From the blue collar Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood to the jungles of Vietnam, The Greatest Beer Run Ever chronicles the story of John “Chickie” Donohue’s legendary trip to a war zone to bring beer to his buddies.
The stranger-than-fiction story starring Zac Efron, Russell Crowe, and Bill Murray took an equally strange path to the big screen: MOAA recently spoke with Andrew Muscato, one of the film’s producers, about his admiration for those who served in the Vietnam War, how he stumbled onto the story, and what makes this movie so appealing. You can check out the movie in the theater or stream it on Apple TV+ starting Sept. 30; the interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. How did you come across the beer run story?
A. My friend Joanna Molloy, who wrote the [beer run] book with Chickie, was a New York journalist who wrote for the New York Daily News when she, I think, had originally heard the story about Chickie. It was a favorite urban legend told by the bartender at McFadden's bar on 42nd Street, where Joanna and all her Daily News colleagues would hang out.
So I just was having coffee with her one day in April of 2014, and she mentioned the story about this guy who snuck into Vietnam to find his buddies serving over there. She actually tracked them down. They all had all kind of moved away from Inwood, so they had kind of lost touch over the years. But they all corroborated the story, and they had photographs. And Chickie had his passport from Saigon.
[She told me] that she was looking to write a book about it. And so my initial reaction was that sounds like a movie, an incredible movie that I would want to watch.
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Q. How did the movie idea get off the ground?
A. Being that my background is in documentaries, I had the thought of, well, how do we make this a movie if Joanne's going to write the book? I came to the conclusion that I'm better off making a documentary and reuniting the guys … knowing that would pique people's attention in Hollywood more so than me writing a screenplay and begging people to read it.
So Joanna went off and she wrote the book and then I went out trying to find money to make the short film. And it just so happens that I was out to dinner one night with a friend of mine, and his godson was in town from Las Vegas, and lo and behold, the guy worked for Pabst Blue Ribbon, which was the beer that Chickie brought to Vietnam.
So I remember [saying] I have the greatest Pabst Blue Ribbon story you have never heard. He goes, “Is it some sort of hipster thing?” And I said, “No, no, no.” And I started telling him about Chickie and immediately he goes, “I am going to call our chief marketing officer tomorrow.”
Q. How did you get to be a producer for the feature film?
A. It's crazy when things work out exactly the way you plan them to. But that's certainly the case here. It just happened to take a lot longer than I ever expected it would. This idea – Joanna, you go write the book and I’ll option the movie rights to the book and we’ll have this short documentary as this proof-of-concept for the story – it totally worked. And it ultimately was the short [film] that caught people's attention.
So I got a call from Skydance in 2017 and they [had done] the Mission: Impossible movies and just did the new Top Gun, and they had seen the short I had made. And I think Joanna had just self-published the book on Amazon. They reached out … and they were very passionate about the story. I met with them and realized that the way they saw the movie tonally was the way I saw it as far as [having] comedic elements. But ultimately it is a drama. And it's a story about the perseverance of friendship.
Q. What have you learned about the military since you have gotten to know Chickie and his Vietnam pals? Did it change the way you viewed the Vietnam War or war in general?
A. I never served but I have friends who have and I have a cousin who served as a Marine in Iraq. So I always had immense respect for our military servicemen and women. My interest in this story initially was the fact that I had an uncle who was in the Navy during the [Cuban] missile crisis. He was out of the military by the time we were really in Vietnam. But he was an Irish-American and later became a cop like [Chickie’s friends] Rick Duggan and Tom Collins. So he was very much cut from the same cloth as Chickie. And when I heard about Chickie and met these guys, I felt this connection to my uncle.
Certainly I learned more about that particular generation of guys who have never really gotten the heroes’ welcome home that they deserved. That even the way Hollywood had depicted them, there's always this kind of cynical undercurrent … and they've never gotten the kind of World War II treatment. And it's not their fault. It's because the war itself was a very complicated war. But the men who served in that war still deserved the appreciation for answering the call to serve our country.
Q. What do you hope the audience walks away with after watching this film?
A. I hope the movie causes some people to learn more about the Vietnam War and the circumstances. But I think the story itself kind of transcends the neighborhood it takes place in and the time it takes place in. We all have friends, and we all have best friends, and the feel-good part of it was that there really was a guy who risked his life to go on a freighter and sneak into a war zone just to track down his buddies, to tell them that, hey, we care about you and we hope you make it home OK.
What's amazing is that all the guys have told me individually that they'd always told the stories for years about the time that Chickie came over and when they were serving, everybody always dismissed it as bullsh*t.
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