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For the Buddy Holly album, see The Buddy Holly Story (album)
For the musical about Holly, see Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story
The Buddy Holly Story

The Buddy Holly Story DVD cover
Directed by Steve Rash
Produced by Fred Bauer
Edward H. Cohen
Frances Avrut-Bauer
Fred T. Kuehnert
Written by Novel:
John Goldrosen
Alan Swyer
Robert Gittler
Starring Gary Busey
Don Stroud
Charles Martin Smith
Conrad Janis
Music by Joe Renzetti
Cinematography Stevan Larner
Editing by David E. Blewitt
James Seidelman
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) May 18, 1978
Running time 113-114 min.
Country United States
Language English

The Buddy Holly Story is a 1978 biographical film which tells the life story of rock musician Buddy Holly. It stars Gary Busey, Don Stroud, Charles Martin Smith, Conrad Janis, William Jordan, and Maria Richwine, who played Maria Elena Holly.

The movie was adapted by Robert Gittler from the biography of Holly by John Goldrosen. It was directed by Steve Rash.

It won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song Score and Its Adaptation or Best Adaptation Score, and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gary Busey) and Best Sound (Joel Fein).



The film opens with Buddy Holly's beginnings as a teenager in Lubbock, Texas and his emergence into the world of rock and roll with his fictional good friends and bandmates, drummer Jesse Charles (Don Stroud) and bass player Ray Bob Simmons (Charles Martin Smith), soon to be known as The Crickets. Their first break comes when they are brought to Nashville, Tennessee to record, but Buddy's vision soon clashes with the producers' rigid ideas of how the music should sound and he walks out. Eventually, he finds a more flexible producer, Ross Turner (Conrad Janis), who, after listening to their audition, very reluctantly allows Buddy and the Crickets to make music the way he wants.

While there, he meets Turner's secretary, Maria Elena Santiago (Maria Richwine). His budding romance with her nearly ends before it can begin, when her aunt initially refuses to let her date him, but Buddy persuades her to change her mind. On their very first date, Maria accepts his marriage proposal and they are soon wed.

A humorous episode results from a misunderstanding in one of their early bookings. Sol Gittler (Dick O'Neill) signs them up sight-unseen for the famous Apollo Theater in Harlem, assuming from their music that they're a black band. When three white Texans show up instead, he is stunned, but unwilling to pay them for doing nothing, he nervously lets them perform and prays fervently that the all-black audience doesn't riot at the sight of the first all-white band to play there. (In real life, that distinction belongs to Jimmy Cavallo and The House Rockers, who played at that venue in 1956.) After an uncomfortable start and an initially hostile crowd, Buddy's songs soon win them over and the Crickets are a tremendous hit. Gitler books them to come back several times.

After two years, Ray Bob and Jesse decide to break up the band, feeling overshadowed by Buddy and not wanting to relocate to New York City. Initially, he is saddened by their departure, but he soldiers on. When Maria announces that she is pregnant, Buddy is delighted.

On February 2, 1959, preparing for a concert at Clear Lake, Iowa, Holly decides to charter a private plane to fly to Moorhead, Minnesota for his next big concert. The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens (who is reluctant to fly, but wins a coin toss with Tommy Allsup for the last seat) join him on the flight. Meanwhile, the Crickets, feeling nostalgic, appear unexpectedly at Maria's door, expressing their desire to reunite the band. They trace Buddy's next tour stop at Minnesota, and they plan to surprise him there. After playing his final song, "Not Fade Away," Holly bids the crowd farewell with "Thank you Clearlake! We love you. C'mon....we'll see you next year". A caption at the end reveals the deaths of Holly, Valens, and the Bopper in a plane crash that night and dedicates the film to his family and friends ("the people who loved him first").


Actor Role
Gary Busey Buddy Holly
Don Stroud Jesse Charles
Charles Martin Smith Ray Bob Simmons
William Jordan Riley Randolph (Lubbock D.J.)
John F. Goff T. J. (Nashville Producer)
Amy Johnston Cindy Lou
Conrad Janis Ross Turner
Albert Popwell Eddie Foster
Fred Travalena 'Madman' Mancuso (Buffalo, New York D.J.)
Jack Denbo New York Cabbie
Maria Richwine Maria Elena Holly
Dick O'Neill Sol Gittler
Freeman King Apollo M.C.
Paul Mooney Sam Cooke
Jerry Zaremba Eddie Cochran


The actors did their own singing and played their own instruments live during the filming, with guitarist Jerry Zaremba overdubbing the guitar parts. Busey, in particular, was admired by critics for recording the soundtrack music for the film live and losing a considerable amount of weight in order to portray the skinny Holly. According to Busey's biography, he lost 32 pounds to look more like Holly, who weighed 146 lbs at the time of his death. His accurate portrayal was aided by knowledge gained from a previous attempt to film part of the Holly life story, the ill-fated Three-Sided Coin, in which he played Crickets drummer Jerry Allison (the film was cancelled by 20th Century Fox due to pressure from Fred Bauer and his company, who had made deals with the Holly estate). The screenplay of Three-Sided Coin (by Allison and Tom Drake) revealed many personal details about Holly, and Busey picked up more during off-set conversations with Allison.

