A highly-prolific author whose novels and short stories provided the basis for numerous films ranging from the gangster classic "Little Caesar" (1930) to the Western "Dark Command" (1940), W R Burnett...
Can Mark Burnett, the man that created a television sensation with Survivor and earned ratings gold with The Bible, do the same thing with Mexican wrestling? That's what writer-director-producer Robert Rodriguez is hoping after his fledging El Rey Network cable channel announced plans to launch a U.S. based lucha libre show in conjunction with Burnett's One Three Media and Lucha Libre AAA, the top wrestling league in Mexico. The hour-long show will begin airing during the second half of 2014.
This isn't the first time that Hollywood has tried to make U.S. audiences care about the Mexican wrestling sensation. Jack Black donned a mask as a would-be wrestler in Nacho Libre and an animated show called ¡Mucha Lucha! aired on Kids' WB from 2002-'05. Those weren't the real thing, however, with wrestlers in stylized masks flying off the top rope and doing moves like tornillos and planchas.
"Wrestling is a billion-dollar business in the U.S.," Burnett said in the press release announcing the partnership. "Our new lucha libre will make that market even bigger."
The last time that U.S. professional wrestlers wore masks on a regular basis, Vince McMahon was still wearing ugly plaid sports jackets as an announcer, the broadcasts aired on WTBS (when there was still a 'W'), and it was called Georgia Championship Wrestling. By the time that Hulk Hogan, 'Captain' Lou Albano and Cyndi Lauper were taking wrestling mainstream on MTV in the mid-'80s, the masked wrestlers were a thing of the past.
So, can an upstart lucha libre league cut into McMahon's WWE dominated market? Crossing over into the non-Latino market might still be a tough sell. The style of wrestling — athletic and high-flying —is exciting and entertaining. The issue, as it's been in the past, will be the masks. Whether it's Hogan or John Cena or The Rock, U.S. audiences are accustomed to seeing faces.
The key for Burnett and company will be to highlight the acrobatic style, while quickly luring viewers into storylines of the Técnicos versus the Rudos: the good versus the bad. 'Heroes against villains' in wrestling is a storyline template that WWE audiences are well acquainted with.
If Burnett could get 100-plus million people to watch a History Channel miniseries about The Bible, who's to say that he can't get English-speaking audiences to sample the sizzle of lucha libre? At the very least, his track record lends credibility to El Rey's effort, which just might give the network a pierna (leg) up.
Published first novel, "Little Caesar", loosely inspired by the life of Al Capone; filmed in 1930 with Edward G Robinson in title role
Moved to Chicago
Wrote script for "The Racket"
Credited with adaptation and dialogue for Howard Hawks' "Scarface"
First original screenplay (co-written with Frank Butler), "Wake Island"; received Oscar nomination
Final screenplay credit, "The Great Escape"
Final TV credit as a writer, the ABC series "Naked City"
Reportedly did uncredited work on the scripts for "Ice Station Zebra" and "Stileto"
Penned the script for "San Antonio"
TV debut as a writer, "The Untouchables"
Began writing crime fiction
A highly-prolific author whose novels and short stories provided the basis for numerous films ranging from the gangster classic "Little Caesar" (1930) to the Western "Dark Command" (1940), W R Burnett also adapted his own work for film (e. g., "High Sierra" 1941) and wrote original screenplays, both alone and in collaboration (e.g., "This Gun for Hire" 1942, "The Great Escape" 1963).<p>A former government statistician, Burnett settled in Chicago at the height of Prohibition and penned his first novel "Little Caesar" in 1929. A veiled study of the rise and fall of a mobster who bore a passing resemblance to Al Capone, the novel was an success as was the screen version starring Edward G Robinson. Books and stories with Burnett's by-line were almost a guaranteed sale to Hollywood (not unlike John Grisham and Stephen King in the late 20th Century), and eventually the writer turned to penning his own scripts for Tinseltown. Not only were the villains in Burnett novels revealed in full human texture--something little seen in melodramas--but also the characters of the cops and other urban authority figures were often idiosyncratic and full-bodied, His storytelling practically created the Warner Bros. gangster cycle of the 1930s, reaching a high point with his contributions to the dialogue of "Scarface" (1932). "High Sierra" (1941), adapted from his own novel, offered Humphrey Bogart one of his signature villains and "This Gun for Hire" (1942) brought Alan Ladd to the forefront as a hit man seeking revenge.<p>With the advent of World War II, gangster films lessened in popularity so Burnett turned to writing or co-writing dramas about men in combat situations. He and co-writer Frank Butler shared an Academy Award nomination for their original screenplay of "Wake Island" (1942), a gripping drama about American troops fighting to maintain control of the titular Pacific island at the outbreak of WWII. He went on to collaborate on "Crash Dive" and "Action in the North Atlantic" (both 1943), among others. Following the war, Burnett turned to Westerns (e.g., "San Antonio" 1946; "Belle Starr's Daughter" 1948) and then returned to form with the film noir "The Racket" (1951). He added a dose of humor to the action genre with "Sergeants Three" (1962), a loose remake of "Gunga Din" with Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr before penning his final credited screenplay, 1963's tense "The Great Escape", based on the largest escape of Allied POWs in World War II and featuring a star-making turn by Steve McQueen.
Miami Military Academy
Ohio State University
Burnett also wrote episodes of the TV series "The Untouchables" (set in 1920s Chicago) and "Naked City".