La Bamba (1987)

PG-13 | 108 mins | Drama, Biography | 24 July 1987

Director:

Luis Valdez

Writer:

Luis Valdez

Cinematographer:

Adam Greenberg

Production Designer:

Vince Cresciman

Production Company:

New Visions
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HISTORY


       The genesis for La Bamba came in 1973 when the film’s producer, Taylor Hackford, then a documentary filmmaker, and associate producer, Daniel Valdez, then an aspiring singer and actor, were working at KCET, the Los Angeles, CA public television station, and began discussing doing a project about the life and music of Ritchie Valens. The Sep 1987 Optic Music magazine said the pair originally wanted to do a stage play about the singer, but as Valdez researched his life, they decided a feature film would be more appropriate. Promotional materials in AMPAS files indicate researching his life proved difficult as little information could be found and Ritchie’s family could not be tracked down. Eventually, Valdez found the family living in the Pacoima section of the San Fernando Valley, but they were reluctant to cooperate. It was only after Valdez showed them a copy of Ritchie singing “Come On, Let’s Go,” his only performance that was preserved on film, that the family warmed to the idea of doing a project on his life.
       In 1984, once the family was on board, Daniel Valdez turned to his brother, playwright Luis Valdez, to write the script. Luis Valdez spent considerable time with the family to understand their dynamics and issues. The 20 Jul 1987 HR noted that while the family was consulted extensively, they were not given script approval.
       The first draft of Luis Valdez’s screenplay, which he completed in just three months was solid enough that Hackford hired him to be the director. Luis Valdez had previously written and directed the play Zoot Suit, which went to Broadway, and ... More Less


