‘Apocalypse Now’ ruins film adaptation plans for SC professor

Winthrop University professor Haney Howell checks his e-mail every Sunday night around 12 a.m. to make sure students’ scripts for the student television show, Winthrop Close-Up, are submitted. He reads them over and sends the scripts back with corrections and feedbacks.

“Don’t forget an Anchor Lead in.” or  “This could be written smoother.” with e-mails signed “Get it done.”

However on May 5, 2012, Howell will be leaving Winthrop with graduating under-grads; retiring after teaching broadcast for over 20 years.

But before teaching students how to properly write a television script, Howell was the journalist one dreams of being one day. Howell’s career in broadcast spans from working as a disc jockey in the mountains of Tennessee as a teenager, evacuating from Cambodia and Saigon, and bringing live coverage from the Vietnam War.

Howell has shared conversations with Robert Osborne on New York bus rides and was friends with journalist, Ed Bradley. He even had a brush with Hollywood.

Shooting a story in Cambodia, 1973. Photo Courtesy of Haney Howell

“It all started at a dinner party in New York,” said Howell. “We were telling stories about the Vietnam war. Filmographer Jules Fisher was looking for a Vietnam movie and wanted the stories written down.”

After writing and negotiating, Columbia Studios flew Howell to Hollywood with a $25,000 contract.

 “They put me in the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel with my room overlooking Rodeo Drive,” he said. “Imagine that happening to a country boy from Tennessee.”

Howell ate in exclusive hotel restaurants and was given an inside tour of Hollywood homes inside Larry Gelbart’s Bentley.

Howell spent three days with “Bonnie and Clyde” director Arthur Penn and “MASH” screenwriter Larry Gelbart. The trio spent their time reading, writing and fleshing out the story under a working film title of “Hotel Royale.”

“The writing experience was incredible,” Howell said. “All of my expenses were on Columbia.”

But the Hollywood dream ended.

“The movie project died six months after ‘Apocalypse Now’ came out,” Howell said. “Francis Ford Coppola had a lot of problems with the movie; it went way over budget and it was too early for a Vietnam movie.”

The weekly Viet Cong news conference at Camp Davis on Tan Son Nuet in Saigon. Photo courtesy of Haney Howell

After the movie project ended, Howell adapted the screenplay into a book “Roadrunner,” which was published in 1980. His contact with Columbia allowed novelization rights of the story.

“I took the $25,000 and finished the book,” he said. “I was in a farm house in Normandy, France where we cranked out a chapter a day.”

Howell published “Roadrunners” with Jim Morrison. Morrison, a Green Beret,  wrote “Operation Dumbo Drop” in 1989, which later was adapted into 1995 film. “Roadrunners” is based off Howell’s experiences in Cambodia in the summer of 1973.  The novel is about soldier on the hunt for a gun and ends up getting his girlfriend killed in the process.

“I made ‘Roadrunners’ a novel because I can say its made up, even though its really an autobiography,” Howell said. “You can combine characters in a novel, because I met so many colorful people.”

Howell knew he wanted to write a book ever since he took a creative writing course at Midwestern University.

“I was told there were only two differences between being a published writer: there are the 60 million people trying to get published and you are the six million who have,” he said. “I love seeing my name on the binding on my shelf.”

Haney Howell and I at a Mass Communication banquet on April 6, 2012.

   I am proud to say I was a student of Haney Howell, and can call him a mentor and friend. Congratulations on your retirement, you will always be someone I admire. 

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