Writing the book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman has been an exercise in remembrance for both Chris and myself. More than three decades have come and gone since I first began my efforts to seek parole for convicted spies Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee, and the experience of committing my own memories to paper (or, more appropriately, to hard drive) has brought back more vivid recollections than could fit into any cohesive narrative. This is one of them.
In 1983, Chris had been transferred to Marion Federal Penitentiary and was in a lock-down unit in the bowels of the building. He usually called in the early evenings just to check in and say hello, to ask about the weather in California, talk politics, and discuss history and art.
He told me about the unit that he was in, the things that he did, the books that he read, and the fact that the prison had built an outside cage of chain link (“the birdcage”) because they were required to allow him outdoor exercise time. After Chris left Marion several years later, John Gotti would be housed in his old cell.
One evening when he called, there was no talk of the weather or books. Instead, Chris talked of the fact that Hollywood had decided to make a movie. The Falcon and the Snowman was going to star Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn, and he told me that he had been contacted by the attorneys for the studio.
“Please Cait, can you talk to Daulton about working with this project? No matter what you may think, they’ll make this movie with or without us. At least this way, Daulton can have a little say in what happens.”
Chris had no illusions of ever being paroled, but Daulton was a different story. Daulton attended every hearing with me by his side and was sure that someday, somehow, he would be paroled. I believed that a movie would ruin any hope of that happening. I could feel the churning in my gut and my head started to hurt. Despite my relationship with Chris, I had always been Daulton’s protector and I couldn’t see myself stopping now.
“But what about Daulton?” was my only response.
We finished our allotted 15 minutes of telephone time discussing the movie, how it would be made “no matter what” and, from my side, how was it going to impact Daulton and what could I do about it. Chris finished our conversation by saying “I hope you aren’t mad, but I gave Sean Penn your telephone number because he wants to talk to you about Daulton.”
It would be nearly impossible to explain to Daulton that I was having conversations with Chris. Misanthropy ran deep and any revelation about my contact with Chris, in any form, would send Daulton into a deep anger and depression that I simply did not think I was capable of dealing with.
But now there was to be a movie made, and this was going to cause an intrusion in our lives that I had hoped to avoid. I let days and many phone conversations with Daulton pass, waiting for just the right time to tell him. I had not found that moment.
On the sixth ring, I grabbed the phone to hear an unfamiliar voice. “Is this Cait?”
I nodded to myself, not wanting to speak, and the voice continued: “This is Sean Penn. I called to talk about Daulton Lee and our movie.”
The jig was up and now I had to face reality.
I’d like to go on record and say that Sean Penn is a nice guy. I know that over the years, people have found reason to dislike him for everything from his temperament to his politics. Since I agree with his politics and have a pretty bad temperament myself, I have no reason to dislike the guy.
In the time I knew him, he treated me with respect. More importantly, he treated my friend Andrew Daulton Lee with respect. So while I may have been less than thrilled by Penn’s ultimate portrayal of Daulton in The Falcon and the Snowman, I temper that reaction by remembering kindnesses.
During my initial telephone conversation with Penn in 1983, I informed him that I had not spoken to Daulton about the movie and that I needed to find an appropriate time tell him. He told me that he still wanted to talk with me about Daulton, since I knew him. He wanted to know what kind of a man Daulton was, how he reacted to things, how he behaved. He was studying his role through me.
Penn and I agreed to meet the following week for lunch and I agreed to drive to Palos Verdes rather than have him come to San Diego. Frankly, I didn’t want to deal with the attention that this would draw, and opted for an area where movie people were as common as house flies. I also needed to find the courage to talk to Daulton.
On the day we were to have lunch, I tossed on an old denim jacket that had belonged to Daulton and drove to Palos Verdes. During the drive I had a lot of time to think, and the only thought that really came to mind was that I was there to protect Daulton at all costs. While most people might find the prospect of working on a movie or hanging out with movie stars to be exciting, I am not one of those people. The thought of sitting through lunch with a movie star was almost as exciting as a root canal. But I had a job, a designated position in life – I would guard Daulton’s privacy at all costs.
