Del Close: Dueling scripts detail improv pioneer

"He was like Forrest Gump, but he was a genius of his time," Halpern said.

Or maybe you concentrate on his work directing and shaping some of the greatest comedic minds of the past few decades, including John and Jim Belushi, Ramis, Joe Flaherty, Gilda Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Bill and Brian Doyle-Murray, Candy, Shelley Long, George Wendt, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Dave Thomas, Tim Meadows and Farley. Or you detail his drug-fueled benders with John Belushi and the despair he felt when Belushi (and then Candy and then Farley) died. Or you chronicle his multiple suicide attempts and institutionalizations. Or you focus on his teaching, which many found inspirational while many others found him mean and/or intimidating.

"You don't know what story to tell: the story of a teacher, the story of a guru, the story of an actor, the story of a crazy man," said David Pasquesi, an iO and Second City veteran who also co-starred with Close in Remains Theatre's "The Chicago Conspiracy Trial." "All of them are true."

So what Griggs did in his book and Halpern did in her script (which she made available for reading; the "Guru" producers declined to do the same with their screenplay) was to show Close from the point of view of a younger confidant. Tim Kazurinsky, who worked with Close at Second City as a performer and who was in the "Saturday Night Live" cast when Close was brought in to help with the show, said he read versions of both scripts, and neither one presented Close unfiltered.

"Really 'Guru' is about Del and his baby sitter guy, and Charna's is about Del and the baby sitter gal," Kazurinsky said. "It's not the Del Close story. It's the Del Close and his baby sitters story."

Yet, Pasquesi said, "I think some device like that is necessary because there's just too much. There's just so much. It's unbelievable unless it's in the context of how other people view him."

Relating what a friend said to him once, Pasquesi added, ruefully: "The problem is there are six people who are interested in the story about Del, and five of them will tell you how you did it wrong. He's not known, so the story itself is a rough sell."

Still, Thomas said, the "Guru" script is much improved, which is why she's back on board. "Del Close changed my life," she said. "I always thought there was a movie there. (For) people who don't know Del, it was a challenge to tell who Del was to set up the story enough so you could feel comfortable. It was an interesting problem, and we resolved it, and people will walk away from this thinking: That is a teacher. That is what a teacher does."

Diane Alexander said she thinks the biggest obstacle to getting a Close movie made has been "trying to keep it small. I think a lot of people look at it and think you have to make it into a much bigger movie. ... Betty came in and saw the possibilities and the parameters of a smaller, more emotional movie."

As for whether Halpern's script is a factor in whether "Guru" comes together, Andrew Alexander said, "Not at all."

But Halpern acknowledged concern over the dueling scripts.

"I don't know if people are going to want to do two projects," she said. "I want the real story told, the story of someone who knew the man for 19 years."

Kazurinsky declared himself Switzerland in this battle, saying, "May the fastest one into production win."

With "Guru," the moment of truth may be fast approaching.

"I think in the next two weeks we'll know," Diane Alexander said late last week. "Either it will be that house on the corner that doesn't sell, or the energy will carry it through."

mcaro@tribune.com
Twitter @MarkCaro

CHICAGO

More