       The genesis for La Bamba came in 1973 when the film’s producer, Taylor Hackford, then a documentary filmmaker, and associate producer, Daniel Valdez, then an aspiring singer and actor, were working at KCET, the Los Angeles, CA public television station, and began discussing doing a project about the life and music of Ritchie Valens. The Sep 1987 Optic Music magazine said the pair originally wanted to do a stage play about the singer, but as Valdez researched his life, they decided a feature film would be more appropriate. Promotional materials in AMPAS files indicate researching his life proved difficult as little information could be found and Ritchie’s family could not be tracked down. Eventually, Valdez found the family living in the Pacoima section of the San Fernando Valley, but they were reluctant to cooperate. It was only after Valdez showed them a copy of Ritchie singing “Come On, Let’s Go,” his only performance that was preserved on film, that the family warmed to the idea of doing a project on his life.
       In 1984, once the family was on board, Daniel Valdez turned to his brother, playwright Luis Valdez, to write the script. Luis Valdez spent considerable time with the family to understand their dynamics and issues. The 20 Jul 1987 HR noted that while the family was consulted extensively, they were not given script approval.
       The first draft of Luis Valdez’s screenplay, which he completed in just three months was solid enough that Hackford hired him to be the director. Luis Valdez had previously written and directed the play Zoot Suit, which went to Broadway, and the subsequent film of the same name (1981, see entry).
       Luis Valdez’s script was also strong enough to get Columbia Pictures interested. However, Columbia did not put up any money to finance the film. Instead the studio did a “negative pickup” which is an agreement to distribute the film for a fixed price after it is finished. Hackford, via his New Horizons Productions company, agreed to complete the film for $6.5 million.
       The 20 Mar 1985 HR announced that director John Frankenheimer was contemplating doing a movie about Ritchie Valens, but two days later, the 22 Mar 1985 HR ran a correction stating that Columbia Pictures had the rights to the Valens bio-picture and that Frankenheimer would not be involved.
       Securing the rights to Valens’s music also proved problematic. A 3 Feb 1980 LAT feature noted that ownership of the rights was unclear as they had been sold several times since Valens's death in 1959. However, those rights were scheduled to revert to his estate in 1985 at the time of copyright renewal.
       A nationwide talent search got underway for the right actor to play “Ritchie.” Promotional materials in AMPAS files show that in the 1970s, Hackford had envisioned Daniel Valdez in the role, but by the time production got underway, Valdez was too old to play a teenager. After producers were unable to find a suitable actor from casting calls in Los Angeles, CA, New York, NY, and Miami, FL, casting director Junie Lowry held auditions in Texas, where she found twenty-four-year-old Lou Diamond Phillips, a Dallas, TX-based acting teacher. The 23 Jul 1987 LAHExam reported that when Phillips flew to Los Angeles to audition for Hackford and Luis Valdez, he read for the part of “Bob Morales,” Valens’s older half-brother. Seeing the qualities Phillips brought to the role, producers later asked him to read for the part of “Ritchie.” The twenty-three-year-old Esai Morales, who eventually got the part of “Bob Morales,” originally read for “Ritchie.”
       In the initial report of his casting, the 6 Jun 1986 DV said the actor’s name was “Lou Diamond Phillips,” but reports later that summer, in both the 29 Aug 1986 LA Weekly and the 19 Sep 1986 HR, gave the actor’s name as “Lou Diamond.” These articles stated the film’s name was La Bamba – The Ritchie Valens Story.
       Principal photography began on 16 Jun 1986, according to the 25 Jul 1986 DV production chart. To keep within the $6.5 million budget, director Luis Valdez maintained a strict three takes per scene policy and used a single Arriflex camera for most scenes. The first six days of filming were done in rural areas near Hollister, CA, to depict scenes of Ritchie’s family as migrant workers on an apricot farm. After that, production moved for three weeks to the small town Fillmore, CA, in Ventura County, which substituted for 1950s Pacoima, CA. The next five weeks of shooting were done in the Los Angeles area, on sound stages, in area clubs and at the KFWB radio studios. The Alan Freed concert featuring Ritchie, "Eddie Cochran" and "Jackie Wilson" was filmed at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles, while the Clear Lake Airport scenes were shot at Whiteman Field in Pacoima. The scenes where Bob and Ritchie go to Tijuana, Mexico, were filmed in Calexico, CA.
       Members of Valens’s family, including his mother, were on set throughout filming and several appear as background extras in scenes. After nine weeks of shooting, the film wrapped in late Aug 1986, with producer Hackford throwing a wrap party for cast and crew on 22 Aug 1986, the 27 Aug 1986 HR said.
