The route from the Jeffboat shipyard in Jeffersonville. Ind., to Hollywood, Calif., may be the road almost never traveled, but R. Barker Price made the trip in a 1980 Mazda. The car had most of its contents stolen in a motel parking lot on Price’s first night of fulfilling a dream, but, fortunately, his Smith-Corona typewriter and the screenplay he’d written for the “Murder She Wrote” television series were spared.
Price was 31 years old, creative, rolling the career dice and, soon, very lucky. Screenplay in hand, he quickly found an agent who was also entering the film industry and looking for clients. She shopped his script to “Murder She Wrote.”
“The producer at ‘Murder She Wrote’ ran a very tight ship,” Price recalls. “But a door cracked open just a little, the stars aligned and they bought my script.” His episode aired the very week that TV Guide ran a cover story about the series, and Price’s screenplay became the most widely watched segment in the show’s history.
The fast track was nothing new for Price. He had spent six years at Jeffboat cycling through a series of jobs along the path to upper management. He built his first boat – an English punt – and launched it during the Ohio River flood of 1964. By his early 20s, Price had started a boat-building business. By the time he’d left for Hollywood, he was a vice-president and the general manager of the nation’s largest inland shipyard, responsible for the design and construction of barges and other projects.
“A good future lay ahead,” Price says. But he had long kept a journal and written television scripts “for fun.” Story ideas and the script-writing formula came easily for him, and when a company personality test confirmed his creative side, it was the push he needed to leave.
During the 10 years he spent in Hollywood, Price sold options on roughly two screenplays a year. “Murder She Wrote” produced three more of his scripts. He also co-wrote the 1988 horror movie “Catacombs,” and once wrote scripts for Disney and the Playboy Channel simultaneously. Price made a modest living, but admits, “I could never break into the inner fraternity.” He married, returned home and took up where he’d left off – at Jeffboat – and was there for 13 more years. Price is now a contract manager for corporate boat buyers and continues to write.
“Turf Wars” is Price’s first novel. Based on his unsold screenplay set in Louisville, the story explores the interplay between two men – a baby boomer and a millennial – as they reinvent their broken lives. “It has some heart, some humor, and is a poignant look at some important subjects,” Price says. Five reviewers have rated the book five stars on Amazon, where it is available for purchase or downloading. Carmichael’s Bookstore also sells copies.
And Price’s former projects are still in play. He is currently nudging two screenplays into novels, and recently received a request for an interview from a writer in Rome who is compiling a book about underrated horror movies. To Price’s surprise, “Catacombs” has become a cult classic in Italy.