UAB professor pens book on director of some of the greatest movies of all time

Larry Powell, Ph.D., spent time with an award-winning director and put his fascinating stories in a book.

University of Alabama at Birmingham Professor Larry Powell, Ph.D., co-wrote a book that gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the making of some of the greatest movies of all time.

Powell book coverIn “The Films of John G. Avildsen: Rocky, The Karate Kid, and other Underdogs,” Powell, along with Sam Houston State Associate Professor Tom Garrett, writes of Avildsen’s journey into making his world-famous movies. Avildsen, who won the Academy Award for Best Director in 1977 for “Rocky,” directed the Rocky I and V movies, as well as Karate Kid I, II and III, as well as others.

Powell, who is a professor of communication studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, met the filmmaker about 12 years ago when he came to UAB as a guest lecturer and has been working on the book ever since.

“In the book, there were plenty of surprises,” Powell said.

Many of them scandalous, he says, like why one actor’s well-documented sniffles had nothing to do with a head cold, and nuggets like why Avildsen chose to direct “Desert Heat” under an alias and the details behind his getting fired from “Saturday Night Fever.”

“If you like movies, you will learn things you wouldn’t know,” Powell said.

Avildsen made a name for himself after directing “Joe,” a low-budget film about a father who hated “hippies” during the Vietnam era. It got him noticed by the bigger movie studios, and he was tapped to direct “Save the Tiger,” which won Jack Lemmon an Academy Award.

“He is technically precise,” Powell said of Avildsen’s directing prowess. “When he first started out, he would draw storyboards for every shot. By the end of his career, he would use a digital camera to rehearse his scenes.”

Avildsen directed several actors to Oscar nominations, including Jack GilfordBurgess MeredithSylvester StalloneTalia ShirePat Morita and Burt Young.

The book is available on