Comic Book Legends Revealed #409
Welcome to the four hundred and ninth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous four hundred and eight. This week, who is Scott Seva and how close did he come to portraying Spider-Man on film? Did Jerry Siegel almost write “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” Finally, what behind the scenes reason led to the whole “Ms. Marvel gives birth to her own boyfriend” plot in Avengers #200?
NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).
COMIC LEGEND: Actor Scott Leva was cast as Spider-Man in the ill-fated 1989 Cannon film adaptaton of Spider-Man.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
Recently, over as Movie Urban Legends Revealed, I wrote about how the cult classic Jean-Claude Van Damme film Cyborg was made using the sets and costumes from two ill-fated films, a sequel to Masters of the Universe and a Spider-Man film. Speaking about the Spider-Man film, director Albert Pyun failed to recall who was set to play Peter Parker in the film. Reader Brad noted: Actor / stuntman Scott Leva was cast as Spider-Man in the Cannon film.
Is that true?
Leva’s face should be known to fans of Spider-Man in the mid-1980s, as Leva (who was working as a Hollywood stunt man at the time) appeared as Spider-Man on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #262 in 1985…
I occasionally see references to Leva’s appearance on the cover of the issue as being a sort of tie-in with the proposed Cannon film adaptation, but I find that too hard to believe to be taken too seriously. The comic book in question was released in either December 1984 or January 1985. That was well before the Cannon Film adaptation got close to actually casting a Spider-Man. Instead, I think it is more likely that Leva’s appearance on the cover of Spider-Man made it so that he WAS on the radar when the Cannon film began the early stages of development starting later in 1985.
Cannon’s approach to Spider-Man at the time was an odd one. They kept making announcements about how they WERE going to do a Spider-Man movie, but they never actually progressed to far in actually MAKING one.
They even made a promo clip at one point…
Around this time, Leva was, indeed, considered for the role. He even did the following test shots…
However, he was never actually cast in the role.
Now, Ted Newsom, one of the original screenwriters on the proposed Spider-Man film, stopped by in the comments section and he had such a fascinating take on the whole Spider-Man film story that I’m just going to put his thoughts about the film into this section in place of what originally me doing a bare bones review of what happened to the proposed film. Clearly, he knows more about what happened than I do, so this is much more informative. So here is Ted Newsom in what I like to call “Spider-Man: Descent Into Production Hell.”
First, on the evolution of the script…
Everyone liked our script: Joe, Cannon, Stan Lee, even Marvel, which was very persnickety. Potential casting was discussed, very early and continuously, but nothing was set (as you point out.) So, naturally, in the eternal logic of Hollywood, we were fired and Joe brought in a friend he’d worked with before, Barney Cohen.
Scott Leva was indeed in the running, if the choice was to go with an “unknown.” My partner suggested a then-unknown Tom Cruise (considering we were basically thinking the John Romita style, he would’ve been perfect). Stan liked Scott, too. I met him at the SDCC were we were hyping the project.
Barney’s rewrite was still very much our story and characters, with the addition of a (to me, incredibly annoying) sidekick to Doc Ock, and giving Ock a catchphrase “Okey-dokey” (which we’d used once, in the mouth of a minor character. The major action remained intact. Barney added a couple more at Joe’s suggestion.
After Menachem peed on the fire hydrant a little (he added a couple of loony lines of dialogue, and a non-canonical scene where Spidey beats the crap out of Flash for eyeballing the girl), the script was okayed and went into pre-production. At that time, it bore the names “Ted Newsom & John Brancato, Barney Cohen and Joseph Goldman [Golan’s pen name].
