Minnesota Hockey Magazine

Peter Markle – Hockey to Hollywood!

(Peter Markle behind the camera on set of “Saving Jessica Lynch”.  Inserts: top – Markle as a Parker, bottom – on the set of Youngblood with Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze. Photos courtesy of/permission from Peter Markle)

Recent Recipient of MN Cinematic Arts Award

Peter Markle is a name familiar to many in Minnesota, whether you are a hockey fan or a movie buff.  I had the opportunity to talk to Peter while he was in town recently to receive his Cinematic Arts Award and we also went around several times via email to get his thoughts on a variety of related hockey and Hollywood subjects.

Hockey Background.

Markle was actually born in Pennsylvania and moved to Minnesota in first grade.  He lived in Edina on Minnehaha Blvd.  About youth hockey he said, “The Arden rink was right across the house next to the creek.  My dad and Stu McIntosh (Bruce’s dad) started the Edina parkboard hockey program.  It began with 4 teams and they built it up to over 600 kids when they turned it over.”
 
He added, “The Edina peewee team was a stepping stone.  We had Doug King (Co. College) and Bill Lord (Hall of Famer at Michigan) and many other good players on the team.  I remember having a very competitive game against the So St. Paul peewees.  We lost the game by a goal and I lost my two front teeth (mouth guards weren’t invented yet).”
 
After attending Blake High School, where he was a standout forward that helped win the Independent High School State Tournament in 1964, Peter played at Yale University in the ECHA from 1965-1969.  Not all games went Yale’s way.  He recalls during his senior year that Cornell beat them 19-1, but two years later with the US team they won 7-2 at Cornell, calling the win, “Divine retribution!”

1970 US National Team – Markle back row 5th from right

After college he was asked to attend the Boston Bruin training camp in London Ontario.  He was the only college student and one of two Americans to attend.  Tommy Williams of 1960 Olympic fame was the other and Pete said, “I thought Tommy was their best skater (at the time Bobby Orr was hurt). 

He followed his Ivy League days by playing minor professional hockey for the Rochester Mustangs (USHL) and the Flint Generals (IHL) in 1969-1970. He also played for the US National Team from 1969-1971.  The 1970 US team won the gold in the world B championships with some very familiar names (Herb Brroks, Craig Patrick, Gary Gambucci, Len Lilyholm, etc.)

His passion for hockey continued for several years while he was playing Senior A hockey with the St. Paul Parkers, a perennial power house loaded with Div I and ex-pro players, and a team that won many state and national senior tournaments. 

Of his time with the Parkers, Peter commented,”My favorite time playing hockey was with the PARKERS and on a line with Ron Naslund and Marv Jorde.”

He tells this story about a memorable road trip, but not for a reason you might think, “Jake (McCoy), Marv (Jorde), Nas (Ron Naslund) and I were on a private plane trying make it to a national championship game in Wisconsin.  We ran into a major storm and we were late for the game and Marv convinced the pilot to put it down on the highway next to the rink.  We were flying 50 feet above the trees as the pilot had his arm out the window with a scrapper trying to clear ice buildup.  Jake, Nas and I threatened to take over the controls and we finally diverted to the airport.  We were 2 minutes late for the face off and the other team made us forfeit.  I think Marv (rest in peace) is still mad at us.”

He added, “Louie Nanne told me that in the summer Olympic Development league that Jake McCoy was always one of first players picked in the draft because he  played honest defense (and invented the shot block).”

Interest in Film Lurking.

It was during this time of his life that his real passion for film and film-making took hold. 

I ask Peter what precipitated his interest in film and film making.  He answered, “I always was mesmerized in the theater.  We went to the Edina theater on 50th and France which is still there.  I remember seeing the Alan Ladd film, Shane.  I got into Harvard Business school but declined.  I was awful at the various jobs.  I tried real estate, banking etc.  I gave hockey a shot and after a tryout for the Islanders when I was 26, Moose Lallo wanted me to come play for him in Muskegon.  I told him no.  Moose was stunned and replied, ‘well, what could you possibly do other than play hockey?’  I said, ‘direct movies’.  I got home and bought a camera and the first step was how to load the damn thing.  Basically I took the on-the-job training path.”  Note on connection to Alan Ladd – Pete did Youngblood for his son, Alan Ladd Jr, who was running MGM at the time.

Markle with old hockey buddies and friends during recent visit to Mpls to receive his Cinematic Arts award. L/R: Ron Naslund, Gary Gambucci, Tony Phillippi, Craig Sarner, Peter Markle, Bruce McIntosh, Pete Jocketty, Jake McCoy, Ron Shrieffer, Scott Frantzen

I asked him if he studied film or related topics at Yale.  He said, “I studied Art History and English Literature which moved me closer to the arts and I guess cinema would qualify under that category.” 

To get training/experience he took several jobs, “My first paid project was on a machine that sliced bread and packaged it.  Second on a sprinkler system.  I did a 20 minute promo with the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the WHA – Gambucci, Lefty Curran were on that team.  I did a lot of on-ice skating with the camera.  I also did a major industrial film for a New York company on the Southern Railroad.  We had our own train and helicopters.  I went into the Kentucky coal mines.  The impetus to move to California was making a feature film locally (in Minneapolis) called “The Personals” in 1982.” 

