Happy “Top Gun Day”! Here’s Why it Matters in Mid-Michigan
Happy "Top Gun Day"! And yes, that's a real thing.
Top Gun was released on May 16th, 1986. (I don't know why "Top Gun Day" is the 13th) The reason we should celebrate around here just a little more than most, is the fact that the original Top Gun screenplay was written by two Michigan State grads - Jim Cash (who taught at State) and Jack Epps, Jr. Jim stayed and lived in East Lansing, until he passed away in March 2000. Jack moved out to California, but they continued to write movies together. And they wrote a bunch of movies you would know - "Legal Eagles", "Turner and Hooch", "Dick Tracy" and "The Flinstones in Viva Rock Vegas". (I didn't say they were all GREAT movies).
In May 1983, an article, "Top Guns", about the Navy's Top Gun School at Naval Air Station Miramar in San Diego, (the "Fighter Weapons School" is now in Fallon, Nevada) appeared in "California" magazine. Producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer decided to do a movie based on the article. Jim and Jack were hired to write the first draft - which was much different than the movie that was actually filmed. In their first draft, there was a huge crash on-board the aircraft carrier and Maverick's (Tom Cruise) love interest was an aerobics instructor. That was before they met Christine Fox, the inspiration for Kelly McGillis' "Charlie" character. But they, and director Tony Scott, finally came up with one of the most iconic movies of the 80s.
I remember going with all my buddies to see Top Gun when it came out and being blown away. Sure it's cheesy - nobody in an F-14 would've taken off their oxygen mask at altitude (just to name one problem) - but it's a movie, not a documentary.
How strongly did Top Gun affect me? I had a pretty nice job on the radio in Pittsburgh at the time, but I really thought about bailing and joining the military. Right after I saw the movie, I ran into a college Navy recruiter, who told me I couldn't be a pilot because my vision was below standards, but he thought I would have a good chance (with a few properly placed phone calls and some time) to fly as a RIO (in the back seat, like Goose). I already had my pilot's license, so the flying wouldn't be a problem, and I wasn't married yet, so.... His office was at Carnegie Mellon University and the building he was in was under construction at the time, so he was conducting business in a hallway. This guy told me he could have me in the Navy the next week if I wanted to do it. He took a phone call and I wandered down a dark hall wondering if I should give up my cushy radio job for the military. I really wrestled with it for a while, but I didn't do it.
Anyway, it had an impact thirty years ago - and I still watch it when it pops up on TV. Which I bet it will this weekend. Thanks to a couple of guys from Michigan State.
Thanks Jim and Jack. (Here's all the good movie quotes)
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