EXCLUSIVE: Warner Bros has set a film about the life of Oliver Sipple, the former Marine and Vietnam vet who saved the life of President Gerald Ford when he deflected the weapon of a would-be assassin, but who found himself in the crosshairs of a media firestorm when news of his sexual orientation leaked to the press. The project will be scripted by Daniel Pearle, who adapted his play A Kid Like Jake into the Silas Howard-directed film that opens today with Claire Danes, Jim Parsons playing parents of a child who likes princesses more than cars, leading to gender identity issues for the parents and everyone around the child. The film explores the complexities of parenting a child showing gender nonconformity. Octavia Spencer, Priyanka Chopra, Amy Landecker, and Ann Dowd also star and IFC releases.
This is the second movie to take root this week involving a thwarted attempt to murder a sitting president, following the Global Road deal for the Alex Kramer spec Rawhide Down, on the near-fatal assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. The story that Pearle came up with and pitched to Warner Bros is a far more complicated story of heroism turned into tragedy.
Sipple died in 1989 at age 47 after being treated for schizophrenia, alcoholism and several other health problems. He was thrust into the national spotlight in 1975 while watching as Ford emerged outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. When he saw Sara Jane Moore raise a .38-caliber pistol to shoot the president, Sipple knocked the gun out of her hands. The shot just missed Ford, narrowly averting a tragedy.
Initially praised as a hero, Sipple’s narrative changed days later when press reports identified him as a homosexual man who patronized bars that catered to the gay community in San Francisco. Sipple had never told his family of his sexual orientation, and the results were personally devastating for him. Within days of those reports, he sued seven newspapers and 50 executives of newspapers, magazines and news agencies. He claimed that his sexuality was his own business, had no bearing on his heroic action, and that the reports violated his right to privacy.
Though his suit was dismissed in 1984 by the California Supreme Court after a lower court ruled against him, Sipple’s situation created a lightning rod of debate about freedom of the press versus the right to personal privacy.
Pearle is repped by CAA, Manage-ment’s Corinne Hayoun and attorney Tara Kole at Gang Tyre.