Great Balls of Fire! (1989)

PG-13 | 108 mins | Biography, Drama | 30 June 1989

Director:

Jim McBride

Producer:

Adam Fields

Cinematographer:

Affonso Beato

Production Designer:

David Nichols

Production Company:

Orion Pictures
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HISTORY

The following title card precedes the film's title in opening credits: "Ferriday, Louisiana, Christmas - 1944." Preceding the last scene of the film, a photograph of Dennis Quaid as “Jerry Lee Lewis” and Winona Ryder as “Myra Gale Lewis” with a newborn baby is accompanied by the title card: “Steve Allen Lewis was born February 27, 1959.” The last scene portrays Lewis playing to an adoring crowd with superimposed title cards that reads, “Jerry Lee Lewis is playing his heart out somewhere in America tonight,” and, “Piano and vocals for Jerry Lee Lewis performed by The Killer himself.” “The Killer” is a nickname for Lewis briefly referenced in the film.
       After song listings, end credits name Jeff Sydney as the executive in charge for PolyGram Records, Inc. The following statements appear in end credits: “Stock foootage: ‘Cold Turkey’ © 1951 The Walt Disney Company; ‘A Face in the Crowd,’ ‘Rock Rock Rock,’ courtesy of Castle Hill Productions, Inc.; ‘Five,’ courtesy of Columbia Pictures; ‘That Hamilton Woman,’ The Samuel Goldwyn Company; ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ courtesy of Universal City Studios”; and, “Special Thanks to: Jerry Lee Lewis; Sam & Knox Phillips; Kerrie Lewis; David Braun; Robert Hilburn; Gordon Stulberg; Rogers & Cowan; The Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, Linn Sitler; The Memphis & Shelby County Film, Tape and Music Commission; The Center for Southern Folklore”; and, "We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of The Estate of Elvis Presley, 'Elvis' and 'Elvis Presley' are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc." End credits also include the dedication, “For Trey Wilson, we miss you.” Wilson, the actor who played “Sam Phillips,” died 16 Jan 1989.
       A 20 Oct 1982 DV ... More Less

