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WUSA-TV’s Bruce Johnson posted an old news clip (WMV) a couple of days ago that contained his report on Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene’s 1984 death. A version of Petey Greene’s story is told on the big screen in Talk to Me, which came out in theaters last month.
After hearing (and writing about) the story of Lurma Rackley—-the reporter Greene chose to write his autobiography just before he died—-I’ve found old reports like Johnson’s to be all the more relevant. There’s so little information about Greene’s real life that people are taking the movie at face value.
For instance, I was watching Tavis Smiley‘s talk show a few nights ago and Smiley was interviewing Don Cheadle, the actor who plays Greene in the movie. It was clear from Smiley’s line of questioning that he assumed Cheadle was an expert on Greene. It’s arguable that there are no experts on Greene—-he wasn’t an elected official, and there aren’t gobs of information out there about him. But if there were an expert, it definitely wouldn’t be the man who played a dramatized version of him in a Hollywood movie.
Smiley asked Cheadle a few pointed questions about dramatized scenes in the movie, and it was obvious that Smiley assumed those scenes were taken from Greene’s real-life story. And Cheadle just went with it, improvising answers instead of informing Smiley and viewers that hey, he’s just an actor reading a largely fictionalized script about a man who died over 20 years ago.
But that just goes to show that when you’re dead and gone and someone decides to resurrect your story, they can tell it however they want. But check out the movie—-it’s pretty good. And read Rackley’s book to get more from Petey in his own words.