Norman Lear saved ''Stand by Me'' from getting scrapped

When the studio canned the project just two days before filming was scheduled to begin, Lear took a leap of faith.

The Everett Collection

Stand by Me, directed by a then-up-and-coming director named Rob Reiner, has been called one of the greatest movies ever made. After a screening, Stephen King, who wrote the short story "The Body" that was adapted into the movie, was so impressed that he had to step out to compose himself. On an $8 million budget, the movie returned over $50 million at the box office, making it a major success.

And yet, without Norman Lear, the film never would have been made.

When the story was being shopped around, Flashdance director Adrian Lyne was attached to direct. However, when Lyne's current film, 9 1/2 Weeks meant that the director had to drop out, the script was sent to Rob Reiner. Reiner was still in his early years as a director but had found some success with comedies like This is Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing. Reiner chose to take on the project after identifying with the character of Gordie, who struggled to measure up to the memory of his late brother. Reiner himself had dealt with issues living in the shadow of his father, Carl Reiner.

Reiner carefully pulled together a cast and a crew. Then two days before filming, the unthinkable happened: the studio pulled the plug.

Well, the new studio. The old one, Embassy, had been sold. Columbia Pictures was the new studio, but their production department had no interest in the movie. One of the reasons is hilarious in hindsight — newspapers at the time talk about how the movie had "no star power" to market. Of course, now we know that the core cast of Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell would all go on to be massive stars.

Raynold Gideon, one of the writers for Stand by Me, talked about that fraught time after the studio backed out. "It was terrible," he said in a 1986 interview with United Press International, "There we all were in Oregon with no money to make the movie."

This is where Norman Lear steps in. He had been one of the co-owners of Embassy, the old studio, and he had faith in Reiner, who he'd worked with on All in the Family and had known since he was a kid. He loved the script. And he was ready to put his money where his mouth was.

"Norman Lear said that he would personally finance the $8 million budget from his own pocket," Gideon said. "He believed that much in the script and Rob Reiner who had co-starred for him all those years in All in the Family."

The move was all the more risky because even with a budget, the movie no longer had a distributor — which meant even with a finished product, there was no guarantee it would get a wide release. "The amazing thing," Gideon said, "was that Norman was willing to gamble $8 million on a picture that didn't even have a distribution deal with a major studio."

Funnily enough, once the movie was finished and being shopped around, it was Columbia Pictures — the same studio that scrapped the movie in the first place — that realized it would be a hit. The Los Angeles Times Syndicate noted that "the same studio that had turned down 'The Body' script paid Lear more than his money back to distribute 'Stand by Me' worldwide."

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20 Comments

MichaelVegas 2 months ago
So how much extra did HE get from the $8 million he put up?
musicman37 2 months ago
Just goes to show that in Hollyweird, they eat their own. Nowadays, of course, there's nothing coming out of Hollyweird that I'd want to see. We'll see if they can woo me back after the 99th Marvel comics fiasco.
MichaelVegas musicman37 2 months ago
I see a movie almost weekly and some are pretty baad, BUT there have been some good ones like right now Godzilla Minus One is a great story on humanity and deals more with the human's then the monster but its uneasy as he can show up anytime, also a strange movie called "Its a Wonderful Knife" is a horror movie based on the old movie with a twist and really has not to much blood, but a interesting story.
Kramden62 2 months ago
Columbia just happened to buy Embassy.

But it was a great film anyway.
cperrynaples Kramden62 2 months ago
Embassy was the studio that released The Graduate! When it went bankrupt, Lear bought it in order to collect his shows! After losing a lot of money, he sold out to Columbia, which later was sold to Coca Cola and finally Sony!
TamaraJo1957 2 months ago
Rest in Peace Norman Lear. You did a great job teaching people how stupid prejudice and hate was by making fun of those kind people (All in the Family). You brought up women's rights when women couldn't buy a house or car without a man co-signing or even get a credit card (Maude)' You made people think about others. You helped level the playing field for women and people of color.
My step father WAS Archie Bunker he even looked like him, my MIL WAS Edith and she look like her and my husband looked like Rob Reiner and All in the Family was my life in 1976. You made something up and I lived it. And as a 20 something it was guide on how to deal with my life. Thanks for the pointers.
Runeshaper 2 months ago
That is Most EXCELLENT of Mr. Lear! He believed in people, in the movie, and received a sweet return for everyone that enjoyed ''Stand by Me'' (-:
cperrynaples 2 months ago
Bonus Questions: [1] Who nararates this film as an older Wil Wheaton? [2] What MeTV series' theme song do the boys sing?
Bapa1 cperrynaples 2 months ago
1: Richard Dreyfuss 2: Have Gun, Will Travel. What two superheroes do they discuss would win in a fight?
cperrynaples Bapa1 2 months ago
One was Superman and I forget the other! Wagon Train also gets a shout out!
Bapa1 cperrynaples 2 months ago
For some odd reason, Mighty Mouse.
cperrynaples Bapa1 2 months ago
I think I remember one of them said Mighty Mouse was a cartoon but then Superman started out as a comic book! I think their frame of reference for Superman was the TV show, so they thought he was real!
AnnieM cperrynaples 2 months ago
"What WAS Pluto, anyway?"
harlow1313 2 months ago
I really enjoy that film. It gets things right about that boyhood feeling. I should know, I'm an expert. I had a boyhood.
CarolKelley harlow1313 2 months ago
Stephen King writes great kids, honest kids. I put him right up there with Beverly Cleary although she wrote for kids.
harlow1313 CarolKelley 2 months ago
I have read King's novella, "The Body," twice.

For me, this is the relatively rare instance where I find the film version better than the written one.
cperrynaples harlow1313 2 months ago
Yep, the story was just about the dead body, but the movie went deeper! It is said that King teared up after he saw the movie because it was sorta his real childhood!
KawiVulc 2 months ago
Yeah, that's a great movie. Still a meathead. But he made great movie.
LynCarrigan KawiVulc 2 months ago
Steven King a meathead???!!!
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