By BERN ZOVISTOSKI
Special to the Sentinel
Forget what you’ve read about him – Granville’s incomparable Chief Golden Eagle has prevailed in court and is building a casino that will be operated by his Mogehan tribe.
At least in the movies.
A major production, the comedy film that’s taking shape is obviously only loosely related to the true story in that it will portray Ronald Roberts, who lives on Route 22, as a “con man” in a humorous way, industry sources report.
The studio remains tight-lipped about the movie.
Sage Shah, assistant to Michael Rosenberg, president of Imagine Entertainment, repeated the studio’s earlier pro-forma message: The production is “in development” and it’s too early to reveal details.
However, an interview with Roberts last week produced some interesting information – even if it could not be confirmed as “official.”
Some of the filming will take place in Granville, Roberts said last week, and while no start date has been set, he said, it could begin as soon as October. Film will also be shot in Albany and in Ellenville, he said.
“It’ll be good for Granville,” Roberts said. “Maybe some good will come out of this after all.”
Roberts said he didn’t know who’d star, and he “didn’t want to get in trouble” for speaking out of turn, but “there’s been scuttlebutt that it may be Owen Wilson.”
Wilson played Jedidiah, the cowboy in “Night at the Museum” and its sequel, which starred Ben Stiller. He also starred in “Wedding Crashers.”
Some other actors are also being considered, Roberts said, including Vince Vaughn, who partnered with Wilson in “Wedding Crashers,” which grossed more than $200 million in the U.S. alone in 2005.
Wilson’s many collaborations on high-grossing comedy movies have led the media to consider him part of the “Frat Pack,” along with other comedy actors such as Vaughn and Will Ferrell, industry sources say.
Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment and Universal Studios are moving forward with the production, now titled simply “Chief Ron.”
Roberts said the movie script is being revised, and “I’ll get a copy when it’s totally finished.”
He said he will be present on the set when the film is made.
Variety, the movie industry’s bible, reports that Justin Theroux, an actor and writer, will make his feature picture debut as director of the film, which sources say “is based on the true story of Chief Ron Roberts, a blond man with blue eyes who claimed he was of Native American heritage and set out to build a casino in upstate New York.”
That’s another liberty taken with the facts. Roberts, who has white hair now, said he had brown hair all his life before that.
Director Theroux has acted in “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Broken English,” as well as in the TV series “Six Feet Under.” He also penned the screenplay for the upcoming movie titled “Iron Man 2.”
The producer of the film is the acclaimed Brian Grazer, a partner with Ron Howard in Imagine Entertainment, who won an Academy Award for best picture of 2001 for “A Beautiful Mind.” Grazer also collaborated with Howard on Oscar-nominated “Apollo 13.” He produced such hits as “Ramson” starring Mel Gibson and “Liar Liar” starring Jim Carrey.
An interesting side note: Grazer recently sold a California ranch house in the Pacific Palisades for $17 million to actors Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner. The 8,800-square-foot home was once owned by actor Gregory Peck.
Variety reports that Grant Morris, the original screenplay writer who visited Granville to spend time with Roberts and gain a feel for the story some time ago, and Erica Huggins of Imagine Entertainment are executive producers of “Ron.”
On the MTV Movie Blog Web site is this nugget:
“Roberts’ blond hair and blue eyes led many to doubt his story, despite him possessing genealogical proof spanning eight generations. Roberts ultimately ended up pleading guilty to forging those historical documents and fabricating his Native American persona, though he narrowly escaped jail time. It sounds as though Theroux’s movie will fudge the facts a bit, with his own Chief Ron prevailing in court and getting his casino.
“Since the real Roberts disappeared from the news after being set free in 2004, perhaps he really did!
“The shoot doesn’t have a start date, but this should be a fun one to watch out for in terms of casting, particularly given the friends and connections Theroux has. Something tells me this is only one of many big directing gigs for this multi-talented guy…”
Roberts, 61 now, was tried in federal court in Albany in 2004 for allegedly falsifying documents related to his claim of being an authentic American Indian.
After a plea-bargain was reached during the trial, Judge Lawrence Kahn declined to send Roberts to prison, to the dismay of federal prosecutors. Instead he sentenced Roberts to six months of house arrest and five years’ probation, which he has now completed. Roberts was also required to repay a bank $27,900.
Roberts, as Chief Golden Eagle, leads the Western Mohegan Tribe and Nation, which purchased a resort site in the Catskill Mountains, ostensibly, Roberts said at the time, for “hydroponic farming.”
The site, which houses the former Tamarack Hotel in Ellenville, would be perfect for a casino.
And Roberts maintains that is still a possibility.
“The county (Ulster) has been working with us,” Roberts said last week. “We’re waiting on the governor to rectify the situation.”
The Tribe opened a museum at the site last fa
ll and so far more than 12,000 have visited, Roberts said. The Tribe has a Web site, www.westernmohegan.org.
Roberts said he’s had DNA tests done four times, and “more markers have been found each time” attesting to his heritage.
He said when the federal case was brought against him, “I couldn’t talk because I was indicted … but I wanted to.”
He said the focus should be on the Western Mohegan Tribe and Nation, not on him.
“It’s still the Tribe,” he said. “I just got in trouble for fighting for it, that’s all.”
The Tribe represents the “Muh-hea-kun-nuk” that lived in New York and Vermont and its Web site says it survived over the years by “adapting to the Euro-American culture and not drawing attention to their Indian identity.”
“Many tribal members still maintain a low profile living their lives and practicing their traditions throughout the Hudson Valley…
“Nevertheless, the tribe has been active in the communities that have been the traditional homeland (and) widely applauded for its cultural outreach efforts.
“In 1997, for example the Vermont Legislature recognized the tribe for its ‘important educational and cultural endeavors’ with the state and requested the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Native American Affairs to assist tribal members in Vermont.
“In a letter dated March 17, 1999, Governor Howard Dean praised Chief Ronald Roberts for his personal contributions in developing a Native American curriculum in the state’s schools.”
In Ellenville, the Tribe “has made substantial plans for the property, including establishing it as a governmental, economic, cultural and residential base,” the Web site says.
“Some tribal members have already moved to the location and it’s expected that many more families will relocate there as well, reestablishing the tribal homeland.”