A movie is being made about Jack Durant, the founder of Durant’s, the iconic Phoenix restaurant. We’ll show you how Durant’s colorful character is the highlight of the film being shot here in Phoenix.
TED SIMONS: The man behind an iconic Phoenix restaurant was recently the subject of a full-length feature film. Producer Christina Estes takes us behind the scenes to show us how and why the movie was made.
TRAVIS MILLS: I thought, okay, I keep passing this restaurant. And I heard all these rumblings about it. I thought, okay, I'll dig a little deeper. Then I found out about Jack.
CHRISTINA ESTES: More than years after Jack Durant tried to make it in the movies, a movie is being made about him.
TRAVIS MILLS: He is a legend. He was never quite good and never quite bad.
CHRISTINA ESTES: And his life story has never quite been clear, not even to Travis Mills. He wrote and directed the film Durants Never Closes. It's based largely on Mabel Lee Grow's book. "The saga of Jack Durant."
TRAVIS MILLS: He came here from Tennessee, spent time in Arizona where he supposedly helped to run a brothel and worked in the mines. He also spent time in Vegas where supposedly he knew Bugsy Segal, the famous mobster, then he came to Arizona and opened Durants in 1950.
CHRISTINA ESTES: According to Leo's book, Durant landed a small part in a western but his movie career never took off. Still Durants became the place for Hollywood stars visiting Phoenix. Celebrity sightings, dim lighting and a questionable owner attracted the locals.
BJ THOMPSON: The right people started coming here. They would tell a friend and a friend, who became, you know, the elite of Phoenix.
CHRISTINA ESTES: For 15 years B.J. Thompson served as Durant's maitre d'.
BJ THOMPSON: Very busy
CHRISTINA ESTES: She knew who to seat, where and when. They often served 300 lunches in a single day. Thompson's laps around the restaurant were always wearing high heels.
BJ THOMPSON: Mr. Durant required his girls to wear dresses, or skirts, no slacks.
CHRISTINA ESTES: Before people used the term "politically incorrect" they probably could have used Jack Durant. He was known for using foul language, calling women broads and hitting on female customers. Thompson said he always treated his workers well.
BJ THOMPSON: He would come in and go to the bar, and stay there a while and maybe on his way out he'd come by and take my hand and say, here, buy you a cool one on the way home. That could be anywhere from 20 to 100 dollar bill didn't matter. He'd just reach in his pocket and whatever came out is what you got.
TRAVIS MILLS: I heard about a customer and him running into the kitchen to grab a meat cleaver and everyone in the restaurant having to stop him killing the customer.
CHRISTINA ESTES: Those contradictions became a key focus in filming. Tom Sizemore plays the Jack Durant role. It's the first time Mills has worked with Hollywood talent.
TRAVIS MILLS: I felt like he had a great understanding. There's everything in this character that you'd ever want. Sadness, happiness, danger, loneliness, everything is right here in this guy. When he saw that, I thought yeah, he can do it.
ACTOR: Durant's never closes, ever. Thanks a lot.
CHRISTINA ESTES: Michelle Stafford plays Suzy, Durant's third, fourth or maybe fifth wife, no one knows for sure.
DIRECTOR: Cut, excellent. Moving on to scene 73.
MICHELLE STAFFORD: I love a film environment. I love a bunch of people, creative people, getting together wanting to make something great to entertain others. I really dig that. So any group that wants to do that, I want to be a part of that group.
CHRISTINA ESTES: The film takes place in the 70s and includes a scene about the murder of "The Arizona Republic" reporter Don Bowles. A source had promised Bowles information about organized crime but never showed for the meeting. A bomb ripped his car apart. Eleven days later, he died.
TRAVIS MILLS: Supposedly Bowle's murder was planned inside Durant's. That's what he claimed and that's what people have said for years. We don't make any grand statements in the movie about Durant's involvement with the Bowles thing, but it's a representation of is Durant a good guy or a bad guy or walking some kind of moral gray line? Which is what the film is really all about.
CHRISTINA ESTES: Mill's team transformed a sound stage into a replica of the restaurant. Going Hollywood on a Phoenix budget requires patience and practicality. Mills has both.
TRAVIS MILLS: Most people would make this movie for three to five million. We're making it for $500,000.
CHRISTINA ESTES: That means spending less cash wherever he can. Buying this carpets at thrift stores saved Mills 700 bucks.
TRAVIS MILLS: 700 dollars doesn't sound like a lot, but it'll matter if we save 500, 700 on every single purchase. That's creative producing, to me. Take one. Action.
ACTRESS: I don't think the boys are ready to let you leave yet.
TRAVIS MILLS: My hope is that this movie really puts Phoenix and Arizona on the map in terms of making it a film-making town.
ACTRESS: I don't think it's too local. Because it's a human story, and well told, people will just be interested in seeing it.
CHRISTINA ESTES: While Jack Durant struggled with his people skills, he aced his rapport with animals.
BJ THOMPSON: He loved his dogs and I think they were probably number one before any of us.
BJ THOMPSON: His final pet was Humble, his English bulldog.
TRAVIS MILLS: The name Humble came from his slogan. In my humble opinion, Durant's is the finest eating and drinking establishment in the world, which he won second place in a national competition for best slogans.
CHRISTINA ESTES: When Durant died in 1987, he left Humble his house and a $50,000 allowance. Humble plays a special role in the films final moments, but Mills won't reveal details. The restaurant is now run by the family of Durant's former partner, Swede McGilroy. But the namesake is never out of sight. Photos line the walls of the restaurant that Durant never wanted to close.
TED SIMONS: Filmmakers plans to submit "Durant's Never Closes" to a number of national and international film festivals.
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TED SIMONS: Thursday on Arizona Horizon a look at how new technology is helping and hindering access to public records and we'll hear about Tech Shop Chandler, which helps turn innovation into reality. That's on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.