This is when he moved to LA in hopes of a film-making career.  Of that, Peter said, “I didn’t know and still don’t know if there is a career there.  That feeling is endemic to the business.  I worked with Martin Sheen and he thought that the film he was working on would always be his last.  It’s pretty much indicative of how tough the business is, particularly for actors.  Gene Hackman told me it took him 9 years to get a job.”

Screen Writer, Producer, Director.
 
So it all started with a film shot in Minneapolis in 1982 which Markle wrote and produced call “The Personals“, a romantic comedy which was selected Best First Feature at the Houston Film Festival. It highlighted the Minneapolis lakes popular rollerblading scene, was a widely acclaimed film and even with a small budget, made money.  It was picked up by a distributor and went out to around 70 theaters. 
 
Peter added, “It has quite a bit of roller skating in it.   It got me an agent who got me “Hot Dog, the Movie” which I really did not want to do, but I was broke.”
 
His second feature, “Hot Dog, The Movie“, was made for $1.8 million in 1984 and grossed over $21 million domestically for MGM. It was a comedy about the skiing crowd that has become a cult classic.  Not to go unnoticed in his first two films was his background as a skater/rollerblader and as an expert skier.

Peter, on the scene of Youngblood

His third film, “Youngblood“, had some star power in Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze and it was Keanu Reeves’ first film.  It was made for $4.1 million in 1986 and grossed $15.5 million domestically. His background as a professional hockey player and three years on the US National team surely helped inspire this film.  He used the “Mustangs” name in the film after the Rochester Mustangs and utilized players from the Toronto Marlies – the junior A team.  It was their summer job. 

Markle noted, “Peter Zezel and Steve Thomas (Mustangs in Youngblood) were with us all summer and both made the NHL that fall and went on to great careers.”

Youngblood cast

What was also interesting and something of an inside story was the names given to the characters/players in the movie…many from Peter’s old teammates on the Parkers and other teams.  He still keeps in touch with many of his old hockey buddies and often returns for reunions.  See picture below.

Those first three films, then, set the stage for a truly prolific career in Hollywood.

In 1988 he directed Gene Hackman and Danny Glover in “BAT 21” for Tri-Star. It was based on a true story and made several top ten films of the year lists.

In 1989 he directed “The Last Days of Frankie the Fly” which premiered on HBO and starred Dennis Hopper, Kiefer Sutherland, Daryl Hannah and Michael Madsen. It was a dark comedy that Hollywood Reporter called “one of Dennis Hopper’s best performances in years.”

In 1994 he directed the comedy western film, “Wagons East!“, with John Candy.

Recent Parkers reunion at Tom Reid’s. Peter kneeling in front row on right end

He was the writer/director in 2002 for “Virginia’s Run” which won the acclaimed Crystal Heart award at the Heartland International Children’s Film Festival.

He went on to make several films for TV including:

Flight 93” which gave A & E network the largest audience in its history (over 35 million have watched it since its debut).  It was nominated for 6 Emmys including Best Director.  It was also nominated by the Director, Producer and Writer Guilds and winning the writing award for best movie or miniseries.

Faith of My Fathers” (A & E) starring Shawn Hatosy and Scott Glenn based on the book by John McCain about his capture and incarceration during the Vietnam war. It was nominated for 4 Emmys.

Nightbreaker” (TNT) starring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez about nuclear testing in the 1950s and it’s consequences to the ‘guinea pig’ soldiers was nominated for 5 ACE awards including best director.

Saving Jessica Lynch” for NBC was watched by over 18 million viewers. It broke the real story of a US Army convoy of essentially non-combat personnel taking the wrong turn through hostile territory, the loss of life and subsequent rescue of Lynch.

Markle on the set

Not limited to feature film making, Markle has also directed numerous episodes for hit shows/series including:

The X-Files, CSI, CSI Miami, Without a Trace, Life, NYPD Blue, Burn Notice, Rescue Me, ER, Homicide, Crisis, Fairly Legal, Crash, Three Rivers, Cane, Runaway, Everwood, Numb3rs, The Mountain, Las Vegas, Jack & Bobby, Cold Case, The Agency, Haunted, The District, Strange World, The Strip, L.A. Doctors, The Magnificent Seven, EZ Streets, Moloney, and others.

For a list of film and TV credits following the link =>> HERE. 

The list of actors and actresses he has worked with are so numerous, we need a link to list them all =>> HERE

They basically represent a list of Who’s Who in Hollywood!  Here are a few of the notables… Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Sam Jackson, Gabriel Byrne, Alec Baldwin, Angelica Huston, Patricia Arquette, David Duchovny,  James Caan, Dennis Hopper, Pat Swayze, Rob Low, Martin Sheen, Donny Waldberg, John Slattery, Daryl Hannah, Richard Dean Anderson, Lou Gossett Jr.

Minnesota Cinematic Arts Award and Latest Film.