Once I turned off Crenshaw, I was in home territory. The road winds through the hills and finally out to the cliffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean. Penn had arranged to meet me at an outdoor restaurant and was seated at the table waiting for me when I walked in. He had a woman with him. As I approached, he introduced himself and his girlfriend, Elizabeth McGovern.
After ordering, Penn began to explain to me what the movie company had planned for the film and what he saw as the direction to take his character. As he talked about his “character” my brain clouded over a bit. This was my friend he was talking about. And I had yet to inform that friend that he was going to be the subject of a major motion picture. But Penn seemed honest enough and understanding enough. I wanted him to know that Daulton was not the man the Robert Lindsey had portrayed in his book.
Lindsey had greatly exaggerated Daulton into a character of singular dimension, no soul, no method to life other than being a drug dealer. It simply was not true. I found Daulton to be loyal, sympathetic to the less fortunate around him, and a warm and funny friend. While Lindsey may not have liked Daulton, I did.
Penn interrupted my train of thought: “Can you arrange for me to meet Daulton?”
I decided then and there to leave for Lompoc the next morning and talk to Daulton about the movie. “I’ll go and see Daulton tomorrow and discuss all of this with him,” I said, “but I’m not sure how he’s going to take it or when he’ll talk to you.” What I really meant to say was that I didn’t know if Daulton would ever talk to him.
We discussed more of the movie plans and ate lunch. Penn’s girlfriend, Elizabeth, asked me a lot of questions about Daulton and how I came to be involved with both he and Chris, and the case that had captured the imagination of the public and the attention of the Hollywood elite.
The conversation started to lighten up, and I was feeling more comfortable. Finally, I couldn’t resist the temptation. I turned to Penn and said, “I graduated from Clairemont High, class of 1972.”
Penn burst out laughing; McGovern looked puzzled. He turned to her and explained the importance of what I’d just laid on him: “Cameron Crowe went undercover as a student at Clairemont High when he wrote Fast Times.”
For those of you who have never seen it, Fast Times at Ridgemont High was one of Sean Penn’s first movies – and certainly one of his most iconic roles, playing a perpetually stoned surfer named Jeff Spicoli. The weight of the coincidence was not lost on any of us. It lightened the mood and we all got a good laugh out of it.
Both of them then peppered me with questions about high school – was Fast Times accurate? Did I remember any of the characters depicted in the movie? While the film was and remains a hilarious snapshot of a generation caught in the evolutionary lurch known as adolescence, it was most definitely not the high school I remembered.
We ended lunch on a high note. I would talk to Daulton the next day and get a read on his feelings.
Arriving home late that afternoon, I had decided that maybe this would not be as horrible as my gut told me. While I mentally patted myself on the back, the phone rang. It was Daulton.
“Daulton,” I told him, “this may not be good news, but Hollywood has decided to make Lindsey’s book into a movie.”
I rambled a little more. “Okay, I know this is bad, but maybe if you get involved with the movie or the actor, you can move this into a better position – you could come out of this looking better than the book made you look.”
“Okay, I understand you’re mad. You can be as mad as you want, but they’ll make the movie with or without you!” I was trying the Chris Boyce gambit, arguing the same point that Chris had recently argued with me.
“I know that,” Daulton finally said. “I just need to get a handle on this. And I need a lawyer to help with this.”
I felt a little better and promised him that I would write a long letter that evening to a contact I had in the entertainment law world that he could discuss the movie with.
Over the next few months, I would deal with Sean Penn, Daulton, Chris, and a battery of lawyers in an effort to see The Falcon and the Snowman make it to the big screen. And I had formulated a relationship between Daulton and Sean Penn that would last for many more years.
Cait Boyce has been married to Christopher Boyce since his release from prison in 2002. Their book American Sons: The Untold Story of the Falcon and the Snowman is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound, and other online retailers.