John Horton, Hero of the Original Top Gun
Watching the red, white, and blue aerobatics over the Cannes Film Festival last week would have delighted John Horton. In 1984, John visioned something that no one else truly saw: Top Gun had the potential to become a massive recruiting tool for the Navy.
Easy-going, charming, never without his suit and tie, John, the liaison between Hollywood and the Pentagon, worked quietly behind the scenes. If you needed an F-14 Tomcat, or a submarine to hunt for Red October, John was your go-to man.
In 1982, while we were making Officer and a Gentleman, John Horton tried to get Navy support for the production, but Navy officers disliked the portrayal of the swearing- drill instructor so much, there was not even a table to sit down to talk. And Paramount was as stubborn as the headstrong cadets it featured in three back-to-back boys-to-men theatrical releases of the 80s– Lords of Discipline (from the Pat Conroy novel), An Officer and A Gentleman written by Douglas Day Stewart (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), and Top Gun (based on a California Magazine article on flight school).
“What do you do with the aggression?” mythologist Joseph Campbell passionately asked, “When war is in the rear view mirror and modern boys are still raging from a genome that shouts fight or flight, especially when those acts are out-of sync with modern society?” Paramount, or rather its head of production, Don Simpson, had the answer. Make movies where young guys go through the training for war, but there is no war.
While, the Navy gave Paramount zip, An Officer and a Gentleman, due to its honest, sexy portrayal of a love story between cadet Richard Gere and townie, Debra Winger, became a worldwide crowdpleaser. The movie was made for a modest $7.5 million budget, but John Horton believed that, over the two years following the release of An Officer and a Gentleman, the Navy saved $35 million in marketing costs. On the zip-meter, the Navy, according to John, did zilch- marketing funding for two years in recruiting spends because the movie took care of it for them.