Cancer-Stricken Screenwriter Announces Completion of Her Screenplay "Sweethearts"

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Patrice Messina learned of her ovarian cancer diagnosis while writing the screenplay “Sweethearts,” a biopic of 1930s movie stars Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Despite ongoing rounds of chemotherapy and hospitalizations, Patrice has finally completed writing and is going public about her cancer struggle.

A intimate moment as Jeanette MacDonald sits on Nelson Eddy's lap on the set of their 1937 blockbuster, "Maytime"

Patrice Messina is a very brave woman who by sheer determination finished a writing project that is very dear to her. She is currently hospitalized at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.

When Messina first approached author Sharon Rich asking if she might write a spec script based on Rich's published biography “Sweethearts”, the author was intrigued. Messina emailed: “Read your book – loved it.” After meeting Patrice and listening to her take on the story, Sharon agreed.

The two had several meetings, most recently at the screenwriter's LA home. As Patrice pulled along her oxygen tank she said to Sharon , “I may not live to see this movie made. I really hope I do…but the truth is I may die. That’s the first time I’ve said it out loud.”

There was also a final script conference on the phone with Alan Brennert, Patrice's friend and fellow writer from their days together on “The Twilight Zone” TV series. That’s also where Patrice became friends with pre-“Game of Thrones” story editor George R.R. Martin who encouraged her on the “Sweethearts” project.

Again at Patrice’s home (where she’s been on medical leave from Disney), lunch was ordered from a nearby famous deli and and the two writers ate it at her dining room table. Or rather – Sharon ate. Patrice managed only a few bites of food before pushing it away. She was already exhausted and in pain when the phone call came from Alan. Patrice rested and mostly listened as Alan (on speaker phone) kindly and patiently went page by page over the script, voicing comments, questions and much praise. Seeing that this was all too strenuous for her, Sharon made detailed written notes so Alan’s feedback could be discussed thoroughly at a later time when Patrice felt up to it.

That Patrice could write at all under these debilitating circumstances is amazing. The finished script vividly captures the passionate love story of two people forbidden to marry by their studio boss Louie B. Mayer and who, nonetheless, carried on a love affair all their lives.

In the past, the story had been optioned twice, once by Harve Bennett who planned to star Julie Andrews, the other a packaged deal put together by William Morris in which the plan was to co-star then-spouses Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh. Fast forward to last year…and now Sharon Rich was preparing an updated 20th Anniversary edition of the book. Patrice emailed Sharon:

“Thank you again for meeting with me and letting me take a shot at writing a screenplay of "Sweethearts" or more aptly the story of Nelson and Jeanette's love affair. It seems wrong to call what they had an affair as if it were wrong. After all, they found one another before there were others in the picture. They loved when they were free and clear of others.

“My mother loved musicals and introduced them to me as a kid. When my mother introduced me to Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald movies, I was sure they were at least in love, right? Or they married? My mom was sad and said, well, they were married to other people, but they loved each other. She had no idea why they couldn’t have married, but it seemed to be commonly known that they were indeed a couple off-screen. My mom and other family were in the opera world, motion pictures and TV and they knew some of the people Nelson Eddy associated with. Growing up in Los Angeles among show business family and friends, I’d have to say it was kind of known.

“First and foremost I want their story to be told. To that end no matter in what form it takes if it should be made into a mini series, a feature or whatever…I love their story.”

Just weeks ago, Patrice went public about her cancer battle, read the details here. Once she did that, Sharon Rich stepped forward and revealed the private project they’d been working on despite Patrice's many months of suffering.

On a personal front, only prayers, fine medical care and a miracle can help Patrice Messina…but there is hope to make her professional dream come true in a timely manner. After all, isn’t Hollywood the land of dreams?


For any producer/director interested in taking a look at Patrice's script, please contact Sharon Rich by email:

Watch a promo video for the screenplay here:

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Sharon Rich
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