The following title card precedes the film's title in opening credits: "Ferriday, Louisiana, Christmas - 1944." Preceding the last scene of the film, a photograph of Dennis Quaid as “Jerry Lee Lewis” and Winona Ryder as “Myra Gale Lewis” with a newborn baby is accompanied by the title card: “Steve Allen Lewis was born February 27, 1959.” The last scene portrays Lewis playing to an adoring crowd with superimposed title cards that reads, “Jerry Lee Lewis is playing his heart out somewhere in America tonight,” and, “Piano and vocals for Jerry Lee Lewis performed by The Killer himself.” “The Killer” is a nickname for Lewis briefly referenced in the film.
       After song listings, end credits name Jeff Sydney as the executive in charge for PolyGram Records, Inc. The following statements appear in end credits: “Stock foootage: ‘Cold Turkey’ © 1951 The Walt Disney Company; ‘A Face in the Crowd,’ ‘Rock Rock Rock,’ courtesy of Castle Hill Productions, Inc.; ‘Five,’ courtesy of Columbia Pictures; ‘That Hamilton Woman,’ The Samuel Goldwyn Company; ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ courtesy of Universal City Studios”; and, “Special Thanks to: Jerry Lee Lewis; Sam & Knox Phillips; Kerrie Lewis; David Braun; Robert Hilburn; Gordon Stulberg; Rogers & Cowan; The Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission, Linn Sitler; The Memphis & Shelby County Film, Tape and Music Commission; The Center for Southern Folklore”; and, "We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of The Estate of Elvis Presley, 'Elvis' and 'Elvis Presley' are registered trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc." End credits also include the dedication, “For Trey Wilson, we miss you.” Wilson, the actor who played “Sam Phillips,” died 16 Jan 1989.
       A 20 Oct 1982 DV brief announced that Polygram Pictures optioned Myra Lewis’s autobiographical account of her marriage, Great Balls of Fire: The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis. According to a 30 Jun 1989 LAT article, she was paid $100,000 and promised participation on either the writing or casting of the film, although she later complained that she was merely sent a script and informed of the casting of Winona Ryder by producer Adam Fields. Fields, a producer based at Paramount Pictures, reportedly spent two years helping Polygram negotiate the book rights, as stated in a 9 Aug 1985 LAT. A few months after the option was announced, however, a 4 May 1983 Var article stated that ABC Motion Pictures bought the rights from Polygram. ABC slated to develop and fund the production, with Barry Levinson directing and Pierre Cossette producing. Under this arrangement, Polygram would receive a producer’s credit. Jerry Lee Lewis’s friend, actor Gary Sandy of the the television show WKRP in Cincinnati, was mentioned as a frontrunner for the lead role in a Jan 1983 Moviegoer news item.
       A 13 Aug 1983 Billboard item later reported that Mickey Rourke was cast as Jerry Lee Lewis, despite his initial reservations about the project. Rourke reportedly “fell in love” with Lewis after visiting him in Gatlinburg, TN, and planned to spend two months with him in preparation for the Apr 1984 shoot. Filming was delayed to Nov 1984, as stated in a 9 Jun 1984 LAHExam story, which mentioned that Lewis was awaiting a 9 Jul 1984 trial for tax evasion. According to producers Pierre Cossette and Phillip Browning, the script would include Lewis’s rise to fame and the drowning death of his fourth wife in 1982. At the time, Twentieth Century-Fox was on board to distribute, but the studio later dropped out, as did Barry Levinson.
       Rights to Myra Lewis’s book reverted to Polygram after ABC Motion Pictures’ two-and-a-half-year development deal expired. Although ABC did not explain their reason for letting the project go, Rourke was rumored to have been dissatisfied with the script. The story was eventually reduced to an eighteen-month period between 1956 and 1958, when Lewis rose to fame, as noted in an 11 Nov 1988 HR item. Terrence Malick was brought on to write a new script, as reported in a 13 Dec 1987 LAT item, but received no credit in the final film.
       A 17 Jan 1988 Long Beach Press-Telegram article stated that Jim McBride had signed to direct the film for Orion Pictures and was aiming to begin principal photography in mid-May or early Jun 1988, but the start date depended on the availability of Dennis Quaid, who would play Lewis. Quaid and McBride previously worked together on The Big Easy (1986, see entry), and in Jan 1988, Quaid was finishing production on Everybody’s All American (1988, see entry). A decision had not been made about who would perform the vocals for the singing portions of the film, although producer Fields stated that Quaid could sing. The actor was paid $2 million, as noted in 19 Feb 1989 LAT and 30 Jun 1989 Allentown, PA Morning Call articles.
       A 21 Mar 1988 People item reported that Orion wanted to cast actress Holly Hunter opposite Quaid in the film, but the item made no mention of the role which she would play. Hunter did not appear in the film. Photographer William Eggleston appeared as a background actor in a scene at Lewis’s family home in Ferriday, LA, but received no onscreen credit for the role.
