Troubled lives are the stuff of which movie biographies are made, especially in music.
Elvis Presley is a case in point. So are Jane Froman, Billie Holiday and Lillian Roth. Remember "Coal Miner's Daughter," the film biography of Loretta Lynn? Coming out soon is "Bird," about saxophonist Charlie Parker.There are others, to be sure, but the latest musical movie biography in the works is "Great Balls of Fire," currently in pre-production, featuring the career and personal ups and downs of rock 'n' roller Jerry Lee Lewis.
Producer Adam Fields has chosen one of the most controversial of rock stars as his subject, a man who, at the age of 22, married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra, and caused an international uproar.
The barely teen-aged Myra was Lewis' third wife.
Lewis' name popped up in the news again earlier this year when another cousin, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, landed on the front pages in a sex scandal.
Such is the stuff of the lively, troubled life of Jerry Lee Lewis who will be portrayed on the screen by Dennis Quaid.
Producer Fields, who will begin produation this fall, said, "I see Jerry Lee as the last of the living musical legends."
Fields approached the singer eight years ago with a plan to make a movie of his life. Lewis was reluctant. He asked the producer if he would like the picture.
"Probably not," Fields told him.
"I explained that very few people would like to see movies based on their lives. And he said, `Yeah, you're right. I guess you could do nothing about me but funerals and weddings.'
"Jerry Lee has had a rocky life. Two of his six or seven wives died, and so did two of his sons - one was 3 years old and the other was a teenager. Jerry Lee also had drug problems, but I'm not going to dwell on that.
"He gave me his OK to do the picture and is re-recording his hits for us. He also contributed some factual material and details on his career and private life, separating facts from the legendary elements.
"He was one of the great artists turned out in the 1950s by Sun Records, a tiny little studio in Memphis, under the guidance of Sam Phillips. That's where Elvis started, along with Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
"Phillips has provided some important material to the film, and Myra's book, `Great Balls of Fire,' gave us the basis for the screenplay. It's an incredible story of a 13-year marriage of a 13-year-old bride. I bought the rights to the book before it was published six years ago.
"I haven't cast the role of Myra yet. She has been working with us as a consultant on the picture, which will end at the height of Jerry Lee's career. It's an upbeat story that doesn't deal with the sensational aspects.
"Jerry's life has had more than its share of triumphs and tragedies. His marriage to Myra almost ruined his career. But he survived.
"He grew up in Elvis' shadow, unbridled, uncontrollable and full of raw talent. The amazing thing is that Jerry Lee has survived all the hard knocks and still is performing better than ever.
"Researching the picture has been a learning experience for me, the family ties, the religious upbringing and the wild music.
"It's rare to make a film biography of someone who is alive and who is as active as Jerry Lee. Usually movie biographies are made after the death of a star or after retirement."
Fields is confident that Quaid was a perfect choice for the Lewis role. The actor is a talented piano player who has been performing with his own rock band, The Eclectics.
Quaid sang in "The Big Easy," one of his recent films, which was directed by Jim McBride, who will direct him once again in "Great Balls of Fire."
"We will combine Jerry Lee's voice and Dennis' voice on the sound track because they sound very much alike, which makes Dennis a perfect choice for the part," Fields said.
Fields is no stranger to movies with musical backgrounds. He was executive producer of the album of "Endless Love." He also packaged the album for "Flash Dance" and was executive producer of Madonna's "Vision Quest."
"Everything I've done for the past seven years has been training and rehearsal to make this picture," he said.