The Buddy Holly Story

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The Buddy Holly Story
Buddy holly story cover.jpg
The Buddy Holly Story DVD cover
Directed by Steve Rash
Produced by Fred Bauer
Edward H. Cohen
Frances Avrut-Bauer
Fred T. Kuehnert
Written by Novel:
John Goldrosen
Alan Swyer
Robert Gittler
Starring Gary Busey
Don Stroud
Charles Martin Smith
Conrad Janis
Paul Mooney
Music by Joe Renzetti
Cinematography Stevan Larner
Edited by David E. Blewitt
James Seidelman
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date
  • May 18, 1978 (1978-05-18)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.2 million[1] or $2 million[2]
Box office $14.3 million[3]

The Buddy Holly Story is a 1978 biographical film which tells the life story of rock musician Buddy Holly.[4] It features an Academy Award-winning musical score, adapted by Joe Renzetti and Oscar-nominated lead performance by Gary Busey.

The film also stars Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Conrad Janis, William Jordan, and Maria Richwine, who played Maria Elena Holly.

It was adapted by Robert Gittler from Buddy Holly: His Life and Music, the biography of Holly by John Goldrosen, and was directed by Steve Rash.


Buddy Holly, a teenager from Lubbock, Texas, emerges into the world of rock and roll with friends and bandmates, drummer Jesse Charles and bass player Ray Bob Simmons, forming a trio known as The Crickets.

The band's first break comes when it is invited to Nashville, Tennessee to make a recording, but Buddy's rock and roll vision soon clashes with the producers' rigid country music based ideas of how the music should sound and he walks out. Eventually, he finds a more flexible producer, Ross Turner, who, after accidentally publishing their demo to public acclaim, very reluctantly allows Buddy and the Crickets to make music the way they want.

Turner's secretary, Maria Elena Santiago, quickly catches Buddy's eye. Their budding romance nearly ends before it can begin because her aunt initially refuses to let her date him, but Buddy persuades the aunt to change her mind. On their very first date, Maria accepts his marriage proposal and they are soon wed.

A humorous episode results from a misunderstanding at a New York booking. Sol Gittler signs up the Crickets sight-unseen for the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, assuming from their music that they're a black band. When three white Texans show up instead, he is stunned. Unwilling to pay them for doing nothing, and because Buddy and the Crickets have a contract specifying a week's engagement for $1000.00, Gittler nervously lets them perform and prays fervently that the all-black audience doesn't riot at the sight of the first all-white band to play there. After an uncomfortable start, Buddy's songs soon win over the audience and the Crickets are a tremendous hit.

After two years of success, Ray Bob and Jesse decide to stop performing with Buddy as they feel overshadowed by Buddy and do not want to relocate to New York City, which Buddy believes is necessary to stay on top. They return to Lubbock with the agreement that they will retain the Crickets name. Buddy is saddened by their departure. While he carries on writing, he initially is afraid to tour without them despite his manager's emphasis of the importance of touring to chart success. Maria announces that she is pregnant and Buddy is delighted. She sees that he is frustrated and urges him to tour, which he eventually agrees to.

On February 2, 1959, preparing for a concert at Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly decides to charter a private plane to fly to Moorhead, Minnesota for his next big concert as the tour bus has broken down. The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens join him on the flight. Meanwhile, the Crickets, feeling nostalgic, appear unexpectedly at Maria's door, expressing their desire to reunite the band. They plan to surprise Buddy at his next tour stop. After playing his final song, "Not Fade Away", Holly bids the crowd farewell with: "Thank you Clear Lake! C'mon. We love you. We'll see you next year." A caption then reveals that Holly, Valens, and the Bopper died in a plane crash that night "...and the rest is Rock and Roll."


