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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Bill Ayers: Would you see a movie about Obama's secret pal?

October 6, 2008 |  6:38 pm

BillayersYou know how it goes in Hollywood: Enough about the stock market taking a dive...does it help my movie's opening weekend? So is it good news for writer-director John Hancock that Bill Ayers, the subject of Hancock's new script, "Fugitive Days," may suddenly become a hotly debated focus of the Obama-McCain presidential campaign? In recent days, Republicans have been stepping up attacks on Obama, with Sarah Palin accusing him of being someone who would "pal around with terrorists," her term of endearment for Ayers, who was a founding member of the Weather Underground and a fugitive from justice for a decade. Ayers has acknowledged being involved in several bombing attempts, including one on the Pentagon in 1972.

Politico's Jeffrey Resner has an intriguing story about Hancock, who directed "Bang the Drum Slowly" and was a '60s war-protester himself. Hancock tells Resner that he spent about 40 hours interviewing Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, after optioning Ayers 2001 memoir, also called "Fugitive Days." Ayers turned himself in to authorities in 1980, served time in prison and has since rehabilitated himself. He's currently an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has worked with Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley to shape Chicago's school reform agenda. He and Obama became friends after crossing paths as members of the board of a local anti-poverty group.

Hancock told Resner that his agent has sent the script, co-written with Dorothy Tristan, out to various producers, but so far has received only "nibbles, but no bites." Of course, now that Ayers has become a political football, it's hard not to imagine everyone in Hollywood wanting to get a look at the script. (That goes for me too, John, if you've got an extra copy lying around.) As it turns out, Ayers has already gotten the Hollywood treatment, since he and Dohrn were the inspiration for the fugitive couple played by Judd Hirsh and Christine Lahti in the 1988 drama, "Running on Empty" (he was also featured in archival footage in the 2002 Oscar nominated documentary "The Weather Underground.")

Those of us who follow Chicago politics know that there's a great untold story about Ayers that hasn't surfaced yet in the national media. If the Republicans continue to hammer away at Obama about his admittedly casual relationship with Ayers, expect him to rescued by the poster boy for unimpeachably  Middle American values -- Mayor Daley himself. In the insular world of Chicago machine politics, the current mayor isn't just good pals himself with Ayers -- his father, the first Mayor Daley, the guy who had his cops beat up protesters at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, was even better pals with Ayers' father, who was a pillar of Chicago business circles, chairman of Commonwealth Edison and a loyal Daley supporter.

Now that would make a great movie. Imagine the scene where Bill Ayers' dad calls Mayor Daley I when Bill has gone underground after trying to blow up the Pentagon, asking him for some help with the feds who are trying to find his wayward son. "Anything for a friend," the mayor would say. "Just make sure we don't have any blackouts this summer."

The Chicago political machine isn't what it used to be, but don't be surprised if Mayor Daley II pops up to offer Obama support, figuring it would be hard for anyone to believe that the mayor of Chicago could possibly be pals with a wild-eyed terrorist. Hancock says he might add a reference to Obama in his script to reflect the current situation. I hope he makes room for Mayor Daley too. If he turns out looking good, they could probably find a way to shoot the whole film in Chicago for free.       

Mug shot of Bill Ayers from the Chicago Historical Society.