Honora Bay couple’s Dodge tragedy script moves into refinement phase

HONORA BAY – A story’s journey from writer’s concept to appearing on the silver screen usually follows a long and winding road, a path that averages years and even decades to travel. John Hawke and Debra Wilson were well aware of that process when they sat down to pen a draft screenplay based on the events following the untimely demise of Daniel George Dodge (according to Dodge tragedy expert Rick Nelson, Mr. Dodge hated being called Danny), one of the heirs to the Dodge Motor Company fortune, a mystery that has captivated Manitoulin for generations.

“We felt it was such an amazing story and one that deserves to be heard by a wider audience,” said Ms. Wilson, who along with her partner Mr. Hawke wrote the original screenplay a few years ago and began casting about for a producer to take the project under their wing.

When the news came that a company was willing to acquire the rights, the couple was ecstatic, but remained reserved with the notion that a long road still lay ahead.

“The only thing we really know is that they have secured someone to re-write the screenplay; that’s about it,” said Ms. Wilson, noting that once a writer lets slip the pages of their work they are essentially out of the production loop. “We just aren’t usually privy to it.”

“I’m just hoping we’re still around to walk the red carpet,” quipped Mr. Hawke.

Still, that journey took another encouraging step forward recently when the couple confirmed that a writer had been secured to rework the script for the big screen.

The writing duo have significant theatrical chops, being familiar to Island audiences for their work with the Gore Bay Theatre Company and a host of other onstage productions in front of the footlights. They have both also enjoyed considerable success as extras in major film productions being filmed in Northern Ontario, but there are significant differences between storytelling on stage and on film.

“We threw in just about everything we could find about Laurine and Dan Dodge so that they have lots to work with,” said Mr. Hawke.

“They” being Edge Enterprise owner Rosalie Chilelli and producer Jennifer Pun, along with an experienced screenwriter the production company secured for the re-write. “We recently signed Amanda Smith, an experienced Canadian writer to complete the next draft,” said Ms. Chilelli. Ms. Smith has an impressive list of credentials garnered over her 11 years in the industry.

“In addition, executive producer Simone Urdl (of The Film Farm) has joined the team,” shared Ms. Cilelli. “We have a stellar team working on this project.”

“There was a lot of dialogue,” admitted Ms. Wilson of the script they had originally signed over to the production company. “Rosalie said that hiring the screenwriter was the best thing to do.”

“It’s exciting because I am all about the process,” said Ms. Wilson, who said she is enjoying the journey. “There is a lot more show than tell in a movie, but when we were writing the screenplay we wanted to put all of the information in it.”

Although the story of the death of Daniel Dodge underpins the story, the planned movie is actually focused on a story nearer and dearer to the Island, that of what befell his widow Laurine (McDonald) Dodge, following his death.

“The focus of the story will be on Laurine (MacDonald) Dodge and what happens to her after Danny (Dodge) dies in the tragic accident,” said Ms. Chilelli. “The story will have contemporary themes and viewers will see the story from Laurine’s perspective.”

To that end John Van Etten, the son of Laurine Dodge from a subsequent marriage, along with the couple’s nephew will be consulting on the work as well. “We want to get a better understanding of and get to know Laurine through her family members,” said Ms. Chilelli.

“Hopefully after they see the movie, people will be able to judge whether she was a gold digger or not,” said Ms. Wilson.

Laurine Dodge was born Annie Laurine McDonald in Gore Bay in 1917 to John (Jack) McDonald, a tugboat captain, and Annie Arnold. Ms. Dodge, an extremely beautiful young woman by all contemporary accounts, was a telephone operator when she met the dashing and adventurous scion of the Dodge family fortune. The couple married in the summer of 1938, purportedly against the will of his family, and with his death coming so soon after the marriage a vicious court battle ensued over his trust fund—a battle Laurine eventually won.

The story has all the elements necessary to take it to the big screen, and hopefully after more than eight decades in the shadows, Laurine’s story will no longer be so overshadowed by her young husband’s tragic end.

Stay tuned.