A Long Time Coming’s Conversion for the screen

Ron Lewis
4 min readJan 23

A little-known fact, writers who sell their stories to TV or motion picture producers, more often than not, lose all control.

In 1975, author Roderick Thorp saw the film The Towering Inferno, which, as you should know, is about a skyscraper that catches on fire. After seeing the film, Thorp went home, climbed into bed, and fell asleep. Perhaps his imagination, inspired by the movie, he dreamed of a man being chased through a skyscraper by men with guns. He woke up and later took the nexus of the dream and turned it into The Detective sequel, Nothing Lasts Forever.

Roderick Thorp wanted the book to be a direct sequel to The Detective so they could make it into a follow-up film starring Frank Sinatra as Joe Leland. Thus, the storyline happens about four decades after its predecessor (as Leland was age thirty-six in that novel). Sinatra, however, was not 36 years old at the time of filming, but 53. While the novel first printing was 1979, it took eight years before 20th Century Fox bought screen rights. Perhaps, more accurately, before they exercised their screen rights. At which time, Fox hired a screenwriter to do the adaptation.

20th Century Fox hired writer Jeb Stuart to adapt Thorp’s novel in 1987. Reading the novel several times, Stuart wrote a faithful treatment of the book-to-screen concept. Frank Sinatra was approached to reprise his role, his age being 73 and near the age of Leland at that point. However, Sinatra declined the offer.

The role was then offered to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and several other actors until Bruce Willis was, reluctantly, brought on board. (No one at Fox believed he could carry a movie, especially an action film) In the time between the completion of the treatment, Sinatra’s rejection of the role, and the hiring of Willis, the studio execs asked the writer to go another direction, and they assigned a second writer to assist. (Studio speak for takeover)

Although the film (re-titled Die Hard) was altered to be a stand-alone film with no connections to Thorp’s novel and does not follow the source material closely, some of its memorable scenes, characters, and dialogue are pulled directly from the book. Joe Leland became John McClane, the oil company became an international, Japanese-based…

Ron Lewis

Ron Lewis has had a lifelong interest and love of both history and westerns.