By Tony Parra
He was homeless for a year, lived in a garage for awhile, slept on a lot of friends’ couches. The life of a Hollywood screenwriter is not all glamour.
Michael Blake, 58, a former Eastern New Mexico University student best known as the author of “Dances with Wolves,” told his story to about 70 people in the Portales Public Library on Thursday night.
Despite publishing “Dances with Wolves,” a story about a Civil War hero who befriends American Indians on the Western frontier, Blake said he was having a difficult time making a living in the 1980s.
He said he reached a low point after being fired from a Chinese food restaurant in Bisbee, Ariz. Two days later, he received a phone call from an old friend, actor Kevin Costner.
“He called me and asked me if I would move back to Los Angeles to write the screenplay for ‘Dances with Wolves,’ ” Blake said. “I met him when he was in his first starring role in Stacy’s Knights in 1982. We have remained friends all the way through.”
Blake said it’s been 35 years since he last visited Portales.
Portales Library Director Denise Burnett said a member of the Friends of the Library contacted Burnett about scheduling Blake in Portales.
“They asked if we were interested,” Burnett said. “I didn’t think we could afford someone of his magnitude. They told me it was free and it sounded too good to be true.”
Blake said he has many fond memories of Portales.
“I used to hang out in The Blue Tree (coffee shop) and play folk music,” Blake said. “Everything has been overwhelming when I drove into Portales.”
Blake said he was the editor at The Chase, ENMU’s student newspaper, and was an ENMU student senator. Blake wrote a sequel to “Dances with Wolves,”, which was published in 1988, called “The Holy Road”, which was published in 2001. He said trying to get a movie made out of it has been as difficult as it was to get “Dances with Wolves” filmed.
“You’d think after the success of Dances with Wolves, which won seven Oscars and was embraced by the world, that someone would make it into a movie. People are eager to see it come to the screen, but the people in Hollywood don’t want to make it. It (”Dances with Wolves”) was an independent movie. It was made despite Hollywood, not because of Hollywood.”
Blake has also written “Airman Mortensen” and “Like a Running Dog.” He said “Like a Running Dog” is an autobiography about his experiences as a screenwriter and getting published.
“I was really impressed with him,” said Debbie Terry of Clovis. “He was very down to earth. He’s simplistic and he’s been successful in his writing. He is a very intelligent man. I loved ‘Dances with Wolves.’”
Blake emphasized the importance of libraries and parents reading to their children. He said television and the Internet are sources for information, but people only gain knowledge when they read.
“What stood out for me was that he was real excited about reading and writing books,” said Diana Waggoner of Portales. “He was enthusiastic about promoting libraries and reading.”