This fall there’s been a reminder of the underbelly of athletics, specifically wrestling, with the release of Annapurna Pictures’ “Foxcatcher”. Written for the screen by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, “Foxcatcher” tells the story of the relationship between Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz and John E. DuPont, as well as the eccentric millionaire’s murder of David Schultz.
DuPont grew up with excess family wealth. Liseter Hall Farm was the name of the family’s 800-acre farm in Newtown Square, Delaware County, Pennsylvania and “Foxcatcher” was the horse racing stable.
DuPont began his philanthropic interests in athletics in the 1960’s with swimming, amateur wrestling and other programs. In the mid-1980’s he donated substantial funds to the Villanova University wrestling team under the agreement that he would be named its coach. Mark Schultz was an assistant coach for the wrestling team.
From 1985 to 1987 Pittsburgh professional wrestler Tom Dobbin, known in the ring as Tommy Faime, attended Drexel University and got to know both Mark and Dave Schultz. The Schultz brothers were just off the heels of winning Olympic gold in 1984. There wasn’t much in the way of endorsement deals and other perks that would later present themselves to Olympic gold medalists.
John DuPont offered a salary and training facilities to Mark Schultz and he eagerly took the opportunity. Sometime after that, David Schultz and his family joined his brother at Foxcatcher.
“Those were the beginning days of the DuPont era at Villanova University,” said Faime. “Because there’s was a new wrestling program they didn’t have a lot of guys on the team so they often worked out with us (Drexel).”
Faime remembered that the Schultz brothers spoke at camp for children in the area. “You could tell that Mark was a little bit crazy just by the speech he gave the children that day,” he continued. “He mentioned in international wrestling there were no top seeds and second seeds that the two top guys could wrestle the first match of the tournament. He said that happened to him during the Olympics. So he told the kids he just went out and broke the guy’s arm and that’s how he won his gold medal. He eliminated the top competition.
“He told them you had to have that mentality in wrestling,” Faime continued. “He said you’ve got to go destroy your opponent before he destroys you.”
Mark Schultz had the “winner’s” edge that DuPont so extolled and coveted. In a promotional video showcasing his generosity and benevolence, the un-athletic DuPont is shown fishing in a personal pond. He comments that he will be the “winner” in his fishing escapades and the fish will be on the losing end of his competitive attack. Just prior to that, DuPont is shown casting a line and losing a fish from a bite. Based on the short video, DuPont’s fishing skills could be described as pedestrian at best.
Faime said he was able to work out with Mark Schultz. “He was tough as nails. He could wrestle all day and none of us in the room could even take him down he was that good.”
Faime said he never spoke to the Villanova head coach much. “Dupont was a creepy-looking man he was thin and frail and sat in the corner almost like he was enjoying watching the guys compete but not in a competitive way, more like he was getting turned on kind of way.”
(There has been much conjecture over DuPont’s personal attachment to the wrestlers. Schultz has also stated that DuPont never made any advances toward him and in a November 14 interview, relayed for the first time that he believed that DuPont was injured in a horse-riding accident and didn’t have any love interests. Upon DuPont’s death in 2010, his will read that 80% of his estate would go to a Bulgarian wrestler who was on the Foxcatcher farm along with the Schultz brothers.)
The Drexel student added that DuPont never really shared why he got into the wrestling program. Faime went back to Pittsburgh in 1987 and was shocked about the murder on January 26, 1996. (In a recent rfvideo.com interview, Pittsburgh’s Kurt Angle noted that he spoke to Schultz the morning of the shooting, as he was gearing up for his own run at the 1996 Olympics.)
“I remember seeing it on the news and thinking to myself I got out of there just in time and remembering that I wasn’t all that surprised,” Faime added. “I was devastated for the wrestling family. Dave Schultz was very well-respected but I was not surprised the Dupont did that.”
“Foxcatcher” was filmed in and around Pittsburgh—among other locales—in late 2012. The movie was scheduled for release during Oscar season in 2013; however, some buzz from insiders claimed that management was hoping that Steve Carell would garner Oscar interest for his portrayal of DuPont. It was believed that 2013’s field was already strong. Movie honchos officially state that the movie needed more editing.
The movie has received glowing reviews from any number of sources. It has an 86% “fresh” rating on Rottentomatoes.com. At the recent Hollywood film award, “Foxcatcher” won for best ensemble. As of November 18, 2014 and in very limited release, the film has earned $347,707 in domestic sales. A slow roll-out schedule continues until January 9, 2015. The film opened the Three Rivers Film Festival in Pittsburgh on November 14. It currently isn’t scheduled for an official return.
— Tom Leturgey, OWW columnist