       According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Quaid began piano lessons six months prior to production and practiced up to twelve hours per day. Pianos were kept on set, in the actor’s dressing room, and at his rented home in Memphis, TN, during production. Also in preparation for the role, Quaid traveled to Lewis’s ranch in Mississippi and struck up a friendship with the entertainer. Quaid went through Lewis’s old clothes, took a pair of his shoes from the 1950s, and wore them through the last day of the shoot. Quaid and Lewis continued to spend time together throughout filming, and a 12 Oct 1988 LAHExam item noted that the singer accompanied Quaid to Memphis’s Kiva Studios as he recorded vocals to be used in the film. Lewis fought Quaid over the vocals, according to the 30 Jun 1989 Allentown, PA Morning Call, and although Quaid’s contract stipulated that his vocals would be featured, a 27 Dec 1989 USA Today item stated that Lewis ultimately recorded the singing parts after Quaid’s were deemed “untuneful.”
       Principal photography began 31 Oct 1988, as noted in a DV item of the same date. The bulk of filming took place in Memphis, where locations included Graceland, the Skyroom at the Peabody Hotel, Beale Street, Sun Studios, Memphis International Airport, a fairground, a department store, an elementary school, a Little League baseball park, and Lewis’s former home on Diane Drive. As stated in the 11 Nov 1988 HR, the 120-person crew would be comprised of fifty locals. Also, 200 dancers from the area were hired, and 2,000 to 3,000 extras would be recruited for concert scenes. Shooting also took place in Arkansas and Mississippi, where scenes depicting Lewis’s hometown of Ferriday, LA, were shot. The final three weeks of principal photography took place in London, England. London locales included the Hammersmith Odeon theater.
       According to a 17 Jul 1989 People item, the baby grand piano that was set on fire during Lewis’s Paramount Theater performance in the film cost $16,000. A total of eighteen pianos were used in the picture.
       After test audiences disapproved of the film’s ending, a more upbeat ending was shot, according to a 21 May 1989 LAT item. The initial ending showed Lewis “reduced to playing at one of the old honkytonks” where he had started, while the new ending showed him in an auditorium, performing in a celebratory manner.
       A 4 Jun 1989 LAT “Outtakes” column stated that Orion planned to spend over $10 million on prints and advertising, which accounted for more than half of the film’s $16-18 million budget, according to a 14 Aug 1988 LAT brief. Publicity events included the unveiling of Jerry Lee Lewis’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 13 Jun 1989, a 26 Jun 1989 New York City world premiere at the Ziegfeld Theater, a publicity junket in Memphis for 300 film and music reporters, and a VIP screening in Los Angeles, CA, at the Director’s Guild on 29 Jun 1989. Roughly 1,000 teaser trailers were scheduled to play in theaters according to an 8 Feb 1989 HR “Rambling Reporter” column. In the column, Adam Fields noted that he had to “clear up 30 years of lawsuits and publishing disputes” to make the film, and tackle clearance problems for the songs, only one of which was co-written by Lewis. The producer also stated that in the eight years he had been working on the film, Lewis had married and declared bankruptcy twice, lost a wife and a son, and another one of his sons had been hospitalized with a hole in his stomach.
       The film was initially rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), due to a scene in which thirteen-year-old Myra Gale Lewis loses her virginity to Lewis. However, Orion appealed the decision, and the MPAA re-rated the film PG-13, as reported in a 5 Jun 1989 DV brief.
       In addition to the vocals in the film, Lewis, a “15-year recording veteran with Polygram,” re-recorded new versions of his songs for the soundtrack, which was released by Polygram Records, according to a 25 Apr 1989 HR item. The rerecorded version of “Great Balls of Fire” was released as a single, with an accompanying music video that featured both Lewis and Quaid.
       Critical reception was tepid, and the Sep 1989 Box review stated the film only grossed $10.8 million in three weeks, calling it “an industry-surprising low.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
[Allentown, PA] Morning Call
30 Jun 1989
Section D, p. 1.
Billboard
13 Aug 1983.
---
Box Office
Sep 1989.
---
Daily Variety
20 Oct 1982.
---
Daily Variety
24 Jul 1984.
---
Daily Variety
31 Oct 1988.
---
Daily Variety
14 Feb 1989.
---
Daily Variety
5 Jun 1989
p. 1, 18.
Daily Variety
29 Jun 1989
p. 2, 26.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Dec 1987
p. 3, 114.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1988.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Nov 1988
p. 42.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Feb 1989
