“Smokey” by: Lou Angeli

(New York, NY) Jim Powell retired from FDNY just a few years years ago to pursue a career in writing. But unlike his famous counterpart, Dennis Smith, who used the the novel’ as his  vehicle of choice (Report From Engine Co. 82), Powell writes ‘screenplays’ for motion pictures and television. These days, though, Jim Powell understands that fighting a 9-alarm warehouse fire is a helluva lot easier than selling a screenplay to Hollywood. I was introduced to Jim Powell a year or so ago by a mutual contact at Paramount Pictures. 

Jim was looking to assemble a production team, who understood the subject matter of his script — Firefighting. His screenplay, entitled “Smokey” deals with a kidnapping scam gone bad. The story, set in the late 1960’s, involves an FDNY, veteran — a good Irish Catholic gent, who is a respected Brooklyn firefighter — and gay! And who knows firefighting in Brooklyn better than Jim Powell. Until the late 90’s, he commanded FDNY Squad-1, one of over a half dozen Special Operations Units, that operate as 6-man flying squads, using conventional Class-A pumpers.

In addition to its own local alarm district, Squad-1 responds to everyworking fire in Brooklyn. A night tour with Squad-1 leaves no opportunity for sleeping or a nap. During his 23-year career, Powell received dozens of commendations and honors, and was twice decorated for bravery.

He began his writing career while still an active firefighter, serving as the Commissioner’s speechwriter I’ve read “Smokey” three times now, and as a television producer, I not only find the story engaging, but it has all of the makings for a successful motion picture.

Powell treats the sexual preference issue wth taste, and the storyline appeals to a wide range of audiences. He acknowledges that homosexuality among firefighters is high and that many firemen lead two lives. One with their wife and family — the other with their firehouse partner. As a firefighter, there’s no doubt in my mind, that “Smokey” would be as successful as “Ladder-49” and “Backdraft”.

Fact is, the firefighting scenes would make Ron Howard’s eyes sting. So why has Jim had such a hard time persuading Hollywood to make his film? Poor timing for one. A few years ago, a meeting had been scheduled between Powell and a production team headed by Hollywood producer Rich Furey and his actress/wife, Lee Grant.

The couple were shooting a film in Wilmington, Delaware starring Bruce Willis. Just days before the meeting though, Willis went ballistic on the set, and fired Furey and Grant. They flew West, while Jim Powell’s hopes went South. In a New York Post article, published not long ago, journalist Neal Travis writes, “I read the script and it is excellent. A brave, gay fireman forced into a sham kidnap — a real change from the formula junk Hollywood turns out these days.” But some say the story hits a little too close to home. Not the fire service home, but Hollyrock.

Powell admits that the story is based on a famous true story, the kidnapping scheme, involving millionaire heir-apparent Samuel Bronfman II and his significant other, FDNY firefighter Mel Patrick Lynch. So what? Homosexuality is no longer an underground lifestyle, and there are a dozen Gay Firefighters Associations. But, unfortunately for Powell, just last year, Bronfman’s younger brother Edgar, Jr. bought controlling interest of Hollywood’s most successful movie factory, MCA/Universal. Can you say blackballed? I like Jim Powell’s style. It has the polish of a Dennis Smith, with the gritty edge that only a real firefighter can bring to the desk. “Smokey” puts most other Hollywood scripts to shame, and if it weren’t for the politics of the land of fruits and nuts, we might be lining up at our local theaters next season to pay tribute to a talented brother firefighter.

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