Taglines: The true story of a legend.
Jerry Lee Lewis (Dennis Quaid) plays piano (as opposed to a guitar like most other rock artists) during rock and roll’s early years from 1956 to 1958. Jerry Lee is a man with many different sides: a skilled performer with little discipline, and an alcoholic.
As Jerry Lee rises to the top of the charts with such hits as “Crazy Arms”, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On”, and “Great Balls of Fire”, he falls in love with Myra Gale Brown (Winona Ryder), the 13-year-old daughter of his first cousin (and bass player) J. W. Brown (John Doe), and eventually marries her (eloping to Mississippi), much to the anger and chagrin of her parents.
A subplot deals with Jerry Lee’s relationship with another cousin, (now-televangelist) Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin), who, during this period, was a struggling Pentecostal preacher. Jimmy’s career kept him in constant conflict with his cousin’s wild rock and roll career and brings out some uncomfortable exchanges between the two. The now-financially successful Jerry Lee buys a new car and gives it to his cousin, and when Jimmy praises the Lord for the gift, Jerry Lee replies, “Don’t thank Jesus, thank Jerry Lee Lewis!”
While Jerry Lee is touring in England 1958, a British reporter discovers he is married to his teenage cousin. Jerry Lee is then condemned as a child molester and a pervert by the public. As a result, his British tour is cancelled and he is deported from England. But it does not diminish Jerry Lee’s confidence that his career will continue. However, the scandal follows him back to the States.
Jerry Lee begins drinking heavily when record sales and concert attendances are significantly down. He is furious when requested to print a public apology in Billboard and becomes increasingly abusive toward Myra. It was during one of these abusive episodes that Myra informs Jerry Lee that she is pregnant, and he collapses into Myra’s arms, crying hysterically.
Great Balls of Fire! is a 1989 American biographical film directed by Jim McBride and starring Dennis Quaid as rockabilly pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis. Based on a biography by Myra Lewis and Murray M. Silver, Jr., the screenplay is written by McBride and Jack Baran. The film is produced by Adam Fields, with executive producers credited as Michael Grais, Mark Victor, and Art Levinson.
The early career of Jerry Lee Lewis, from his rise to rock and roll stardom to his controversial marriage to his 13-year-old cousin that led to his downfall, is depicted in the film. Until the scandal of the marriage depreciated his image, many had thought Lewis would supplant Elvis Presley as the “King of Rock and Roll” in the 1950s.
Great Balls of Fire (1989)
Directed by: Jim McBride
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Winona Ryder, John Doe, Stephen Tobolowsky, Trey Wilson, Alec Baldwin, Steve Allen, Lisa Blount, Joshua Sheffield, Lisa Jane Persky
Screenplay by: Jack Baran, Jim McBride
Production Design by: David Nichols
Cinematography by: Affonso Beato
Film Editing by: Lisa Day, Pembroke J. Herring, Bert Lovitt
Costume Design by: Tracy Tynan
Set Decoration by: Lisa Fischer
Art Direction by: Jon Spirson
Distributed by: Orion Pictures
Release Date: June 30, 1989