Actor Role
Gary Busey Buddy Holly
Don Stroud Jesse Charles
Charles Martin Smith Ray Bob Simmons
Conrad Janis Ross Turner
William Jordan Riley Randolph
Maria Richwine María Elena Holly
Amy Johnston Cindy Lou
Dick O'Neill Sol Gittler
Fred Travalena "Madman" Mancuso
Neva Patterson Mrs. Ella Holley
Arch Johnson Mr. Lawrence Holley
John F. Goff T. J.
Gloria Irizarry Mrs. Santiago
Jody Berry Engineer Sam
Richard Kennedy Preacher
Jim Beach Wilson
Gilbert Melgar Ritchie Valens
Gailard Sartain The Big Bopper
Albert Popwell Eddie Foster
Paul Mooney Sam Cooke
Freeman King Apollo M.C.
Matthew Beard Luther


The actors did their own singing and played their own instruments, with guitarist Jerry Zaremba overdubbing the guitar parts. Busey, in particular, was admired by critics[who?] for recording the soundtrack music live and for losing a considerable amount of weight in order to portray the skinny Holly. According to Busey's biography, he lost 32 pounds to look more like Holly, who weighed 146 pounds at the time of his death.

The actor's accurate portrayal was aided by knowledge gained from a previous attempt to film part of the Holly life story, the ill-fated Three-Sided Coin, in which he played Crickets drummer Jerry Allison. The film was cancelled by 20th Century Fox due to pressure from Fred Bauer and his company, who had made deals with the Holly estate.[5] The screenplay of Three-Sided Coin (by Allison and Tom Drake) revealed many personal details about Holly, and Busey picked up more during off-set conversations with Allison.

While the story follows Buddy Holly from age 19 to 22 (1955 to early 1959), Busey was 33 when he played the role. Charles Martin Smith auditioned for the role of Buddy, but since Busey already had been cast, the producers cast Martin to play Ray Bob Simmons because they liked his audition. Simmons and Jesse Charles were character names used in place of Joe B. Mauldin and J.I. Allison, the actual Crickets.

The incident in which a Buffalo disc jockey locked himself in a studio and repeatedly played the same song over and over was loosely based on real-life stunts orchestrated by controversial disc jockey Tom Clay (and repeated a few years later by Danny Neaverth), who held up Buffalo's Shelton Square by playing Bill Haley & His Comets' "Rock Around the Clock" repeatedly from the top of a billboard, and by Joey Reynolds, who locked himself in a studio playing "Sherry" by The Four Seasons" for several hours; those incidents, however, had no relation to Buddy Holly or his music.


The film was a box office success, grossing $14.3 million on a $1.2 million budget.

The film received many positive reviews from critics and fans alike. But Holly authorities and other music scholars criticized what they deemed gross inaccuracies in the plot, such as showing a physical confrontation at Holly's first Nashville session when nothing of the sort actually occurred. Another inaccuracy is that the guitars used by Gary Busey's character in the film are incorrect: the film Holly's main guitar is a Fender Telecaster; the real Buddy Holly only used a Fender Stratocaster. Also, while the film Holly does play a Stratocaster near the end of the movie during his final Clear Lake show, the guitar is a 1968 model and not a 1950s model. He is also seen playing a Fender Bronco which was not produced until 1967.

The Buddy Holly Story currently holds a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 18 reviews.[6]


The film won the Academy Award for Best Adaptation Score by Joe Renzetti. Busey was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Tex Rudloff, Joel Fein, Curly Thirlwell and Willie D. Burton for Best Sound.[7]


  1. ^ 'The Buddy Holly Story' is back, on Blu-ray. The Morning Call. Published October 1, 2014.
  2. ^ Studios Are Picking Up More Films From Independents By ALJEAN HARMETZ. New York Times 26 June 1978: C18
  3. ^ "The Buddy Holly Story, Box Office Information". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved January 27, 2012.
  4. ^ Canby, Vincent (July 21, 1978). "The Buddy Holly Story (1978)". The New York Times.
  5. ^ The Buddy Holly Story Details. Archived 2014-08-24 at the Wayback Machine. Sony Movie Channel. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The 51st Academy Awards (1979) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-10-06.

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