Unlike some of the trendier gyms in Los Angeles, where portable phones are brandished as vigorously as free weights, Bally’s Holiday Health Spa in West L.A. isn’t considered an industry stomping ground. That’s exactly what made it attractive to production executive Peter McAlevey and his pal, agent Paul Kelmenson: It gave them a place where they could meet for their regular weekend workouts and forget about the pressures of the movie business.
So when Kelmenson pulled a phone out of his gym bag on Saturday morning, Nov. 18, 1989, McAlevey knew something unusual was up. ”What’s with the phone?” he joked, already suspecting the answer. Kelmenson was representing the hot script of the moment, a piece called Radio Flyer, by a new, then 27-year-old writer named David Mickey Evans. Warner Bros. had already made a bid to acquire the property for its star director, Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon, Superman), who wanted it. And the word had flashed through Hollywood’s intelligence network that Donner had discovered a winner, but that Warner Bros.’ initial, lowball offer had been mere ”chump change.” Even without reading the screenplay in question, executives at competing companies, including Disney, Fox, and producer Larry Gordon’s Largo Entertainment, had begun extending hungry feelers. Word was that Warner Bros., fearing a bidding war, had already bumped its offer up to a middling $100,000.
McAlevey’s interest in all this was more than that of a casual onlooker. The company for which he worked at the time, Michael Douglas’ Stonebridge Entertainment, was headquartered at Columbia Pictures, and he had already received an urgent call from a Columbia executive begging him to try to get his hands on the elusive script. As the two friends took turns pressing 225 pounds on the bench, they discussed the sought-after project. ”So why not let me take a look at it?” McAlevey suggested. Kelmenson just happened to have a copy in his gym bag.
Skipping his shower, McAlevey raced down to the parking lot and, sitting in his ‘86 Alfa Romeo GTV, tore through the script. What he read excited him. ”It was a movie for families,” he remembers, ”a movie about the magical world of childhood and how kids respond to the terrors of life.” He immediately called his boss, Stonebridge’s president, Rick Bieber.
By the following Monday, the struggle to obtain Radio Flyer had become the biggest game in town, with Warner Bros. bidding on Donner’s behalf and Columbia backing Douglas’ Stonebridge Entertainment, while Douglas monitored the negotiations from his home in Santa Barbara. The bidding escalated until late Wednesday evening when, just as the studios were shutting down for Thanksgiving weekend, Columbia and Stonebridge closed the deal. David Mickey Evans would receive $1.25 million, an astounding figure for a young screenwriter making his studio debut.