This made-for-TV movie was the first major behind-the-camera venture for Happy Days stars Anson Williams (writer and producer) and Ron Howard (director and producer), who managed to get filming completed just before the strike by Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which effectively stopped all production on movies and television shows in 1980.
The youngsters also pulled off another coup – securing 72-year-old veteran actress Bette Davis for their picture.
Davis played Billie Dupree, a chilli slinger, former stunt pilot and part-time flight instructor at an old Texas airport.
When Julie Ward (14-year-old newcomer Suzy Gilstrap) – a young paraplegic girl in a wheelchair – finds the airport by watching gliders fly and decides she wants to learn how to fly, Dupree teaches her with some special controls compensating for her handicap and the help of Koup Trenton (WKRP in Cincinnati star Howard Hessman), an airport night watchman trying desperately to get an old plane back in the air and earn his mechanic’s licence.
Meanwhile, Julie’s parents, Natalie (fellow Happy Days alumni Marion Ross) and Steve (Clu Gulager) – and her barbie doll beauty sister Lisa (Lisa Whelchel) – have no idea of what she is up to.
Ron Howard admitted to being intimidated by Bette Davis’ demanding reputation, her tenure as a star, and her no-nonsense style. “Call me Ron,” he suggested when they first met. “I will call you Mr Howard until I decide if I like you or not,” Miss Davis replied.
The sentimental but not saccharine picture was filmed at the Rockwall Airport and the town of McKinney outside Dallas. Ron Howard’s father, Rance, appears in a small part as a pilot.