EXCLUSIVE: Producers are always looking for inspiring true stories that will translate to movies and TV. Here’s one in their own backyard. Howard Books has signed up an untitled memoir that will tell the story of how Carter Paysinger, a factory worker’s son from South Central, teamed with Steven Fenton, son of the mayor of Beverly Hills, to shake up the status quo and elect Paysinger the first African American principal in the 80-plus year history of Beverly Hills High. Fenton and Paysinger will write the book with Glory Road scribe Bettina Gilois. Several producers have already responded, including Alan and Peter Riche (the latter of whom played football for the team when Paysinger was head coach), but no alignment has yet been made.
Though he lived in South Central, Paysinger got the break of a lifetime when he was among a group of underprivileged kids invited to attend tony Beverly Hills High on a “multi-culture permit.” For Paysinger, it was a long commute but such a game changer that after graduating from college, Paysinger dedicated his future to the high school through teaching and coaching sports teams. One of the students he influenced was Fenton, a player on the baseball team Paysinger coached, and whose father, Frank, would later become Beverly Hills mayor. Fenton spent 15 years as a personal manager in Hollywood before burning out and running for and winning a seat on the Beverly Hills board of education. It was then that Paysinger called him asking for help to stop the deterioration that the school was experiencing.
Fenton seized on the idea that Paysinger could help stop it if he ran the school as principal. He thought the popularity, influence and reputation of Paysinger accumulated in 30 years of teaching would make him a strong candidate. Instead, Fenton found instead that his neighbors were turning on him over the idea of a black man presiding over the school in the most prestigious zip code in the country. Fenton was threatened, investigated by the district attorney’s office on a false tip someone phoned in, and ostracized by longtime friends. The book is about that challenge, which culminated with Paysinger being named principal in 2010 with a split vote. After the school delivered its highest statewide test scores ever following his first year in office, Paysinger was made permanent with a unanimous vote. Fenton, who’s married to former Entertainment Tonight host Leeza Gibbons, told the story to her book agent, and they made the deal at the Simon & Schuster imprint.