Paul Schrader on Merle Haggard


My Merle Haggard story. In 1977, post Taxi-Driver, I’d researched and written a script for Warner Bros on “Eight Scenes from the Life of Hank Williams.” I wanted to interest Merle in playing the lead so I got Warners to arrange a meeting. I drove up to Bakersfield and after waiting was ushered into a spartan office (“spartan” in terms of the Hollywood offices I had come to expect). Apart from Haggard gold records there were two inexpensive framed photos on the wall. Another wait, then Merle arrived. Didn’t sit, didn’t say a word. After a beat, he pointed to the photos, “Do you know who this is?” I looked, replied: “That’s Jimmy Rodgers and the other, I believe, is a very early photo of Bob Wills.” Haggard nodded, sat down, waited another beat, then said, “What’s on your mind?” I’d passed the Hollywood screenwriter admittance quiz. We talked Hank for a bit and I left him with the script. Later he contacted me, saying if it were Rodgers or Wills he’d be tempted, but “Hank just doesn’t feel right for me.” In the end the script was never made because Wesley Rose (brother of Fred), holder of the song rights, felt the script was too “dark.”

Categories: Music

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