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Apr 1989.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 1989
p. 4, 23.
L.B. Press-Telegram
17 Jan 1988.
---
LAHExam
9 Jun 1984
Section A, p. 2.
LAHExam
12 Oct 1988.
---
Los Angeles Times
9 Aug 1985
Section G, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
13 Dec 1987
Calendar, p. 120.
Los Angeles Times
14 Aug 1988
Calendar, p. 25.
Los Angeles Times
10 Nov 1988
Calendar, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
6 Dec 1988
Calendar, p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
19 Feb 1989
Section K, p. 4.
Los Angeles Times
21 May 1989
Calendar, p. 24.
Los Angeles Times
4 Jun 1989
Calendar, p. 24.
Los Angeles Times
30 Jun 1989
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
30 Jun 1989
Section 5, p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
9 Jul 1989
Calendar, p. 38.
Moviegoer
Jan 1983.
---
New York Times
15 Jan 1989
Section A, p. 16.
New York Times
30 Jun 1989
p. 8.
Newsweek
2 Apr 1989.
---
People
21 Mar 1988.
---
People
17 Jul 1989.
---
USA Today
27 Dec 1989
Section D, p. 2.
Variety
11 May 1983
p. 4, 48.
Variety
18 Sep 1985.
---
Variety
5 Jul 1989
pp. 18-19.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Haney's Big House dancers:
Rebel Room dancers:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
An Orion Pictures Release
An Adam Fields Production
A Film By Jim McBride
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst dir
Prod mgr, British crew
1st asst dir, British crew
2d asst dir, British crew
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Co-exec prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Cam loader
Video assist
Still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Elec
Key grip
Best boy
Dolly grip
Grip
Focus puller, British crew
Video coord, British crew
Still photog, British crew
Gaffer, British crew
Clapper loader, British crew
Grip, British crew
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir
Art dept coord
Art dir, British crew
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Lead person
2d lead person
Swing gang
Swing gang
Set des
Prop master
Asst prop master
2d asst props
Const coord
Const foreman
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Carpenter
Head painter
Painter
Painter
Set dec, British crew
Prop master, British crew
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost supv
Women's costumer
Men's costumer
Asst costumer
Dennis Quaid's suits tailored by
Seamstress
Ward asst
Ward asst
Cost supv, British crew
Ward master, British crew
Ward mistress, British crew
MUSIC
Piano and vocals for Jerry Lee Lewis performed by
Loc mus supv
Mus coach
Piano coach
Addl orch by
Synclavier programming by
Rec eng
Supv mus eng
Supv mus ed
Mus ed
Asst mus ed
Pianos by
Mus clearance assistance by
Mus clearance assistance by
Mus rec at
Mus mixed at
Source mus, British crew
Source mus, British crew
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Playback op
Addl playback
Cableman
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Foley ed
Foley ed
Asst sd ed
Asst sd ed
Foley artist
Foley artist
Addl rec
Re-rec
Re-rec
Re-rec
Foley by
Sd mixer, British crew
Boom swinger, British crew
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Anim eff
Matte shot by
Titles & opticals
Main title des
Spec eff, British crew
DANCE
Choreog
Choreog
MAKEUP
Key makeup artist
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Extras makeup
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
Hairstylist
Makeup artist, British crew
Makeup artist, British crew
Hairdresser, British crew
Hairdresser, British crew
Hairdresser, British crew
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod coord/Post prod supv
Scr supv
Auditor
Asst to Mr. Fields
Asst to Mr. McBride
Asst coord
Asst accountant
Office prod asst
Office prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
L.A. office asst
L.A. office asst
Extras casting
Casting asst, L.A.
Casting asst, Memphis
Extras casting asst
Extras casting asst
Extras casting asst
Loc mgr
Asst loc mgr
Prod adv
Exec tech adv
Tech adv
Unit pub
Asst to Dennis Quaid
AFI intern
Set nurse
Craft service
Craft service
Catering
Financial representative
Travel arrangements by
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Picture car coord
Addl picture cars by
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
London prod consultant, British crew
Prod coord, British crew
Loc mgr, British crew
Loc mgr, British crew
Prod accountant, British crew
Scr supv, British crew
Casting, British crew
London prod services, British crew
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stand-in
Stand-in
Stand-in
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based upon the book Great Balls of Fire: The Uncensored Story of Jerry Lee Lewis by Myra Lewis with Murray Silver (New York, 1982).
SONGS
"Crazy Arms," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Ralph Mooney & Charles Seals
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by David Williams & Sunny David
"I'm Throwing Rice At The Girl That I Love," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Eddy Arnold, Edward Nelson, Steve Nelson
+
SONGS