There was a year’s worth of prep, supervised by Joe. Every shot in the film was boarded out like a giant comic. The main action pieces were illustrated by Harper Goff, one of the greatest designers of all time [Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, for one instance.] Joe went from Hollywood to Rome to London to South Carolina (!) looking for the right place to shoot a big FX-laden film. In all, Cannon spent close to a million dollars in prep, extremely unusual for them. The budget was roughly $20 million (again, REALLY unusual for them.) It was a “Go” project… until…
The Cannon boys ran into the Salkinds in Cannes. They’d taken a bath with Superman III and Supergirl, and offered to sell the franchise. Unlike his ignorance of Spider-Man (Menachem was just a touch too old to have grown up reading Marvel. Just a couple years, but it made the difference), Golan knew what Superman was about. Cannon bought the franchise. They wooed Chris Reeve back with a promise of a great deal of dough and input into the script. And simultaneously, they bought the “Masters of the Universe” franchise from Mattel, another pricey effects project with an equally price upfront payment to the toy company.
Cannon had grand plans, but 3 gigantic budget movies were too much for even them. Spider-Man was the one which suffered. They slashed the budget from $20 million down to about eight. That is the point at which Joe Zito said, “I can’t do this project for that kind of money. You need to find another director.”
So after about two years and a lot of money spent on prep, Cannon had a series of three writers do much-scaled-down versions of the script. All were contractually rewrites of the existing material, with certain character and dialogue consistencies. All were minus any elaborate special effects action sequences (too expensive). Best of the three was Ethan (HOUSE and HOUSE 2) Wiley’s take, in which Peter really doesn’t become Spidey until the last sequence.
This was the period during which Albert Pyun became involved. He had a record of getting films done on time, that’s the nicest I can say about him. He’s probably a really nice guy. He had done CAPTAIN AMERICA for Cannon, using a truly terrible script by Michael Winner, who was scheduled to direct at that time. When I say terrible, I’m siding with Marvel, which let Cannon know their displeasure in the same letter which praised our Spidey to the heavens.
and then on what happened when Cannon couldn’t make the film (and ended up using the sets for Cyborg, as noted earlier)…
Yes and no. Cannon never really “cancelled” the film. When Cannon had fatal money problems, its founding cousins split, Yoram Globas throwing in with some crook over at MGM, Golan going off on his own. In lieu of severance (which Cannon could not have paid anyway), Golan held onto “Spider-Man” and threw out the low-budget scripts, returning to the original draft (well, to Barney’s rewrite of our stuff.) He pitched it to Columbia, which loved it but (of course) wanted a rewrite. They hired Frank LaLoggis (LADY IN WHITE) who rewrote our script (still with our and Barney’s name on it) but walked away when the Golan people started being crazy. They then hired Neil Ruttenberg (a client of our agent) and he did yet another pass, though he still claims never to have read our draft. I like Neil, but he’s mistaken (The telltale sign being the presence of Ock’s idiot henchman, created by Barney Cohen). And the coverage at Columbia said of the three scripts “They’re all basically the same story.” (Neil gave me a copy of the coverage from Columbia.)
But then at Cannes again, Menachem crossed paths with the crooks from Carolco, who outbid Columbia and had grand plans. (They distributed through Columbia Tri-Star anyway). He’d spent a year as “New Cannon” selling off the ancillary rights piecemeal (like TV and video) to raise money, not an uncommon practice. He’d take second chair at Carolco, but with the promise of a producer credit.
Cameron agreed to put Spider-Man on his plate, but refused tot have Golan’s name on the movie, or the ads. Carolco had used a previous agreement with him which gave him this right , but they’d also contractually promised Golan the credit. Led to… oh… a slight feeling of betrayal on Golan’s part. And a lawsuit.
Carolco also wanted to sell off ancillary and other rights at their own price, so they told the companies which in good faith had bought them from Golan to go fly a kite. More lawsuits.
MGM (which had bought Cannon, at least in name) claimed continuing rights to Spider-Man because the previous Cannon (or maybe New Cannon) was a little late on renewing their option payments to Marvel. MGM claimed the rights to the franchise, so did Golan & Carolco. Yet another lawsuit.