       Since the film is about a Chicano teenager who achieves stardom, reaching Hispanic/Latino film-going audiences was important for the success of La Bamba. Consequently, Columbia Pictures planned to release it in both English and Spanish language versions on the same date. The 4 Nov 1986 HR noted this would be the first time two different language versions had been released simultaneously. Previously, Spanish-language versions came out months after the English-language versions. The Aug 1987 GQ magazine reported the Spanish-language version would open in seventy-five of the nation’s 600 Spanish-language theaters. The original cast looped their parts into Spanish at a cost of $50,000. The 16 Jul 1987 LAHExam reported that seventy-seven Spanish-language prints were to be in circulation on the film’s opening day: sixty-four with looped dialogue and thirteen subtitled. Some twenty-seven of those seventy-seven prints were earmarked for the Los Angeles area since the region had the nation’s largest Hispanic population. A Columbia Pictures executive said the company was spending more than $250,000 nationally to market the film to Hispanics.
       To further reach that Spanish audience, producers screened the film for a group of Hispanic journalists. The 30 Apr 1987 Hollywood Drama-Logue announced that 1,200 journalists attending the Fifth Annual National Hispanic Media Conference & Expo had attended a free screening the week before. The 3 Aug 1987 Los Angeles Business Journal reported producers also screened the film at a high school newspaper writers’ conference in Portland, OR, in Mar 1987, and for numerous Hispanic youth groups, high schools and colleges in the months prior to release.
       Masters of Ritchie Valens’s recordings were deemed not good enough to use in the film, so producers hired Los Lobos, a popular Hispanic rock band based in East Los Angeles, to perform his songs, with lead singer David Hidalgo doing Ritchie’s voice. Since Lou Diamond Phillips did not sing or play guitar, he had two weeks to learn the words to lip sync to Hidalgo’s vocals as well as learn the guitar chords. Phillips told the 28 Jul 1987 Daily Texan that six people were on set to monitor his musical performances, some to watch his lip syncing, others to watch his hand movements on the guitar. Even with that many pairs of eyes watching Phillips, supervising music editor Curt Sobel was called upon to sync the film performance precisely to the music in several places.
       La Bamba also features the music of Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Jackie Wilson, so producers sought the talents of modern day musicians to perform their music and also play their parts in the film. The 10 Jul 1986 DV noted that singer-songwriter Marshall Crenshaw would play Holly, while Brian Setzer, the frontman of the rockabilly group Stray Cats, would play Cochran, and Howard Huntsberry, the lead singer of rhythm and blues group Klique, would play Wilson.
       Bob Keane, owner of Del-Fi Records who signed Valens to the label and also gave him the stage name of “Ritchie Valens,” was on hand during filming as a consultant. However, Keane told the 25 Aug 1987 LAT that the film got several points wrong, including downplaying Valens’s fiery personality and overplaying his relationship with Donna Ludwig, the girl who inspired his song “Donna,” saying she was more of a casual acquaintance than the love of his life. Keane also noted that the masters of Valens recordings were in fine shape and could have been used in the film.
       Prior to its nationwide opening on approximately 1,200 screens on 24 Jul 1987, producers held nationwide sneak previews to create interest. The 20 Jul 1987 HR reported the film played on 547 screens on 10 Jul 1987 and 707 screens on 18 Jul 1987.
       In addition to strong word of mouth from the sneak previews, there was much buzz about the movie thanks to constant radio play of Los Lobos’s version of “La Bamba” starting in late Jun 1987 when the soundtrack album was released. The 1 Aug 1987 Billboard reported the “La Bamba” single was No. 24 on the Billboard singles chart, just two weeks after being released. Additionally, Bob Keane released “La Bamba ‘87” on his Del-Fi label using Valens’s original vocals with contemporary backgrounds added. Keane felt it was a mistake to have Los Lobos cover the song for the film, saying people wanted to hear “the real Ritchie Valens.”
       After twelve days of release, La Bamba had earned $14.4 million, according to the 4 Aug 1987 DV box-office report. Six weeks after release, the film had grossed $37.6 million, according to the 1 Sep 1987 DV box-office report. The 31 Aug 1987 HR reported that $2.1 million of that total came from the Spanish-language prints, noting that admission prices at Spanish-language theaters tended to be $2-4 while admission at English-language theaters was often $6.
       In 1988, the Hispanic Academy for Media Arts & Sciences recognized La Bamba with awards for achievement in film and improving public perceptions of Hispanics, the 17 Mar 1988 DV reported.

