The Story Behind ESPN’s Documentary of “One of a Kind” (Stu Ungar’s Biography)
One of a Kind: The Rise and Fall of Stuey ‘the Kid’ Ungar was released nine years ago this week, in May of 2005.
As a first-time author, finishing that book provided relief more than any sense of personal accomplishment. To this day, I’d like to go back and re-do the entire process all over again. I’d be especially eager to repeat my one-on-one interviews with Stuey, if that were possible. I just think they could have been done better.
Not that I have regrets about how the biography turned out. But had it not been for my former agents at Venture Literary, Greg Dinkin and Frank R. Scatoni, and most certainly had Peter Alson not ridden to the rescue (who deserves a lot more credit on this project than he’s been given), the dusty manuscript of that would-be book might still be sitting on my desk somewhere, buried along with countless other unfinished masterpieces.
Co authored with Alson, a New York-based writer I’d known and respected for many years, the book quickly charted on several best-seller lists. The New York Times ran a glowing review along with a front page story in the Lifestyle section. As more people read the story and learned increasingly more about the enigma that was Stu Ungar, several related projects ensued. Although it wasn’t planned that way, releasing Stuey’s biography during the height of the poker boom turned out to be a wise decision. I just wish Stuey had been around to enjoy the fame he deserved.
Soon thereafter, Warner Bros. bought the rights to the book, which we hoped would eventually turn into a movie. So far, that hasn’t happened. Read more here: DID THE 2007 OSCARS KILL THE STU UNGAR MOVIE?
Meanwhile, ESPN Original Entertainment (EOE), the same division of the popular sports network that would later produce all the outstanding “30 for 30” segments contacted me and announced they wanted to create an original one-hour documentary on Stu Ungar’s life. The entire script was to be based on the content of the book. The program would even borrow the book’s title, “One of a Kind.” As they say, you can’t buy that kind of free publicity.
Shortly thereafter, s film crew came to Las Vegas to start shooting. We spent a few days together. They took in much of the scenery which was later to be used as backdrops when recalling certain periods of Stuey’s life. Indeed, making this one-hour film documentary proved to be quite a bold challenge. Other than a few old newsreels containing WSOP footage, virtually no film stock of Stuey existed. What photos were available were grainy black and white shots that had been packed away in closets and file cabinets for years.
Fortunately, the film created by Redline Films (contracted through EOE) somehow all came together. True to its subject matter, Stuey’s life story was told as dark tale, a melancholy flashback of remembrances and images which ultimately did what all good artistry manages to do — which is to make us want even more.
The documentary aired only one time (I believe). Ironically, it was shown during the worst time of year, just as the World Series of Poker was taking place in Las Vegas. Tens of thousands of poker players, the ideal viewing audience for the show, weren’t watching ESPN at that time. Instead, they were playing poker, or sweating the action of those who were in Las Vegas, competing in the biggest event of the year.
Nonetheless, the documentary was well-received. The program provided a thorough look at Stuey’s life and even includes interviews and rare footage what were completely unknown to me. If you’re interested in poker history and want to know more about one of the most interesting players ever to play the game, I encourage you to take the time to watch it.
Here’s the entire one-hour documentary “One of a Kind,” without commercials (note — video link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pt2AOIz1wk )