"Crazy Arms," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Ralph Mooney & Charles Seals
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by David Williams & Sunny David
"I'm Throwing Rice At The Girl That I Love," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Eddy Arnold, Edward Nelson, Steve Nelson
"Great Balls of Fire," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Otis Blackwell & Jack Hammer
"High School Confidential," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Ron Hargrave & Jerry Lee Lewis
"Breathless," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Otis Blackwell
"I'm On Fire," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, Richard Gottehrer
"That Lucky Old Sun," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Haven Gillespie & Beasley Smith
"Real Wild Child (Wild One)," performed by Jerry Lee Lewis, written by Johnny O'Keefe, Johnny Greenan, Dave Owens
"Big Legged Woman," performed by Booker T. Laury, written by James Williams, produced by Billy Swan & Joe Mulherin
"Honey Don't," written & performed by Carl Perkins, courtesy of Sun Records
"Raunchy," performed by Bill Justis, written by Bill Justis & Sidney Manker, courtesy of Sun Records
"Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer," performed by Joe Nettles, written by Johnny Marks
"Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer," performed by Gene Autry, written by Johnny Marks, courtesy of CBS Records, Music Licensing Department
"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," performed by Valerie Wellington, written by David Williams & Sunny David
"Teddy Bear," performed by Elvis Presley, written by Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe, courtesy of RCA Records
"Lover," performed by Les Paul & Mary Ford, written by Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart (Licensor - Sema Special Products), Capitol Records, Inc.
"As You Desire Me," performed by Bill Doggett, written by Allie Wrubel, courtesy of Gusto Records, Inc.
"Rocket 88," performed by Jackie Brenston, written by Jackie Brenston, courtesy of Sun Records
"Patricia," performed by Perez Prado, written by Damaso Perez Prado, courtesy of RCA Records
"Beat Guitar," performed by The Wailers, written by John Greek & Rick Dangel, courtesy of Golden Crest Industries
"Singing & Swingin' For Me," performed by Billy Boyd's Cowboy Ramblers, written by Al Dexter & James Paris, courtesy of RCA Records
"Happy Organ," performed by Dave "Baby" Cortez, written by Ken Wood, David Clowney & James Kriegsmann, courtesy of Clock Records/Doug Moody Productions
"Tara's Theme," written by Max Steiner
"Last Night," performed by The Mar-Keys, written by C. Axton, J. Smith, F. Newman, C. Moman & G. Caple, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp., by arrangement with Warner Special Products.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
30 June 1989
Premiere Information:
Premiere in New York: 26 June 1989 at the Ziegfeld Theater
Los Angeles and New York openings: 30 June 1989
Production Date:
31 October 1988--early February 1989 in Memphis, TN
Louisiana
Arkansas
and London, England
Copyright Claimant:
Orion Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
22 August 1989
Copyright Number:
PA423105
Physical Properties:
Sound
Spectral Recording Dolby Stereo SR™ in selected theatres
Color
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
108
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
29793
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1944 Ferriday, Louisiana, young Jerry Lee Lewis and his cousin, Jimmy Lee Swaggart, spy on a nightclub in the African American section of town. While Jerry Lee is mesmerized by the piano player and provocative dancers on the dance floor, Jimmy warns they are listening to the “devil’s music” and runs away. Years later, Jerry Lee plays piano in the living room of his cousin J.W. Brown in Memphis, Tennessee. J.W.’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Myra Gale Brown, returns home from school and is surprised to find Jerry Lee. Although she does not remember meeting him as a child, Myra knows of Jerry Lee’s reputation as a “wild one.” Myra’s mother, Lois, tells her daughter that Jerry Lee is married, but Jerry Lee corrects Lois, explaining that his second marriage was illegitimate and he is now a single man. Jerry Lee takes J.W., who plays the bass, to Sun Records recording studio to meet Sam Phillips, the music producer who discovered Elvis Presley. However, Phillips is not there, and a Sun employee tells Jerry Lee that he will not succeed as a piano player because young girls want to see performers wiggle around onstage. Days later, Sam Phillips listens to Jerry Lee and J.W.’s recording of the song “Crazy Arms” and immediately takes the record to a local radio station. Jerry Lee rejoices as he hears the song on his car radio, and J.W. celebrates with Lois and Myra at home. Sam has big plans for Jerry Lee, and his brother and business partner, Judd Phillips, presents the performer with a contract that J.W. peruses, but Jerry Lee insists on signing right away. In 1956, Jerry Lee returns home to ... +


