Tom Hedley was a young Toronto magazine writer on the rise with an artist friend named Robert Markle, who taught at an art and design university.
Markle was an experimental painter who wanted to experience kinetic movement, which was why he wanted Hedley to go with him to watch some strippers.
One of the strippers reminded Hedley of a woman he knew from a stint he’d spent in blue-collar, steel town Hamilton, Ont.
“I knew a couple of girls who worked in the Pipe Fitters Union,” says Hedley. “I remembered thinking how odd that was (to turn a working-class pursuit into a burlesque routine).”
It was also not too long after Rocky — a Cinderfella story about a mug who has a moment on the world stage — won the Oscar for Best Picture, so Hedley sat down at his desk and thought of the women pipe fitters of Hamilton, the strippers of downtown Toronto, and wrote a Rocky story for women.
Tuesday at the Jubilee Auditorium, Flashdance: The Musical, the musical-theatre adaptation of that same story, opens in Calgary.
“It was an interesting idea to do a blue collar story back then,” he says. “I thought it was interesting.”
It was the story that was eventually transformed into the film Flashdance, which became a Paramount Pictures sensation in the summer of 1983. Hedley wrote the screenplay for that, which landed him in Los Angeles.
“I was hired by Paramount to come down,” he says. “They gave me an office, and I did many, many drafts as you do with screenplays under the direction of the studio executives.
“You never know if it’s going to go (into production) or not,” he says. “Then, one day, a big comedy at Paramount dropped out and they had a slot.”
Hedley promptly started dating Dawn Steel, the Paramount producer who’d discovered the screenplay.
“She (was the one who) saw it as a female Rocky,” he says, “and that’s ultimately how she could sell it to the studio.”
That’s because pitching a musical about a dancer whose day job was as a welder was less than a long shot — but not because of the welder bit.