The Australian 05.07.2004


The 'red Elvis' inspires Hanks

By Justin Sparks in Berlin

TOM Hanks is to film the life of a left-wing 1960s American rock star who, while barely known in the West, was so famous behind the former Iron Curtain he was called "the red Elvis".

The Hollywood actor is fascinated by the story of Dean Reed, who drowned in mysterious circumstances 18 years ago near his home in East Berlin.

DreamWorks, the production company partly owned by Steven Spielberg – who plans to co-produce the film with Hanks – has bought the rights to Comrade Rockstar, a book about Reed's life by London-based writer Reggie Nadelson.

Reed's unlikely rise to Soviet stardom began at the age of 20 in 1958. Bored with working on his father's farm in Wheat Ridge, a small town near Denver, he packed his guitar and headed for the West Coast. His lucky break came when he gave a ride to a tramp who claimed to know a record producer in Hollywood. The story turned out to be true and, despite Reed's mediocre singing, he was given a recording contract.

Two years later, the country boy with the cinematic good looks was signed up by Warner Bros and sent for acting lessons. It was there that he made friends with actor Jean Seberg and came under the influence of left-wing activists.

In 1962 Reed had his first hit when his song Our Summer Romance topped the charts – in Chile and Argentina. "He packed his bag and followed his hit," Nadelson said.

Influenced by meetings with radical poets, Reed became a fervent anti-capitalist. Then in 1965 he was spotted playing in a Helsinki park by Boris Pastukhov, a leader of the Soviet youth league. Concert tours, record contracts and film roles poured in. In Romania and Italy, Reed shot spaghetti westerns, one of them starring Yul Brynner, and raged against American imperialism.

It all ended in 1986 when Reed left his home in East Berlin. Five days later his body was dredged from a nearby lake. Erich Honecker, the East German leader, personally ruled out foul play and declared Reed's death an accident. Conspiracy theories of CIA and KGB involvement were fuelled by Reed's appearance on US television shortly before his death, when he likened President Ronald Reagan to Stalin.

The Sunday Times

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