Film in production will portray ’50s Phoenician gambler and restaurant owner Jack Durant

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(‎Alejandra Armstrong/DD)
Durant’s restaurant was owned by Jack Durant, one of Phoenix’s top 10 most dangerous men in the 1950s. A film about Durant’s life is currently in production, starring Tom Sizemore as Durant. (‎Alejandra Armstrong/DD)

As a man who carried many different personas — whether the occasional gambler, the aspiring professional baseball pitcher or the owner of a legendary steakhouse — Jack Durant is known to have been, and still is, one of the most pivotal figures in Phoenix history.

Jack Durant’s life has inspired a film written and directed by Travis Mills and produced with William Long. “Durant’s Never Closes” is based on the book “The Saga of Jack Durant,” by Mabel Leo and “In My Humble Opinion,” a play written by Terry Earp. It will premiere in the spring of 2015 and star Tom Sizemore of “Saving Private Ryan” and “Black Hawk Down” as Jack Durant.

This week, Michael Richards, better known as Kramer on the TV show Seinfeld, was added to the cast. Other members include Dina Meyer, Pam Grier, Peter Bogdanovich and Wayne Rainey, a Phoenix native and downtown gallery owner.

As a local character, Durant allows the creators of the film to explore rich Phoenix history, Mills said.

“Durant’s Never Closes” is currently being filmed at a studio where 95 percent of the action will be filmed. The studio is a model of the restaurant Durant’s, Long said. The original restaurant is located on Central and Virginia avenues.

The studio is in Rainey’s MonOrchid art gallery on Roosevelt Street near Third Street.

Since Jack is a very multidimensional character to play, every viewer will probably walk away with a different perception of him, Long said.

“It would depend on how you knew him,” he said.

Durant was listed in FBI records as one of the top 10 most dangerous men in Arizona in the 1950s. As a teenager, he was also known to have worked for the infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel at Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, said Leo, who wrote the book on Durant on which the movie is based.

Leo conducted in-depth research on Durant and visited his family in Tennessee, she said. Durant is remembered as an incredibly complex person, skilled and intelligent — a man who would do whatever was necessary to maintain his reputation, she said.

Durant “made himself into the man he wanted to be,” Leo said.

Durant brought his award-winning restaurant to life in 1950. Even though Durant died in 1987, his friends and family continue to share his stories.

During the ’50s, celebrities such as John Wayne, Clark Gable, Lucille Ball and Burt Reynolds frequented the famous red leather booths of this local hangout.

Just as celebrities did when it first opened, athletes fuel up and politicians gather in those same red leather booths today. The quaint pink building stands in its original location, surrounded by the light rail and the modern culture of Phoenix.

A regular might tell you to enter through the back door to witness all the action in the kitchen and breathe in the aromas. The simple menu, old-fashioned steaks and signature martinis give customers a perfect spot to travel back in time.

Correction: September 4, 2014

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the studio in MonOrchid art gallery as a sound stage.

Contact the reporter at Oren.Simchy-Gross@asu.edu

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