Actor and Houston native Dennis Quaid has formed a production company, Bonniedale, that’s already primed to tackle film and television projects.
First up is American Pride, a biopic of Charley Pride, the country trailblazer who died in Dallas in 2020 at the age of 86. Quaid will play “Cowboy” Jack Clement, who wrote and recorded with Pride on many of his breakthrough songs. Clement was also a longtime mentor to Quaid in the actor’s own musical career.
“Charley Pride was the Jackie Robinson of country music,” Quaid says. “He became a star at a time when that didn’t seem possible. It’s an interesting story of a man getting his dreams, and how difficult it was for him to be regarded by people of his own color who gravitated to other forms of music, much less country and Western fans in the south who were resistant to welcoming a Black singer into the fold.” In fact, when RCA first signed Pride to a deal and released his early albums, they didn’t put the singer’s photo on the album cover.
“He had the most distinctive voice, and his songs played on the radio, but when he went out to tour, he’d come out in a concert and people didn’t know,” Quaid says. “He’d say, ‘I guess you’re wondering why I have this permanent tan.’ He had this way or disarming people. He had a huge personality. There was some rejection by Black artists of the time, but they weren’t privy to Charley’s struggle. His music was authentic to him; he grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry when he and his father fell in love with the music. It comes down to a story of how color doesn’t really matter; it’s about reaching people, which makes his story relevant to today.”
Quaid often met with Pride and his wife of 50 years, Rozene, about the film before the singer died from COVID-19 in late 2020, shortly after going to Nashville to accept the CMA’s Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the height of the pandemic.
Born a sharecropper’s son in Sledge, Mississippi, in 1934 — he moved to Texas in 1969 — Pride emerged from Southern cotton fields to become country music’s first Black superstar and the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. His rich baritone voice and impeccable song-sense altered American culture.
Music, however, took a back seat for Pride early on. A gifted athlete, he began his career playing baseball as a pitcher and feared hitter in the Negro Leagues before getting a chance to try out for Casey Stengel and the New York Mets. But his musical acumen was more impressive than his pitching arm or his hitting skills, and he emerged as one of the most significant artists at RCA Records, with chart-topping hits including “Kiss An Angel Good Mornin’,” “Is Anybody Goin’ to San Antone” and “Mountain of Love.” He won the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award in 1971, and took home the top male vocalist prize in 1971 and 1972.
Music was his life, though he had more obstacles to overcome than just being the first major Black country star. “Charley suffered from bipolar disorder, and had these manic episodes and hallucinations that people were trying to get him,” Quaid explains. “His wife was instrumental in helping him get through that. He was a little embarrassed about it, but we got past it.”
Formation of Bonniedale (named for Quaid’s mom’s middle name) came from Quaid’s belief that there’s room for the kinds of movies he made — like The Rookie, The Parent Trap and The Right Stuff — that people frequently mention to him. “I’m fed up with how things have gotten polarized,” he says. “There are many stories that take place in the middle part of the country, the flyover states if you will. Those stories get missed — a lot.”
Ben Howard, who produced Quaid’s movie Blue Miracle and who, along with Quaid’s wife, Laura Quaid, is a partner in Bonniedale, concurs. “You look at a list of Dennis’ films,” Howard explains, “and you see themes of overcoming adversity, and underdog tales of people who do great things no one expects. Those are the stories we want to tell, and Dennis has as good an eye and nose for them as anyone.”
The production company has a couple of additional projects percolating: Laura Quaid reeled in the Aimee Mayo memoir Talking to the Sky, about her hard road as a songwriter, and Howard championed The Long Game. “It’s the story of a rag tag bunch of caddies in West Texas who worked at a country club that wouldn’t let them play golf there,” Howard explains. “The school principal pulled them together, and they built a golf course in the desert, literally with one hole and nine approaches to it. That principal challenged them to become a golf team, and a year later they won the Texas state championship in the ’60s.”
Says Quaid: “I think you can figure out we like true stories.”
Cover promo photo by Joseph Llanes.