      End credits include the following statement: “We gratefully acknowledge the help and support of the Valenzuela family.”

              End credits also include “special thanks” to: “Bob Keane; Fulton Picetti; Sylvia Sensiper; Sharon Sheeley; Darrell Hein; Jim Pewter; Fender Guitars; Ted Quillin; Gil Rocha; Stan Ross; Life Magazine; Janet Roberts; Miller Beer; Alan Rice; Tim Wienckowski; KFWB; Sindee Levin-Small; Kinan Valdez; Marsha Gleeman; Beverly Mendheim; Dick Clark Productions Inc.; The San Jose Film Commission; The California State Film Commission; The Chamber of Commerce of the City of Filmore, California; The Chamber of Commerce of the City of Calexico, California; Spanish Adaption Intersound, Inc, Los Angeles.” More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Hollywood Drama-Logue
30 Apr 1987.
---
Los Angeles Business Journal
3 Aug 1987.
---
Billboard
1 Aug 1987
p 6, 80.
Daily Texan
28 Jul 1987
---
Daily Variety
6 Jun 1986.
---
Daily Variety
10 Jul 1986
p. 4, 21.
Daily Variety
25 Jul 1986.
---
Daily Variety
18 May 1987
p. 3, 14.
Daily Variety
4 Aug 1987.
---
Daily Variety
1 Sep 1987.
---
Daily Variety
17 Mar 1988.
---
GQ
Aug 1987
p. 116, 119-120.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Mar 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Mar 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
27 Aug 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Sep 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Nov 1986.
p. 1, 6.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Jul 1987
p. 5, 103.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 1987
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Aug 1987
p. 1, 8.
LA Weekly
29 Aug 1986.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
16 Jul 1987.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
23 Jul 1987
Section D, p. 1, 7.
Los Angeles Times
3 Feb 1980.
Section M, p. 100.
Los Angeles Times
24 Jul 1987
p. 1.
Los Angeles Times
25 Aug 1987.
---
New York Times
24 Jul 1987
p. 4.
Optic Music
Sep 1987
p. 26-27.
Variety
20 May 1987
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Columbia Pictures presents
A New Visions production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
1st asst dir, 2d unit
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Video playback asst
Video playback asst
Chief lighting tech
Best boy elec
Key grip
Best boy grip
Still photog
Spec photog
Dir of photog, 2d unit
Arriflex camera and lenses
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Visual illustrator
Asst art dir
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Apprentice ed
Negative cutting
SET DECORATORS
Lead person
Stand-by dec
Stand-by dec
Swing gang
Swing gang
Prop master
Asst prop master
Const coord
Const supv
Lead scenic artist
Scenic artist
COSTUMES
Costumer
Costumer
MUSIC
Orig mus
Orig mus
Exec mus prod
Ritchie Valens' mus performed by
Supv mus ed
Sideline mus supv
Guitar instructor
SOUND
Sd mixer
Boom op
Cable man
Supv sd ed
Supv sd ed
ADR ed
Sd ed
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Minatures
Opticals
Title des
DANCE
Choreog
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Asst makeup artist
Hairstylist
Asst hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Scr supv
Craft services
Prod coord
Prod secy
Asst to Mr. Borden
Asst to Mr. Hackford
Asst to Mr. Sill
Prod assoc
Casting assoc
Exec in charge of New Visions development
Researcher
Project mgr
Loc mgr
Loc mgr - Hollister
Prod auditor
Asst auditor
Transportation coord
Transportation capt
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Driver
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Extras casting
Extras casting
Animal handler
Loc projectionist
Loc projectionist
Post prod coord
Post prod coord
Scr supv, 2d unit
Prod services
Prod services
Prod services
Prod services
Prod services
Marketing consultant
STAND INS
Stunt coord
Stunt coord
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
Stunts
SOURCES
SONGS
“Rip It Up,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by John Marascalo & Robert A. Blackwell
“Charlena,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by Herman B. Chaney & Manuel G. Chavez
“Goodnight My Love,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by George Motola & John Marascalco
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SONGS
“Rip It Up,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by John Marascalo & Robert A. Blackwell
“Charlena,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by Herman B. Chaney & Manuel G. Chavez
“Goodnight My Love,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by George Motola & John Marascalco
“Oh Boy,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by Sunny West, Billy Tilghman & Norman Petty
“Ooh! My Head,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by Ritchie Valens
“Framed,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
“The Paddi Wack Song,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by Ritchie Valens
“We Belong Together,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by S. Weiss, R. Carr & J. Mitchell
“Come On, Let’s Go,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by Ritchie Valens
“La Bamba” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, arranged and adapted by Ritchie Valens