In 1944 Ferriday, Louisiana, young Jerry Lee Lewis and his cousin, Jimmy Lee Swaggart, spy on a nightclub in the African American section of town. While Jerry Lee is mesmerized by the piano player and provocative dancers on the dance floor, Jimmy warns they are listening to the “devil’s music” and runs away. Years later, Jerry Lee plays piano in the living room of his cousin J.W. Brown in Memphis, Tennessee. J.W.’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Myra Gale Brown, returns home from school and is surprised to find Jerry Lee. Although she does not remember meeting him as a child, Myra knows of Jerry Lee’s reputation as a “wild one.” Myra’s mother, Lois, tells her daughter that Jerry Lee is married, but Jerry Lee corrects Lois, explaining that his second marriage was illegitimate and he is now a single man. Jerry Lee takes J.W., who plays the bass, to Sun Records recording studio to meet Sam Phillips, the music producer who discovered Elvis Presley. However, Phillips is not there, and a Sun employee tells Jerry Lee that he will not succeed as a piano player because young girls want to see performers wiggle around onstage. Days later, Sam Phillips listens to Jerry Lee and J.W.’s recording of the song “Crazy Arms” and immediately takes the record to a local radio station. Jerry Lee rejoices as he hears the song on his car radio, and J.W. celebrates with Lois and Myra at home. Sam has big plans for Jerry Lee, and his brother and business partner, Judd Phillips, presents the performer with a contract that J.W. peruses, but Jerry Lee insists on signing right away. In 1956, Jerry Lee returns home to Ferriday for Christmas and hands out his record to family members. Jimmy, now a preacher, plays piano with him and tries to persuade his cousin to use his talents for the glory of God, giving Jerry Lee a religious coin to remind him of the choice he must make between righteousness and sin. Jerry Lee sneaks away to the African American nightclub he spied on as a child and joins the piano player during a rousing performance of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.” He later persuades Sam to let him record the song, but Sam resists, claiming they lyrics are too suggestive. At a bar called the Rebel Room, Jerry Lee and his band play to an indifferent crowd. J.W. threatens to quit but Jerry promises him a fifty-fifty partnership if he stays. They play “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On,” and the bar patrons finally take notice and dance to the music. Judd Phillips witnesses the moment, and the band is permitted to record the single, which is soon banned by several radio stations. Judd convinces Sam to send Jerry Lee’s band to New York, where Jerry Lee demonstrates his distinctive style of dancing behind the piano as he performs on The Steve Allen Show on the NBC Television Network. Arriving at the Memphis airport, Jerry Lee is presented with a $40,000 royalty check and greeted by screaming fans. Although J.W. wants Jerry Lee to move into his own place, Sam encourages the bass player to keep Jerry Lee at home so he can keep watch over the notorious ladies’ man. J.W. becomes suspicious as Jerry Lee and Myra grow closer, and one night, Jerry Lee kisses the girl when he takes her out for ice cream. Cashing his $40,000 check at the bank, Jerry Lee splits the royalties with J.W. as promised and the cousins buy new cars. Driving through town, Jerry Lee spots Jimmy preaching on a street corner and stops. Jimmy reminds him of a promise he once made to follow the Lord’s path if he was given a hit record. Jerry Lee responds by handing over his new car to Jimmy, who thanks Jesus Christ for the gift. Jerry Lee urges him to thank "Jerry Lee Lewis" instead. Jerry Lee records a new single, “Great Balls of Fire,” which climbs to the number one spot on Billboard magazine’s country singles chart. During a performance at a local fair, Jerry Lee mouths the words “I love you” to Myra, and she swoons. Soon after, at the Paramount theater, Jerry Lee and his band play to an adoring crowd. Jerry Lee props one foot on the piano as he plays, then sets the instrument on fire during “Great Balls of Fire.” When the band goes on tour, Lois and J.W. take notice as Jerry Lee calls Myra several times a day. They threaten to send her to boarding school if the relationship continues, but when he returns to Memphis, Jerry Lee presents Myra with a marriage license and drives her to Mississippi for an impromptu wedding. Although she asks Jerry Lee to wait a few years, the thirteen-year-old complies once they reach the chapel. Back in Memphis, Myra cries as she packs her dollhouse and bids goodbye to her parents. J.W. slaps his belt against her bed in anger, as Jerry Lee shouts at him from the front porch, persuading him to stay with the band because they stand to make a lot of money. They record another single, “Breathless,” as Jerry Lee’s latest record, “High School Confidential” continues to climb the charts. In the bedroom of their new home, Jerry Lee becomes angry when he and Myra have sex for the first time, suspecting that she is not a virgin because of the way she moves. He leaves the girl in tears, but returns home later and promises he does not care about her past. Jerry Lee’s popularity soars in England, and he insists on taking Myra with him on the band’s British tour, despite Sam and Judd’s warnings that the British people will not approve of his young bride. As soon as they arrive, Myra identifies herself to a reporter, and Jerry Lee lies that she is fifteen years old. However, journalists discover that she is his thirteen-year-old cousin, and the announcement sparks a massive scandal. Jerry Lee’s British fans turn against him, and the tour is canceled. Back in Memphis, Jerry Lee’s American fans also reject him, and “High School Confidential” drops off the charts. Sam and Judd suggest he take out a full-page advertisement in Billboard to apologize to his fans, but Jerry Lee refuses, reminding them that he makes $10,000 per night. Sam counters that no one is booking him anymore. The band reverts to playing smaller venues with dwindling crowds, and Jerry Lee begins drinking too much, taking drugs, and cheating on his young wife. One night, he returns home drunk and hits Myra. The next morning, she informs him she is pregnant. They go to a church service led by Jimmy, who summons the couple to the pulpit, but only Myra accepts Jesus Christ as her savior. Jerry Lee returns the religious coin Jimmy gave him and says he if he is going to hell, then he will go there playing piano. Myra chases Jerry Lee out of the church and declares her love for him. +

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

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