Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Filming Of 'The Final Season' Finally Gives Gonder and Maly a Chance to Talk About Their Standout Hollywood Careers In the Iowa Movie 'Dribble'

I guess I've never told you about my Hollywood career.

But that's about to change right now.

My friend, Ron Gonder -- formerly of Des Moines and now of Cedar Rapids -- prompted me to flash back to the movie, "Dribble," in which both he and I appeared.

Let's see, I think our big-screen movie life probably lasted 5 minutes or 5 seconds, take your pick.

Gonder and I didn't win Oscars for our performances, and we weren't even nominated for Academy Awards.

That was a shame because we both held up our end of the bargain. We turned in starring roles.

I blame the movie's producers for screwing it up.

I think I was paid $100 to be in the movie. Or maybe it was $50. That and a lot of makeup. Hollywood always wants you to wear your makeup.

Gonder is retired as a sportscaster, but has been doing occasional commentaries for WMT of Cedar Rapids, the radio station for which he worked from 1969-1999. He had been at KRNT in Des Moines from 1965-1968.

Gonder was a tremendously talented football and basketball play-by-play announcer in his radio days -- blending a bit of humor along with a standout play-by-play ability. During his heyday at WMT, his broadcasts with commentator Mike Reilly were among the very best in bigtime college football.

Those days were a real premium for Hawkeye radio listeners. Gonder did the play-by-play on WMT, Jim Zabel was on WHO in Des Moines and Bob Brooks was with KCRG and KHAK in Cedar Rapids.

That all ended when Iowa went to a one-network operation for its football and basketball broadcasts, with Gary Dolphin the play-by-play announcer and Ed Podolak and Bobby Hansen the commentators. Gonder later became the sideline reporter for the Iowa football broadcasts, and Zabel and Brooks also did some work for the network for a while.

Gonder's most recent WMT commentary dealt with the movie, "The Final Season," which is being filmed in eastern Iowa about the Norway High School baseball team that wrapped up 20 state championships in the school's final year of existence before consolidation, as well as the movie, "Dribble," which featured -- well, kind of -- Gonder and me.

Gonder said what's gone on with "The Final Season" reminds him of "another movie that was being shot in the 1970s.....the movie was called 'Dribble' and was produced by the well-known George Nissen of Cedar Rapids, the man who invented the trampoline and owned an exercise equipment company.

"Nissen also owned the Iowa Cornets women's pro basketball team, which played its games at the U.S. Cellular Center, then the Five Seasons Center. The star of the Cornets was a former Iowa high shcool player, Molly Bolin, who was also to be one of the stars of the movie.

"She was a very attractive young lady and had the catchy nickname of Machine Gun Molly for her shooting skills. The main actor in the movie was former pro basketball star Pete Maravich, who was a machine gun himself, having led both pro basketball and the college nation in scoring."

Actually, Maravich's nickname was "Pistol Pete." So, with "Machine Gun Molly" [lower right] and "Pistol Pete" Maravich [lower left], you'd think you'd have a blast of a movie.

Gonder went on to explain how the basketball scenes in "Dribble" were "filmed in the gym of the old Regis High School, now a middle school. I was the WMT-TV sports guy at the time, now KGAN, and was recruited to be an extra for some of the basketball scenes and was to be one of the official scorers for the games in the movie. I wore the black-and-white striped zebra shirt at the scorer's table, and Ron Maly, sportswriter for the Des Moines Register and a Cedar Rapids native, sat beside me as another the scorers in the zebra shirt.

"One of those evenings I had my assistant shoot some film of the proceedings, including shots of Ron and me to be used on the TV sportscast that evening at 10. After the movie filming of that particular evening, Ron and I adjourned to the nearby Tic Toc restaurant to have a cold one and watch the 10 o'clock sports, still wearing our striped officials' shirts.

"As the shots of the two of us came up on the TV screen, a guy at the bar sitting next to us did a double-take, looking back and forth, first at the TV screen and then at Ron and me. He finally shouted out for in the place to hear, 'Hey, that's you two guys up there. What are you guys up to?'

"Telling him was both humorous and lucrative because it bought us a round of beers. As for the movie, 'Dribble,' it may have been humorous, but it definitely wasn't lucrative. The scenes I witnessed from my scorers' table seat looked pretty hammy to me. And apparently the rest of the movie wasn't any better.

"It never made it beyond a premier showing at a Cedar Rapids theater, which I never saw, but others said was pretty awful. George Nissen lost a lot of money on the venture, I heard. But Ron Maly and I? We came out one beer ahead."

I agree with Gonder about the movie. Even though we were wondering what might come of it when we were sitting in a room at Regis, having makeup applied to our faces by some sweet young thing hired by the movie company, I probably secretly wondered if we'd wind up on the cutting room floor.

I made it to the premier in Cedar Rapids, but I remembered telling someone that it would surprise me if "Dribble" would be good enough to appear at a drive-in theater that the city still had.

I did some research on the movie a couple of days ago. I covered a few of the Iowa Cornets' games in my earlier writing life. Some were played at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in downtown Des Moines, and I recall leaving press row to interview Nissen -- the team's owner -- about something.

Nissen was chewing on a cucumber when I got there.

I'm not sure if that indicated anything or not.

The Cornets became the first team in the Women's Basketball League in 1978. They were brought into the WBL when Nissen [upper right] purchased a franchise for $50,000.

Nissen said the Cornets would be a statewide team, with "home" games in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Molly Bolin, a native of Moravia, Ia., became the first player to sign with the team in July, 1978.

It was in 1978 that Nissen agreed to finance "Dribble." The film was supposed to be a comedy about an underdog women's team that beat a rival men's team. The movie attracted a great deal of attention when it opened in Iowa in January, 1979, but it received low box-office sales around the rest of the nation.

The Iowa Cornets had been drawing the biggest crowds in the WBL, but the league was suffering financially by 1980. Nissen sold 80 percent of the franchise to former disc jockey Dick Vance in January in 1980, but the franchise was terminated in September because Vance was unable to provide sufficient funds.

That brings me to the filming of "The Final Season," a movie about Norway High School baseball that's being filmed not only in the small eastern Iowa community of Norway, but also in Cedar Rapids, Shellsburg and even areas around Solon.

I hear that people are being paid $100 so the movie company can use their property. The producers want viewers to think they're watching baseball in rural Iowa, so they want Iowa barns in the footage.

Nothing like an Iowa barn, of course, to throw a baseball against. Didn't Bob Feller of Van Meter do that when he was getting ready for a stellar big league career?

I guess they offered one family $2,000 if it would move out of its home for a while so it do some filming there.

Some filming has been done in the Sutliff Road area of Solon, including the "Sutliff Bar and Grill," which will give you many reasons to have a grease fix -- a shrimp basket, chicken wings, fried fish, tenderloins, hamburgers....well, you get the idea.

They're trying to teach Hollywood actors how to play baseball. The last thing you want in a movie is the star of the show not knowing how to hold a bat or how to throw.

I hope "The Final Season" works for everyone and doesn't embarrass the state of Iowa. Hollywood has tried many times to do sports movies and, frankly, not many of them turn out very good.

That's because of Hollywood, not because of the subject matter.

Not every film can be "Field of Dreams."

I go back as far as movies about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, which were pretty bad. Trying to watch William Bendix play The Babe was a horrible experience.

Let's hope Norway baseball has better luck.