“Donna,” performed by Los Lobos, courtesy of Slash Records, produced by Steve Berlin, words and music by Ritchie Valens
“Who Do You Love” performed by Bo Diddley, produced by Willie Dixon, words and music by E. McDaniel
“Summertime Blues” performed by Brian Setzer, courtesy of EMI America Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc., produced by Don Gehman, words and music by Eddie Cochran & Jerry Capehart
“Lonely Teardrops,” performed by Howard Huntsberry, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc. & Foreststorn Music, Inc., produced by Don Davis, words and music by Berry Gordy, Tyran Carlo & Gwen Gordy
“Crying, Waiting, Hoping,” performed by Marshall Crenshaw, courtesy of Warner Bros. Records, produced by Garry Tallent & Marshall Crenshaw, words and music by Buddy Holly
“Sleepwalk,” performed by Santo & Johnny, courtesy of Pausa, Inc., words and music by Santo Farina, Johnny Farina & Ann Farina
“Pajaro Loco,” written and performed by Los Lobos
“Abuelitos Cortos” written and performed by Los Lobos
“Ready Teddy,” performed by Little Richard, courtesy of Specialty Records, words and music by John Marascalco & Robert A. Blackwell
“I Got A Gal Named Sue (That’s My Little Suzie),” performed by Carlos Santana and Los Lobos, Carlos Santana appears courtesy of CBS Records, words and music by Ritchie Valens & Robert Kuhn
“Don’t You Just Know It,” performed by Huey Smith and The Clowns, courtesy of Original Sound Entertainment, words and music by Huey P. Smith
“For Your Precious Love,” performed by Jerry Butler and The Impressions, courtesy of Vee Jay International, Inc./Original Sound Entertainment, words and music by Jerry Butler, Arthur Brooks & Richard Brooks
“This I Swear,” performed by the Skyliners, courtesy of Original Sound Entertainment, words and music by Joseph Rock, Lennie Martin, James Beaumont, Janet Vogel, Joseph Verscharen, Walter Lester & John Taylor
“Bakersfield Shuffle,” performed by Los Lobos, written by Los Lobos
“Blue Tango,” music by Leroy Anderson
“Cancion Mixteca,” performed by Los Lobos, music by Joseph Lopez Alvez
“Armida,” performed by Daniel Valdez, words and music by Daniel Valdez
“Corrido Del Compadre,” performed by Daniel Valdez, words and music by Daniel Valdez
“Chantilly Lace,” performed by The Big Bopper, courtesy of Polygram Special Projects, a division of Polygram Records, Inc., words and music by J.P. Richardson
“Betty Jean,” performed by Chuck Berry, courtesy of MCA Records, words and music by E. Anderson
“Tweedlee Dee,” performed by La Vern Baker, courtesy of Atlantic Recording Corp. by arrangement with Warner Special Projects, words and music by Winfield Scott
“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” performed by The Platters, courtesy of Polygram Special Projects, a division of Polygram Records, Inc., words and music by Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach
“Over the Mountain, Across the Sea,” performed by Johnnie & Joe, courtesy of Regent Music Company, words and music by Rex Garvin.
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DETAILS
Alternate Title:
La Bamba – The Ritchie Valens Story
Release Date:
24 July 1987
Premiere Information:
World premiere: 14 May 1987 at Seattle Film Festival
Los Angeles and New York openings: 24 July 1987
Production Date:
16 June -- late August 1986
Copyright Claimant:
Nippon Film Enterprises
Copyright Date:
20 August 1987
Copyright Number:
PA341855
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo ® in Selected Theatres
Color
Color by Deluxe®
Duration(in mins):
108
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
28389
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Northern California in the summer of 1957, the Valenzuela family, including mother Connie, sixteen-year-old son Richie, and two young daughters, are working as migrant workers on an apricot farm when Bob Morales, Richie’s older half-brother, arrives on his motorcycle. Bob got out of jail a year ago and has come to take his family away to a better life now that he has earned some money. Richie tells Bob he sleeps with his guitar and dreams of rock and roll. That night, Bob has sex with Richie’s girl friend, Rosie, who at the last minute decides to leave the farm and go with Bob. The family moves to a house in Pacoima, California, in the San Fernando Valley, near Los Angeles. Connie and her young daughters live in the house while Richie sleeps in the basement. Bob and Rosie live in small trailer parked on the property. At San Fernando High School, Richie becomes smitten with a new girl in his class, Donna Ludwig. He walks her home from school one day, but her father, who owns a car dealership, disapproves of her relationship with a Mexican boy. Richie, who takes his guitar with him everywhere, joins a garage band called the Silhouettes, led by Rudy Castro, and the band soon gets a job performing at a party. The family attends the party, happy Richie is getting a chance to perform, but upset he never gets a chance to sing. Bob comes home one day with a kilogram of marijuana, divided into small bags, hidden on his body. Bob and his friends get high smoking the marijuana, but Rosie, who is not interested in smoking, gets ... +