Cameron would not get his million dollar writer’s fee unless he delivered a full screenplay to Carolco “… which could, in their estimation, be budgeted at sixty million dollars or less.” (That’s a quote directly from their deal memo) They were not about to get caught out with a project that went over, and Mr. Cameron had a history of… oh… shall we say… excess? You cannot properly budget a teatment or an outline. You need a complete screenplay, which a production guy can go through line by line to anticipate cost.
Cameron did a marvelously expedient thing. He simply had the top sheet of the existing script retyped and added his name to the list of writers. The script cover now said “Screenplay by Ted Newson [sic], Barry [sic] Cohen and James Cameron” and underneath that, “… and John Brancato, Joseph Goldmari [sic] and James Cameron”– the misspelled names juggled cleverly so it appeared the cinema genius had gone through two complete sets of writers to create his masterwork (none of us ever even met Cameron, much less write with him.). The weird, non-existent name “Joseph Goldmari” was a typo in the process of altering the authorship. The Golan script had a Xerox error on it, blanking out a tiny bit of the “N” in “Goldman.”
In fact, it was absolutely the same script which had been completed budgeted and in prep at Cannon for a year, exactly the same script Menechem Golan had pitched to Columbia, precisely the same script Carolco had bought. It was a Xerox, with not a word changed, only the credits on the top sheet.
And since Golan had properly budgeted the script at thirty million dollars, all you had to do was double that, and Carolco okayed it. They obviously knew the shady deal Cameron pulled, but what the heck. So he made his million dollars by delivering a script. Nothing in the deal memo said he actually had to WRITE it.
So our script– rather Barney’s rewrite of our script– was still intact as far down the line as the Carolco period.
Months after that, Cameron (or more likely, a writer pal working for him in anonymity) delivered his “scriptment,” a 40 page story which cobbled assorted bits from every previous draft, particularly ours, Frank LaLoggia’s, Ethan Wiley’s, and as far back as Leslie Stevens.
Carolco’s own financial troubles exceeded the ones at Cannon, and Carolco went massively bankrupt. MGM scooped up the Spider-Man rights, including ALL previous drafts. Columbia (still eager to do the movie Golan had pitched back in 1989), dealt separately with Marvel to buy movie rights.
Both studios claimed to have the right to make Spidey, just as (ironically enough) both studios claimed to have the rights to make James Bond. Sony/Columbia’s head guy John Calley, had been chief at MGM/UA for years, and knew of the loophole in the 007 saga: Kevin McClory still had the rights to Thunderball and a boatload of original material done by him, Ian Fleming and Jack Whittingham in 1958-60, prior to the first Bond movie. Calley announced Columbia would make an alternative James Bond series.
MGM/UA panicked. Though Bond films only came out every 2 to 3 years, they kept the company alive. A rival series would destroy the company. A big swap was arranged, MGM/UA getting the rights to “the McClory Bond material,” which included SPECTRE), Sony/Columbia getting full rights to Spidey– including rights and options on all previous scripts in the family tree.
Sony/Columbia cautiously exercised the option on only what was termed “the Cameron material,” described explicitly as a 40 page treatment by James Cameron and a 115 page screenplay credited to “Ted Newsom, John Brancato, Barney Cohen, Joseph Goldman and James Cameron.” In other words, Columbia [in theory] never received copies of all the interim drafts, just those two items. I’d guess they figured the Cameron treatment came first, out of which the screenplay was expanded, which is the usual and logical procedure. In this case, it was backward.
And that, true believers, is the beginning of the story!!! Excelsior!!!
Wow, quite a story, Ted! Thanks for sharing!
In any event, as to the legend at hand – was Leva cast? No.
Leva, by the way, went on to develop a new air bag mechanism to help stuntmen that actually won him a Technical Oscar in 2006! Very impressive!
Thanks to Brad for the suggestion! And thanks to Ted Newsom for his intricate explanation of the history of the proposed Cannon Films Spider-Man movie!
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Next up, did Jerry Siegel nearly write “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”