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An unpublished manuscript and a screen-writer daughter catapults Tucsonan’s life on to the big screen.

When Clyde Stagner’s marriage and Army career were falling apart 30 years ago, he didn’t think it was the makings for a Hollywood movie.

But thanks to an unpublished book he authored and a talented daughter, Stagner’s life made the big screen, with no less a star than Tommy Lee Jones playing Stagner.

“Blue Sky,’ which opened in Tucson yesterday, revolves around the emotional relationship between Stagner, now 70, and his first wife, Gloria, who died in 1982, and how their deteriorating relationship affected their two daughters.

The tale is set against the background of nuclear testing in Nevada in the 1960s. Stagner, a Tucsonan for the past 14 years, was a safety officer for an underground test in May, 1962.

“The explosion wasn’t supposed to come out of the ground,’ he recalled in a recent interview, “but it did. It blew out of the side of a mesa, and I knew it was my duty to fly in there in a helicopter and check the extent of what happened.’

As Stagner tried to get a handle on what went wrong and what impact it might have on people who were near the blast site, he met both indifference and resistance from his superiors.

That is merely the framework on which the real story of “Blue Sky’ is hung, though. With Jones playing Hank Marshal (a character based on Stagner), and Jessica Lange playing Marshal’s irrepressible, flirtatious wife Carly, the details of how their marriage was battered and ultimately broken unfold on the screen.

Stagner, who left the Army in 1964, wrote a manuscript about the events he lived through, but it was never published. His eldest daughter, Rama Laurie Stagner, worked in a literary agency in Los Angeles, and eventually became interested in screen writing. On a hiking trip, she discussed her father’s manuscript with a director friend, and was encouraged to base a screenplay on it.

“My agent read it and said, `If I can’t sell this, you should fire me,’ ‘ Rama Stagner recalled in an interview from her Los Angeles home. “Bob Solo, the producer, read it on Thursday, and Friday there was an offer on the table. By Monday, he had sold it to Orion Pictures.’

Meanwhile, Rama Stagner was attacking her new career with a fervor, and was pitching another idea to Jessica Lange.

“Her agent said to me, `She can’t do this right now. You know what’s happening, don’t you?’

“I said I didn’t, and her agent said, `Jessica has signed to do `Blue Sky.’ ‘

“I nearly fell out of my chair.’

The movie was filmed in 1990, but Orion’s financial woes put the finished product on the shelf until this year. Released last week in major markets, the film has received positive reviews, including an enthusiastic thumbs up from TV’s Roger Ebert (Gene Siskel gave it a thumbs down).

“The Los Angeles Times reviewer liked it, and there was a two-page spread on Jessica Lange that really played up the movie and her role,’ said Rama Stagner.

Although the movie’s release stalled, Rama Stagner’s writing career took off.

“When word got out that Tommy Lee Jones and Jessica Lange had done my story, I got a lot of offers, and I’ve been busy ever since,’ she said.

She wrote two made-for-TV scripts for Lifetime – “And Then There Was One,’ starring Amy Madigan, and “Other Women’s Children,’ an adaptation of Dr. Perri Klass’s book. She also wrote “A Passion For Justice,’ starring Jane Seymour, for ABC, and she is adapting Naomi Judd’s book into a miniseries for NBC.

“One of the things that really struck me about what happened between my mother and dad in the summer of 1963, was how different my sister’s and my memories were,’ Rama Stagner said. “I remember vividly the conflict, the fighting and how upsetting it all was. All she remembers are the good times we had that summer and the fun things we did.’

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