The film follows Buddy Holly from age 19 to 22 (1955 to early 1959). Gary Busey was actually 33 when he played the role. Charles Martin Smith, who played Ray Bob Simmons, auditioned for the role of Buddy, but since Busey had been cast, the producers cast him as Simmons because they liked his audition.


Many consider the film to be a highly fictionalized portrayal of Holly's life. As with many biopictures, the Buddy Holly Story tends to let historical accuracy take a back seat to dramatic effect. For example:

  • Holly's parents were not opposed to his music career in real life, nor was Holly's pastor.
  • Holly's romance with Santiago was "whirlwind", not the stubborn courtship shown in the movie.
  • The scene in the garage in which the members of the band hear a cricket on a recorded tape is pure embellishment. This event did indeed occur, in the Norman Petty studio in Clovis, New Mexico, but it did not inspire the Crickets to choose the name. This happened after they already decided on using the name the Crickets. The cricket can actually be heard chirping at the end of the song "I'm Gonna Love You Too".
  • The scene in which Holly's former friends in the Crickets appear unannounced at Santiago's door in New York is also a fabrication, but a full reunion with the Crickets had been discussed with Holly prior to the Winter Party Dance Tour in 1959, and was scheduled to occur after the tour.
  • The scene showing Lubbock with mountains in the background of the bus station caused gales of laughter when the film was premiered in Lubbock, which is located on the flat West Texas plain.
  • The family name on their truck is spelled "Holly," but the correct spelling was "Holley".
  • Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper gave their final concert at the Surf Ballroom, not at the Clear Lake Auditorium, as depicted in the film.
  • In one scene, Holly is shown writing a music score in a studio. In reality, he could not read or write music; he instead hummed the tune and worked it out himself.
  • In the scene where Holly sings "Rave On!" and "It's So Easy" at the Apollo, the year was 1957. However, none of these songs were written or released until 1958. "Oh, Boy!" would have been the only song released at that time.
  • The Crickets were angry at being portrayed (with names changed to avoid legal action), and the drummer being portrayed as racist — this prompted their then singer Sonny Curtis to pen a critical song about the film called "The Real Buddy Holly Story". In turn, this became the title of a Buddy Holly documentary made by Holly fan Paul McCartney and his MPL Productions company in association with the BBC. They were also angry that there were only two Crickets portrayed (rhythm guitarist Niki Sullivan was left out entirely), and their names changed, as they had already sold their movie rights to another studio. Norman Petty, the Crickets' manager, was also not depicted.
  • The guitars used by Gary Busey in the movie are inaccurate from a historical point of view. Holly is known as the first prominent Fender Stratocaster player. In the movie, the Stratocaster appears toward the end, but seems to be an early 1970s model. The first guitar shown in the movie is a Bronco, launched for the first time by Fender in 1968. The actual guitar seems to be from the early 1970s. The main guitar in the movie is a Fender Telecaster. Even though the Telecaster was launched in the early 1950s, the guitar used in the movie is most likely an early 1970s model as well. But more importantly, as far as is known, Buddy Holly never played a Telecaster on stage.
  • The lyrics of many songs in the film, including "That'll Be the Day", "Oh Boy!", and "Maybe Baby", are sung incorrectly. In some cases, lines or entire verses are sung out of order, combined with other lines or verses, or omitted entirely.


  • Keith Moon, drummer for English rock group The Who, died just after leaving the premiere of the movie.
  • Every year on Buddy Holly's birthday, Paul McCartney always screens this film as part of a "Buddy Holly Festival."
  • Buddy Holly's widow, Maria Elena, allegedly wept during a private screening at the scene where Busey (as Buddy) sings the song "True Love Ways."
  • Gary Busey was once asked, by a fan, to sign Buddy Holly's name (plus his own) to a color photograph. Busey refused: "There is no other Buddy Holly...I like Buddy fine, but I'm Gary Busey." (This is a paraphrase of a line in the movie: "I like Elvis fine, but I'm Buddy Holly.)
  • Screenwriter Robert Gittler committed suicide the day before the premiere.[1]


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