The true story of a man who turned his brainiac horse, Beautiful Jim Key, into an American sensation is to be made into a movie, and Morgan Freeman has been signed as leading man.
The turn-of-the-century story, based on the best-selling book of the same name by Mim Eichler Rivas, is centred on the life of showman Dr William Key, a former slave, Civil War veteran, patent medicine salesman, horse whisperer, and self-taught veterinarian.
He taught his horse, Beautiful Jim Key, an array of tricks. His promoters claimed the “world’s smartest horse” could read, write and do arithmetic for numbers below 30. It was also claimed he could cite Bible passages “where the horse is mentioned”.
Key emphasized that he used only patience and kindness in teaching the horse, and never used a whip.
Because Key was black, he and horse were initially relegated to carnival sideshows.
He then recruited Albert Rogers, a one-time promoter for circus operator P.T. Barnum.
Their efforts turned Beautiful Jim Key into a national sensation, and the pair went on to star at the famous 1904 St Louis Exposition.
Mark Gordon is producing the movie with Lori McCreary of Revelations Entertainment, which is Freeman’s production arm. Cargo Entertainment’s Marina Grasic and Rogers Hartmann will also be producing the movie.
Robert Rodat, who wrote the script based on the book, will be making his directorial debut.
“The key element in my vision for this film is that we see both the light and the dark, that we have a wide, emotional, tonal and visual spectrum,” he said.
McCreary said: “Every once in a while a story comes along that is the perfect confluence of real events and profound truth.
“And every once in a while there is a character that is written so well, that it deserves Morgan Freeman’s presence. Beautiful Jim Key is both.”
Jim Key and his horse toured the US, putting on shows in most major US cities.
They traveled the US in a special railroad car.
US President William McKinley saw Beautiful Jim Key perform in Tennessee. He declared: “This is the most astonishing and entertaining exhibition I have ever witnessed.”
The president, noting the humane training methods promoted by Key, said it was an example of what “kindness and patience” could accomplish.
The profile of Jim Key and his horse promoted what was then a fledgling cause – the humane treatment of animals.
The movie’s executive producers have been named as Clay Pecorin and Russell Geyser from Two Ton Films, and The Mark Gordon Co.’s Michele Wolkoff.