In Northern California in the summer of 1957, the Valenzuela family, including mother Connie, sixteen-year-old son Richie, and two young daughters, are working as migrant workers on an apricot farm when Bob Morales, Richie’s older half-brother, arrives on his motorcycle. Bob got out of jail a year ago and has come to take his family away to a better life now that he has earned some money. Richie tells Bob he sleeps with his guitar and dreams of rock and roll. That night, Bob has sex with Richie’s girl friend, Rosie, who at the last minute decides to leave the farm and go with Bob. The family moves to a house in Pacoima, California, in the San Fernando Valley, near Los Angeles. Connie and her young daughters live in the house while Richie sleeps in the basement. Bob and Rosie live in small trailer parked on the property. At San Fernando High School, Richie becomes smitten with a new girl in his class, Donna Ludwig. He walks her home from school one day, but her father, who owns a car dealership, disapproves of her relationship with a Mexican boy. Richie, who takes his guitar with him everywhere, joins a garage band called the Silhouettes, led by Rudy Castro, and the band soon gets a job performing at a party. The family attends the party, happy Richie is getting a chance to perform, but upset he never gets a chance to sing. Bob comes home one day with a kilogram of marijuana, divided into small bags, hidden on his body. Bob and his friends get high smoking the marijuana, but Rosie, who is not interested in smoking, gets upset and locks herself in the bedroom of the tiny trailer. Bob breaks the door down and forces himself on her. Rosie complains that she does not have a life in Pacoima and is unhappy that Bob is always gone. Bob reminds her they are not married, but Rosie announces she is pregnant. They get into an argument and Bob announces it is not his first child, then rides off on his motorcycle. Connie arranges for her son to perform solo at the Cowboy Palace bar, the place where her late husband, Steve Valenzuela, spent most of his time drinking. Richie performs Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy,” which the crowd loves. Richie has recurring nightmares of two airplanes crashing into each other above Pacoima Junior High School, an event that happened a few years earlier. Richie was absent from school that day as he was attending his grandfather’s funeral, but his best friend was killed by falling debris. Bob tells Richie he needs an authority figure in his life. Connie books the American Legion Hall for Richie’s next gig. Richie wants the Silhouettes to play with him, but Rudy Castro is not interested in performing there. Since the other band members are, they change the name of the band to “Richie Valenzuela and his Flying Guitars.” The concert attracts a large crowd, including Donna, thrilled by the music. However, an intoxicated Bob causes a scene and a fight erupts on the dance floor. Del-Fi Records owner Bob Keane, who was at the American Legion concert, comes to the house interested in signing Richie to his label. However, Keane only wants Richie, not the other band members. A few days later, Donna picks up Richie in a new red convertible, a birthday present from her father. She lets Richie drive the car and the two get along well. Richie tells Donna he wants to be a star. Bob enters an art contest and wins a $500 prize, which he wants to spend on art lessons. However, Rosie says she does not want him to pursue an art career, that they need money for the baby. Nevertheless, Bob sets up a drafting table in Richie’s basement. Richie has a recording session at Gold Star Recording Studio, where he performs sixty takes of the same song until Keane is satisfied. Keane explains that this is how the business works. Keane says he also wants Richie to use a slightly different professional name; he wants to change Richie’s last name from Valenzuela to “Valens” and also to add a “t” to his first name. Richie does not understand the need for the change, but trusts Keane’s judgment, so he becomes “Ritchie Valens.” Soon Ritchie’s song, “Come On, Let’s Go,” is playing on the radio, causing a sensation. Ritchie telephones Donna’s house repeatedly, but her father refuses to let him speak to her. He calls Ritchie’s music “jungle music.” Finally, Ritchie comes to the house, but Donna refuses to date him