James Dalessandro (born 1948) is an American writer and filmmaker. He is best known for his historical-fiction novel 1906 based on events surrounding the great San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906.
A film adaptation of 1906, based on both the novel and Dalessandro's screenplay, has been in development at Warner Bros. and Pixar Animation Studios, in association with Walt Disney Pictures. Screenwriter and director Brad Bird has been developing a project based on the novel.
Early life and education
James Dalessandro was born in Cleveland, Ohio on September 3, 1948, and attended Valley Forge High School. He studied journalism at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, screenwriting and film making at UCLA.
From 1973-77, he was co-founder of The Santa Cruz Poetry Festival, with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and served as its director for four years. As the nation's largest annual literary festival at the time, it brought Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and musicians like Anthony Braxton and Charles Lloyd to the seaside town of Santa Cruz, CA, which set attendance records (over 2,000 people per night) at the Civic Auditorium. It ushered in what Ferlinghetti called "A new birth of American Poetry. The credit belongs to James Dalessandro."
Dalessandro was also the writer of The House of Blues Radio Hour, which was hosted by Dan Aykroyd (as Elwood Blues) during the period in which it won the Platinum Award from the National Association of Broadcasters. He was also the writer/creator of "Rock On" with The Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek. Both projects were produced for Ben Manilla Productions of San Francisco, CA.
Dalessandro has published four books: Canary In A Coal Mine (poetry), Bohemian Heart, a work of detective fiction published in 1993, Citizen Jane (true crime), and 1906 (historical fiction).
In 1997, his 38-page outline and six finished chapters for a new novel, "1906", an epic re-telling of the great San Francisco Earthquake and fire, became the subject of an intense Hollywood bidding war. After several days of negotiations between several major film companies and directors, including Universal Studios and Steven Spielberg, the rights went to Warner Brothers Films and their newly-signed director Barry Levinson. Dalessandro did several adaptations of the book outline into a film outline and wrote three drafts of the screenplay. After Levinson left the projects, the screenplay went through numerous drafts through with several other screenwriters. In 2007, the project was handed to Pixar and writer/director Brad Bird, where it continued to flounder as it drifted far from Dalessandro's original story, which despite being a work of fiction was widely recognized as being very close to what happened during the earthquake and aftermath. In December of 2018 and following the runaway success of Incredibles 2, director Brad Bird told Deadline.com during a lengthy podcast that he had recommitted to the project and sound embraced the elements of the story that Dalessandro had written in his novel. In 2016, the Kindle/Digital edition of 1906: A Novel reached #1 in Historical Fiction on Amazon.com, Apple Books, and virtually every internet book list, including USA Today. Dalessandro's documentary on the 1906 Earthquake "The Damnedest, Finest Ruins" won numerous film festival awards and was eventually broadcast on San Francisco's KQED/PBS Station, and currently runs on its Youtube.com channel "Truly California." In January 2005, San Francisco's Board of Supervisor's voted unanimously on Dalessandro's resolution to set aside the 1906 death count of 478, which had stood since a month after the disaster and recognized the figure of "3,000 plus" that was the result of four decades of research by San Francisco Historian Emeritus Gladys Hansen. The resolution made worldwide news. Dalessandro maintains, as of 2019, that the real death count from the disaster is more likely between 6,000 and 10,000.
In September 2009, Hallmark Channel broadcast the movie Citizen Jane, the story of Jane Alexander, a Marin County, California woman who had spent 13 years tracking down and helping to convict the man who murdered her 88-year-old aunt. Dalessandro wrote the teleplay and served as one of the movie's producers. He also wrote the pilot for a series based on Citizen Jane, which is under active development with producer Larry Jacobson and Entertainment One. He is the award-winning writer, director and producer of the documentary film, The Damnedest, Finest Ruins, narrated by actor Peter Coyote, which took a definitive look at the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. Robert Ericksson of the History Channel called the documentary "astonishing."
The January, 2010 issue of Playboy ran his feature article Petrosino v. The Black Hand, the story of Joseph Petrosino, a New York shoeshine boy who was drafted into the NYPD to combat crime in Little Italy, launching his 26-year battle with the American Mafia. As of 2014, he was the writer and Executive Producer of an FX Channel, 10-Hour limited series based on the life of Det. Joseph Petrosino with his writing/producing partner, Bobby Moresco, Oscar winner for Crash and Million Dollar Baby. As of 2020, the Petrosino project is a full series in development with Levinson/Fontana Productions, with Dalessandro now partnered as Writer/Executive Producer with Tom Fontana (Oz; Homicide, Life on the Streets; City on a Hill) and director Barry Levinson (Bugsy, Good Morning Vietnam, Wag the Dog).
In 2016, he wrote the pilot and bible for a series entitled "Stan Lee's - The Chosen" and serves as its Executive Producer. In the same year, he was hired by Los Angeles/Beijing Studios (LABS) as screenwriter and Executive Producer of a 6-Hour mini-series on the life of martial arts icon Bruce Lee.
Dalessandro is currently Executive Producer and co-writer of Stan Lee's "RESTLESS" television series with David Greenwalt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Grimm).
James Dalessandro is married to the former Kathleen "Katie" Callies (since 1988) and has an adopted son, Jeremy Christopher Katevas.
- Dalessandro, James (2005). 1906: A Novel. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Books. ISBN 9780811849418.
- Bastoli, David Michael. "'1906' to be Disney/Pixar/Warner Bros. collaboration". Big Screen Animation. Archived from the original on 8 December 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- Fleming Jr., Mike. "Brad Bird To Helm Damon Lindelof's Secrecy-Shrouded Script '1952′ For Disney". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- "Truly CA: James Dalessandro". KQED.org. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- Karp, Evan. "Poetry Festival Santa Cruz: Big event coming back". SFGate.com. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
- Dalessandro, James (1974). Canary In A Coal Mine. Santa Cruz, California: Sanguine Books.
- Dalessandro, James (1993). Bohemian Heart. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312097561.
- Dalessandro, James (2009). Citizen Jane: The True Story of One Woman's Heroic Struggle to Catch a Killer. Indiana: Wordclay. ISBN 9781600375965.
- "The Damnedest, Finest Ruins". KQED.org. Retrieved 9 March 2014.
- "Screenwriting Expo". Inside Information Group Ltd and Creative Screenwriting. Retrieved 9 March 2014.