Queens book hits Big Screen

By Kate Bobby

On the day before Christmas, not a soul was stirring save Richard Vetere, Maspeth-born novelist, screenwriter and playwright who, amazing for this day and age, returns 11th hour phone calls from newspapers.

“Hi, this is Richard Vetere returning your call. Happy holidays!” announced the writer, one of the busiest men you could hope to speak to, never mind meet. Especially after Dec. 29, the New York premiere of the film, “The Third Miracle,” based on Vetere's critically-acclaimed book of the same name about a man of faith on a mission to investigate, and discredit, a reputed modern day “miracle.”

The book, named Library Journal book of the year, received rave reviews from the New York Times (“Vetere demonstrates the ability to mix the poetic with the colloquial”), New York Newsday (“Vetere is a man with a writer's soul”) and the New York Daily News, to name a few (“A terrific first novel.”) The film, starring Ed Harris and Anne Heche, also bears Vetere's name as a co-writer on the screenplay.

“I co-authored the screenplay but they made lots of changes,” said the mild-mannered Vetere, adding with a laugh. “For one thing, they moved the story to Chicago. Still, it's a high- class production, no doubt about it. I'm thrilled.”

Back up a minute. Chicago?

“Yeah, I guess there's still this prejudice against Queens,” cracks Vetere. “Maybe they were worried about the accents. Like Chicago doesn't have an accent, right?”

Vetere adds that, ironically, the film version of Vetere's book features a few exterior shots of Long Island City, standing in for Chicago. (“Yeah, you can spot the area around the Hunters Point subway station.”) And, it also happens to feature a Queens actor – Vetere himself.

“Yep, I'm in a court scene. I'm led out in handcuffs, right past Ed Harris,” Vetere said. “It was a real blast! Truly.”

True, Vetere has sat down to dinner with actor Harris and actress Amy Madigan, Harris' wife (“They're great people,” Vetere commented.) And true, he can probably call Anne Heche, “Anne” (“She wonderful,” he added.) He probably even has George Clooney's cell phone number. But if he does, he won't say so. Success isn't changing this hard working, low-key Queens guy.

“I'm very lucky. I'm doing what I love to do! I'm not sure if I'm ready to do the L.A. thing though. I think I'll commute,” said Vetere, who still calls Queens home. And why not? This past November, Queens Theater in the Park staged the New York City premiere of “First Love,” one of 40 plays he's written. He has also taught writing at Queens College these many years.

Still, the Left Coast beckons. In about a month's time, maybe less, he'll know if CBS is going to green light his pilot, “The Wonder.” It wouldn't be the first time Vetere's written for television. His made-for-TV movie, “The Marriage Fool,” starring Carol Burnett and Walter Matthau, was re-broadcast Dec. 26. (“Yeah! That means residuals! I get paid every time it airs!,” he said with glee.)

“It's been a very exciting time for me. I showed CBS “The Wonder” and they loved it,” said Vetere about his pilot idea for a series about the investigation of modern, so-called miracles.

“The title is taken from a quote by Socrates, 'Wisdom begins in wonder,” said Vetere, who promises he'll return all calls, even if he sells the full “Wonder” series to CBS.

A local boy makes good and still returns phone calls? To his home? On Christmas Eve? Vetere has this writer believing in miracles. Success couldn't happen to a nicer guy.