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Johnny runs away from Father O'Hara's orphanage and becomes a roller skating star with the help of Mary Reeves. He becomes involved with women, including Polly, who only love him because he is a champion, not, as with Mary, out of love for him. Then he gets polio. Written by
Ed Stephan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
'm one of the sons of the man on whose life this movie is based. Here are a few points that were different in the picture: My father skated under the name Eddie Cazar. One of his teammates was Johnny Cazar. If this movie is a hybrid of the two Cazars' lives, someone will have to fill in the details on Johnny.
My father was not an orphan. His Irish Catholic mother did leave him in order to take up with a French-Canadian Jewish gangster. Thus Eddie was left in the benignly neglectful care of my backwoods paternal grandfather. Either it was easier just to orphan him in the Hollywood version or being an orphan was part of Johnny's story.
My father was close to six feet tall, from the pictures I've seen I recall Johnny Cazar as being kind of tall himself. Mickey Rooney: not tall. Granted Mr. Rooney could do many of his own skating stunts, so maybe that's why he got the part.
The extent of the polio was seriously downplayed, which is the entire freaking point of the movie! Polio was a big deal back then, and they really gloss over it. It really belittles my father's struggle and accomplishment. You get a montage of treatments, including brief scenes of Mickey Rooney in an iron lung, and that's about it. No massive weight loss, no being rendered mute and having his vocal cords removed, no long time spent in that iron lung; just a little paralysis, no big whoop. It was just like a bad 'flu or something. They should have treated it more like the war injuries were in "The Best Years of Our Lives." Maybe that would have been too expensive or something. Of course it makes his comeback for one final season of skating all the less spectacular. In a way my father was the Earvin Johnson of the era, having the illness everyone feared the most, yet managing to fight back and still participate in a hugely popular sport.
The treatment of his rise from street skater to rollerderby star is close enough for a '50s era family movie. I.e. not enough sex and no drugs. That's true for both Cazars.
Real life is a lot more complex than reel life. His fall a lot harder, his climb up a lot harder, his triumph a lot more amazing, but it took a hell of a lot longer for redemption.
So do check out this movie, it is a glimpse into a nearly forgotten popular culture and plague. Even if it is a watered down look into one man's life or two men's conflated lives.
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