anymore, saying she is going out with other guys. Ritchie becomes jealous, saying that she is his girl. Donna says he is too busy with his promotional appearances to have time for her. Upset, Ritchie goes home and writes the song “Donna,” and later plays it for her from a telephone booth. Tired of seeing Ritchie moping about Donna, Bob takes him to Tijuana, Mexico, and pays for a prostitute for him. When Ritchie wakes up the next day, he has a tattoo of a guitar with wings on his right arm. Bob also takes Ritchie to see a spiritually wise man who gives the singer a talisman to wear around his neck to ward off his recurring nightmares about plane crashes. While they are away, Rosie goes into labor and delivers a baby girl she names Brenda. While in Tijuana, Ritchie sees a band perform “La Bamba” and tells Keane he wants to do that as the B-side to his “Donna” single. Keane tries to dissuade him, pointing out that it is a folk song entirely in Spanish and Ritchie does not speak Spanish. Ritchie says he will make it work as a rock ‘n’ roll song and that he will get through singing it in Spanish. Bob Keane goes over Ritchie’s concert schedule, which includes a week of shows in San Francisco. Ritchie refuses to fly there, saying they must drive instead. Keane tells Ritchie he is booked on the popular television show American Bandstand, which means they will have to fly to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ritchie agrees, but during the flight, he tells Keane that he always believed he would die in a plane crash. Ritchie sings “Donna” on American Bandstand, causing a sensation for everyone watching, including Donna. Keane buys a blue convertible for Ritchie. When Ritchie takes Donna for a ride, he tells her he has concert appearances throughout the fall and winter and will not be returning to school. Ritchie buys his mother a new house, upsetting a drunken Bob who is jealous that Ritchie can provide for the family better than he can. While on an East Coast concert tour, Ritchie plays at Alan Freed’s First Anniversary Rock ‘N’ Roll Show in Brooklyn, New York, a prestigious show that includes Eddie Cochran and Jackie Wilson. Ritchie performs “La Bamba,” and the crowd loves the song. During Christmas when Ritchie returns home from his concert tour, his family throws a surprise welcome home party. Bob, who stopped drinking alcohol a month earlier, is angry about Ritchie’s success. When Ritchie confronts him, Bob says that he never understood why Steve Valenzuela treated Ritchie so much better than him until he learned that Steve was not his real father. Ritchie says he has always looked up to Bob, but thinks his drinking got out of control. The two get into a fistfight, and Bob accidentally breaks the talisman around Ritchie’s neck. Donna is also at the party. Ritchie tells Donna he loves her and is going to marry her someday. He asks her to wait for him. Donna says she loves him as well and kisses him. In February 1959, eight months after he signed with Del-Fi Records, Ritchie performs in Clear Lake, Iowa, on a concert tour with Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. However, the tour bus heater is broken and Ritchie has a cold. Keane advises him to return to California if he is sick, but Ritchie says he will stick it out. He calls home, inviting Bob to join him in Chicago, Illinois, because he needs to have some family around him. Bob agrees. Buddy Holly arranges a private airplane to fly them to their next concert in Fargo, North Dakota. However, there is only room on the plane for three passengers and the pilot. Buddy and the Big Bopper are going on the plane. Knowing Ritchie does not like to fly, Buddy gives him the option of flying and sleeping in a warm bed in Fargo, or riding all night on the cold bus and letting band member Tommy Allsup go on the flight. An ambivalent Ritchie agrees to toss a coin to determine who goes. Ritchie wins and comments that it is the first coin toss he has ever won. Buddy, Ritchie, and the Big Bopper take off on the plane during a snowstorm. The next morning, the radio announces their airplane crashed five miles north of Clear Lake, Iowa, killing all aboard. Ritchie was just seventeen years old.


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

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During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.