Biography

Californian Ron Shelton toyed with a sculpting career before answering the clarion call of the sports world. A basketball star in college, Shelton spent five years as a baseball player in the Baltimore Orioles' farm system. He closed out his diamond career with the Rochester Red Wings at age 25. After a series of "joe jobs," Shelton decided he needed a bit more education to survive, and went on to earn an MFA degree at Arizona State. Still drifting from one dead-end job to another, Shelton began writing screenplays, his favorite being a semi-autobiographical work about a minor league catcher titled A Player to Be Named Later. Failing to make a sale, Shelton signed on as a rewrite man and second-unit director for director Roger Spottiswoode's Under Fire (1983). Impressed by the results, Spottiswoode gave Shelton another second-unit assignment in the 1985 football comedy The Best of Times, allowing Shelton to direct the climactic gridiron sequences himself. Through the auspices of Spottiswoode, Shelton was finally able to sell A Player to Be Named Later, which, under the title Bull Durham, was directed by Shelton on a tiny budget in 1988. The film was a surprise box-office hit, making a major star out of Kevin Costner and earning Shelton a best-screenplay Oscar nomination. Shelton's next project was Blaze (1990), a near-lampoon account of the romance between Louisiana governor Earl Long(Paul Newman) and stripper Blaze Starr (Lola Davidovich). The film failed to connect with the public, but Shelton's next effort was an unadulterated hit: White Men Can't Jump (1992), an uproarious, profanity-laden study of "street basketball" that scored with black and white audiences alike. In 1994, ex-baseballer Shelton came full circle with Cobb, the much awaited biopic of controversial baseball legend Ty Cobb (Tommy Lee Jones); alas, by concentrating only on Cobb's vitriolic final years (and only peripherally on his baseball activities), the film proved a letdown to both Cobb's and Shelton's fans, ending up a box-office loser. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi