Yesterday, the ever-vigilant sports statistician Tex Noel sent me a link to an article he thought I’d be interested in reading. As usual, he was correct. The link was to a news article about Bright Path: The Jim Thorpe Story, a much-needed new movie about Jim Thorpe. The previous major biopic about the world’s greatest athlete, starring Burt Lancaster as the young Thorpe, was released in 1951. Sadly, that dated film came as much from the screenwriter’s imagination as from actual events.
Abraham Taylor, producer of the new film, is striving for accuracy. He explained, “To tell an authentic Jim Thorpe story we have to maintain control of the project. The only way to do this is with the help of Indian country. We are honored and incredibly grateful for Tuolumne’s partnership on this project.” The reason I believe him—much fluff comes out of Hollywood that is far from the truth—is that Bob Wheeler is involved in the project.
When a grad student at Syracuse nearly a half century ago, Robert W. Wheeler undertook a new approach for writing his thesis: an aural history of Jim Thorpe. He acquired a bulky reel-to-reel tape recorder similar to the one that his boss some years later, Howard Cosell, blamed for making him stoop shouldered, and crisscrossed the United States, hitchhiking from one place to another to interview people who knew Thorpe or had experiences with him. The noted Dick Schaap called him “Jim Thorpe’s Boswell” for the thoroughness of his research.
Bob has worked as an unpaid technical advisor for the film for more years than I can remember. Our numerous conversations and emails always dealt with the same thing: getting the details right. My next hope is to see Bob sitting in a director’s chair with a megaphone at his side, scrutinizing each scene for accuracy at Carlisle Barracks, the real-life site of where much of the story told in the film actually took place.