriage. Tex, who taught Shirley to drive, agrees to the wedding on condition that Shirley finish high school. He reminds the girl that she must never lose her independence. Not long after the marriage, Jack is challenged to another game of “chicken” and declines, but Shirley convinces her new husband to let her take the wheel, and wins a $100 bet. In the years to come, Shirley continues to work as a waitress while raising her young son, John, and supplements the family income by winning local car races. After meeting the “Top Fuel” dragster champion, Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, Shirley decides to pursue professional racing, but Jack warns that sponsors in the male-dominated sport will not take her seriously. When Jack orders Shirley to remain a housewife, she defies her husband and travels alone to Detroit, Michigan, hoping to secure the support of automobile companies. As she returns home dejected, Jack regrets his antagonism and offers to make Shirley a custom “Funny Car” dragster, so she can race without corporate sponsorship. With Jack as her mechanic and manager, Shirley achieves local acclaim and becomes increasingly ambitious, making her way through the ... +


In 1956 Schenectady, New York, a young waitress named Shirley has an unusual passion for automobile racing and inspires her high school sweetheart, Jack Muldowney, to compete against a fellow car enthusiast in a game of “chicken.” As the two cars race side by side, Jack loses his courage and yields to oncoming danger, losing the race. However, Shirley does not lose faith in the boy and encourages him to ask her father, Tex Roque, to approve their marriage. Tex, who taught Shirley to drive, agrees to the wedding on condition that Shirley finish high school. He reminds the girl that she must never lose her independence. Not long after the marriage, Jack is challenged to another game of “chicken” and declines, but Shirley convinces her new husband to let her take the wheel, and wins a $100 bet. In the years to come, Shirley continues to work as a waitress while raising her young son, John, and supplements the family income by winning local car races. After meeting the “Top Fuel” dragster champion, Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, Shirley decides to pursue professional racing, but Jack warns that sponsors in the male-dominated sport will not take her seriously. When Jack orders Shirley to remain a housewife, she defies her husband and travels alone to Detroit, Michigan, hoping to secure the support of automobile companies. As she returns home dejected, Jack regrets his antagonism and offers to make Shirley a custom “Funny Car” dragster, so she can race without corporate sponsorship. With Jack as her mechanic and manager, Shirley achieves local acclaim and becomes increasingly ambitious, making her way through the ranks to a National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) race in 1966. Arriving at Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, Shirley is outraged when an official claims it is unsafe for her to drive. While Jack begs his wife to comply, Shirley demands to see NHRA rules and learns she is guaranteed a spot in the race with the approval of three accredited drivers. Although most men are unwilling to sign her application, “Big Daddy” Garlits remembers her from years earlier and lends his name. In addition, Shirley catches the fancy of champion racer Conrad “Connie” Kalitta, who agrees to support Shirley despite her disinterest in his flirtation. When Shirley is unable to secure the third signature, Connie blackmails a friend to assure the young woman an opportunity and she becomes the first woman to race in a national Hot Rod Association (NHRA) competition. Shirley surprises her detractors and gains newfound respect, setting a new track record at 155 mph. At a celebratory dinner, Connie takes Shirley aside to kiss her, but she slaps his face and reminds him they are both married. However, Shirley and Jack’s relationship falters with her success, and he grows weary of her ambition, believing that women are best suited for domesticity. Jack nurses his jealously and wounded ego with alcohol, making him prone to violent outbursts, and Shirley falls into a depression of her own, mourning the recent death of her father, Tex. Returning to Raceway Park, Shirley fails to complete a qualifying round when her car breaks down, and she and Jack blame each other for the incident. When Connie Kalitta eases tensions, offering to help fix the car, he and the couple become fast friends and tour racetracks together on weekends. By winter, Jack is relieved to take a break from racing and looks forward to resuming domestic life, but Connie encourages Shirley to keep going and pursue races in the western U.S. As he announces plans to give up his Funny Car for a Top Fuel dragster, Shirley convinces him to let her drive his championship vehicle. However, Jack refuses to go along with Shirley’s plan, and destroys the custom dragster he built for her years earlier. A violent fight ensues and Shirley ends her marriage, but she promises to collect her son, John, as soon as she establishes her independence. By 1972, Shirley has been transformed under Connie’s tutelage, becoming a racing celebrity named “Cha Cha.” She sets up a new home in California and sends for John, who works in her pit crew. At the Orange County International Raceway in Irvine, California, Shirley wins yet another contest, but Connie crashes, and Shirley runs to the burning car. When Connie makes it out alive and kisses his lover, John realizes his mother is having an affair with a married man and does not trust Connie. In 1973, Shirley’s car catches fire at Pomona Fairgrounds and she is badly burned. Released from the hospital, Shirley remains frail but visits Connie at the racetrack, only to discover he has failed to prepare his dragster in time to race. As she attempts to prevent Connie from fighting an official, she is detained by a security guard, who seizes her burned arm, and she shrieks in agony. Connie charges to her rescue and fights the guard, but his violence results in an indefinite suspension of his racing license. With Connie out of the competition, Shirley convinces him to let her drive his Top Fuel dragster and he agrees to be her crew chief. By 1975, Shirley is ranked among the top fifteen U.S. drag racers, and in 1976, she is the first woman to win an NHRA national event. One year later, in 1977, Shirley wins the NHRA World Championship. Although she accepts the award with grace, she mourns the loss of her relationship with Connie, who betrayed her trust and started another affair. Sometime later, Connie attempts to reconcile, but Shirley announces the dissolution of their partnership on a live radio show. Outraged, Connie comes to Shirley’s house to reclaim his tools and a fight ensues, leaving John severely wounded when he attempts to defend his mother. Shirley ostracizes her former lover for good, and continues racing with John as her crew chief. In 1980, she reunites with Connie when they race against each other in the NHRA World Finals. Proving she is now a seasoned driver who can succeed without the support of an established male mentor, Shirley speeds across the finish line. As she revels in victory over her greatest competitor, Shirley gives Connie a conciliatory embrace and they promise to meet again at the racetrack. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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