Markle was recently in town to receive the prestigious Minnesota Cinematic Arts Award for his achievements in the film industry.

He was also here to introduce his recently completed film, “Odds Are” at several screenings in the metro area.

The story, based on actual events, is about three college students that play a challenge game called Odds Are. The game quickly morphs into a struggle for survival for the three.

Peter wrote the screenplay, directed and co-produced the film.  There was also another Minnesota film maker, Jared Heins, who co-produced the film.  He is also a hockey player and I asked Markle to elaborate some on this connection/collaboration.
 
He explained, “I met Jared playing hockey at the Toyota Center where the Kings practice.  We’ve been playing together for the last 8 years.  He is from Atkins, MN and played at Hamline University in the MIAC.  He became the Producer with me as well as the Production Manager, Prop Master and Location Manager.  He attended film school in LA.  I could not have done the project without him.  He’s a really good (hockey) player and I like playing with him because he will pass the puck to an ‘old has been that never was’ like me.”
 
An interesting aspect to the film is that Lily Markle is included in the credits as providing the story.  I asked Peter what the connection was and if there was a story behind the story.  He offered, “Lily is my daughter.  She is at CU Boulder now.  She and her friends played the Odds Are game in high school and then she found out from a friend at an Art camp in Michigan about the basis for the story which took place in Europe.”
 
He went on to comment about his recent award, “I think they picked my name out of a hat.  Maybe it’s the longevity.  It’s a tough business but I’ve managed to survive the inevitable ups and downs.”  A very modest, humble response!
 
The trailer can be viewed =>> HERE. 
 
Life in Hollywood.

Peter moved to California in 1982 and married actress Melinda Culea, the girl on the original A-Team series, in 1996.  They have two children, Lucas and Lily, and live in Santa Monica.
 

Lily and Luc Marcus

When asked how he likes life in California, Peter commented, “I miss Minnesota and when people ask me where I live when on location I often as a reflex say, ‘Minnesota’.  They invariably say, ‘I hear people are nice there’ and then I add, ‘Oh yeah, for sure.  We got a lot of really swell folks out there.  They never charge you for your coffee refills and things like that, you know’, in my best Minny accent.” 

I asked Peter about what he liked about creating films and the excitement around working with some of Hollywood’s best.  He replied, “Every job is totally different.  They all take you down a different path.  The actors, crew, stories all change.  But there is a true similarity to making a film and hockey.  It’s all about collaboration and teamwork and, like hockey, it’s a social event.  Sometimes there’s beer in the lot after we wrap.  The Black Top Bar as Tom Younghans (former NHL North Star pro) has named it.  He just sent me the hats and t-shirts.”

A lot of his fans wonder if there is another hockey movie on the horizon?  His reply to that question, very concise, was, “I have one written that I haven’t tried to sell yet.  It’s in the beer league genre, but the players are in prison.”  He also told me that there are many hockey scripts available, maybe hundreds, but that, “You need a star.”

I asked Peter, what’s next for you?  He said, “I’ve read that they key to financial survival is taking a late retirement and an early death.  I’m still writing and selling.”  He also shared one of his favorite Hollywood quotes, “There are no rules in Hollywood and as long as you don’t break any you’ll have a fighting chance.  It’s like a Yogi quote that eventually makes sense.”

Parting Shots.

Peter still plays some adult hockey in and around the LA area and skis when he can with his family at Mammouth. 

Peter with children and who’s that?

The 2010 pic at left of Peter with Luc and Lily at an arena in CA includes a star of a different type.  Peter tells a short story about his kids meeting the great Gordie Howe.   

“I love the pic of Gordie with the kids.  At the party after the game Gordie was horsing around and stealing food off Luc’s plate.  Luc kept slapping his hand.  I told him later that Gordie was the one of the best fighters in the NHL in his day.  Luc said, ‘you should have told me that before.’ ”

Related to hockey, he said, “I think (Jim) Westby and his group should start an old-timers pickup franchise in LA.”  Jim Westby is a USA Hockey “Ironman” award winner and has for years run a pick-up group in Bloomington that has won many USA National Adult championships and other tournaments nation-wide.  When he has a chance, Peter plays with this group when he visits Minnesota.  About participating in a recent tournament with them in Santa Barbara, Peter remarked, “I played once and pulled my groin in the third shift and headed for the showers.  I guess the pace was too fast.”

Concluding, he remarked, “I played with a group for 10 plus years that was made up of primarily ex-Kings in their late 30’s and 40’s.  It was probably after the fifth beer and 8th year that Vic Venasky and I realized that we played against each other when he was at Denver and I was on the US team.  We know the score was 2-1, but we couldn’t agree on who won.  9 of the players on his team ended up in the NHL.  Venasky himself played for the LA Kings.  Hockey is a lot like the film business in the 7 degrees of separation construct.” 
 
 Note on release of “Odds Are”.  There will most likely be an online digital/video release some time in August in the US.  Peter noted, “Most kids (and adults) are watching online now (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon etc.) and it’s a big market.  The film will also be sold internationally and should do well there.”