Ex-Torontonian who penned Flashdance readies stage versionJune 01, 2010
Tom Hedley, who co-wrote the movie Flashdance, poses near Central Park in New York City on May 27.DIANE BONDAREFF/FOR THE TORONTO STAR
I traipsed around with Tom to Gimlets in those days. Markle of course loved strippers.
Tom called last year to tell me he was naming one of the characters after me.
If you were turning Tom Hedley’s astonishing life story into a biopic, you could call it Return of the Flashdance Man.
For years, I wondered whatever happened to the guy who brought New Journalism to Toronto, reigned for a year as editor of Toronto Life, then hit the Hollywood jackpot by writing Flashdance, one of the biggest Hollywood hits of the 1980s and much imitated ever since.
Then, last month, I encountered Hedley at London’s Covent Garden Hotel, dining alone in a corner and working on the script for a multi-million-dollar stage musical reincarnation of Flashdance.
It opens in London’s West End on Oct. 14 and David Mirvish, one of the investors, hopes to bring it to Toronto, where the story was inspired long ago under the influence of Hedley’s adventurous pal, the late Robert Markle, a well-known painter who was then a swaggering, bike-riding figure in the Toronto gallery scene.
Hedley, Markle and friends explored subcultures, including bars with strippers.
One of the most memorable exotic dancers Hedley met then was known as Gina, Gina the Sex Machina, at a long-defunct club called Gimlets near the corner of Victoria and Lombard Sts.
“She was really inventive and inspiring,” Hedley says. “I’m still in touch with her.”
Out of those experiences, Hedley invented the heroine of Flashdance, famously played in the 1983 movie by Jennifer Beals.
The heroine was not just working at a club but also had a day job as a welder in a steel-factory, and dreams of attending a prestigious dance school.
The movie’s huge popularity led to riches, offers and confusion in Hedley’s life. Consequently he seemed to disappear from the cultural front lines. But now as the driving force behind Flashdance, the musical, he is moving right back into the global showbiz spotlight.
“When I wrote the movie script almost 30 years ago, nobody expected it to be successful,” says Hedley, still as boyish-looking, trim and preppy as ever at age 67. “We were just happy to get something out there. At the time it was completely original and it had its own voice.”
Indeed, the movie was so successful, Hedley — who had the sole story credit and was the lead writer — was able to live off it for years.
“Over the years I’ve turned down offers to do sequels,” he says, “because it seemed just too cheesy.”
But the idea of turning Flashdance into a musical for the theatre was more creatively challenging.
As a young newspaperman, Hedley drew attention from the Toronto arts and media crowd in the 1960s by introducing us to the New Journalism more or less invented by Clay Felker, Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, among others, via New York magazine, which was in those days a weekly section of the old New York Herald Tribune.
Born in England to a Canadian military father and an English mother, Hedley landed in Winnipeg to attend university but wound up spending much of his time working for the Winnipeg Free Press. I also began my career there and remember Hedley as the night police reporter.
It was after moving to Toronto and landing at the Telegram that he established his reputation and attracted the attention of Harold Hayes, then editor of Esquire. Hedley moved to New York to take a job during the magazine’s golden age, becoming its youngest editor ever. That gave him the chance to commission work by François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Andy Warhol and Diane Arbus.
After Esquire underwent a regime change, Hedley landed back in Toronto, working briefly under Peter Newman at Maclean’s, making documentaries for CBC Television’s Sunday night public affairs show, and spending a year as editor of Toronto Life. There, he was famous for his eccentric work habits, such as staying away from the office and editing manuscripts across the street at the cafe Les Copains. (I was writing a column about movies and had no problem with Hedley’s style, but Lynn Cunningham, the managing editor, felt otherwise.)
Hedley sensed that the cultural action was shifting to movies, especially when Toronto got swept up in tax-shelter-funded movies in the late 1970s, in the early years of what later became the Toronto International Film Festival.
The action moved to the Windsor Arms and Bistro 990, where deals were hatched. Hedley wrote such Canadian films as Circle of Two, Double Negative and Mr. Patman. That’s how he wound up in Hollywood, writing a script while residing at the Beverly Hills Hotel — which is how he made the connections that resulted in Flashdance being made as a Hollywood movie for Paramount, set in Pittsburgh, rather than a Canadian movie, even though it was inspired by the Toronto scene.
Produced by the team of Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and directed by Adrian Lyne — who threw out all of Hedley’s Canadian references — Flashdance was dismissed by most critics. But it won an Oscar for one of its songs and established protypes for music videos, MTVs and a new kind of musical, in which the characters did not sing.
It also led to a bewildering array of opportunities, not all of which ended well. Soon Hedley had an office at Paramount Pictures and a house in the Hollywood Hills, and was dating Dawn Steel (one of the only women ever to run a major studio).
He was also taking secret meetings at the home of David Geffen, who wrote big cheques and wanted Hedley to collaborate with Michael Jackson, so Flashdance could be merged with Thriller.
“Before long you get into a life where you are really doing nothing,” Hedley says in retrospect. “I had ideas for things that were too original and difficult to sell. I had projects that never got made. I accepted some work doing rewrites. I made some silly judgment calls, like turning down an offer to write the script for Batman.”
Gradually, Hedley moved on. He got married, became the father of four and moved to London for a few years, running the book publishing company Duckworth. Now he’s back in North America, with a house in Connecticut and a company office in New York. At the moment, his life includes forays to London, where the Flashdance musical is lurching toward its fall opening, and to rural Ontario to visit his mother.
He has great hopes for the new Flashdance, which has a new music score by Toronto composer Robbie Roth. Hedley not only gets credit as the lead writer but also as executive producer and name-above-the-title presenter.
“Theatre is a completely different art form. It demands a real story and has to be more character-driven. You have to deepen the story. This is real writing, with fewer tricks. It’s really much more satisfying.”