Hollywood heavyweights tell the story of Mississippi mayor in ‘The Burial’ – Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones star – Magnolia State Live
The story of how former Biloxi Mayor Jerry O’Keefe broke up North America’s largest funeral home is told in an Amazon film currently filming in New Orleans.
Tommy Lee Jones portrays Jeremiah “Jerry” O’Keefe and co-stars Jamie Foxx as Willie E. Gary, one of the attorneys on O’Keefe’s defense team in 1995. Bill Camp plays Raymond Loewen , the chairman of Loewen Funeral Conglomerate.
“Grandpa was going to be played by Harrison Ford,” said Jeff O’Keefe, but Ford broke his leg filming the last Indiana Jones movie and Jones was cast instead.
Parts of the film, titled “The Burial,” will also be shot in Jackson, but he said no filming is planned in Biloxi. It is based on an article written by Jonathan Harr in “The New Yorker”.
Jeffrey O’Keefe, O’Keefe’s son, said his father handed over the rights to the story 20 years ago to Bobby Shriver, nephew of former US President John F. Kennedy and brother of Maria Shriver. He said his father was not at all impressed with Hollywood and did not charge these rights.
The details of the lawsuit — and the implications that went all the way to the White House and Wall Street — were the subject of a National Public Radio podcast. O’Keefe, an independent funeral home owner on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, sued Loewen, who owned funeral homes in the United States and Canada. This resulted in Mississippi’s largest jury prize at the time and Loewen’s demise.
“O’Keefe sued Loewen, painting him as a corporate behemoth gobbling up funeral homes in select markets to run family shops, including his own, out of town,” said a 1997 article in Tampa. Bay Times. “Society president Raymond Loewen, who found himself defending his ownership of a yacht with a helicopter landing pad, was pitted against O’Keefe, a war hero, former mayor of Biloxi and a family man whose 51-year marriage had produced 13 children. ”
“One by one they stood tall as O’Keefe presented them to the jury,” the article said of his family.
O’Keefe was a war hero, a US Marine Corps pilot during World War II. He shot down five Japanese planes in less than an hour on his first mission at age 21, then shot down two more a few days later, becoming an ace pilot. He was elected a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives and served as mayor of Biloxi for eight years.
“It was a truly unique experience,” said Jeffrey O’Keefe, who testified at trial on his 39th birthday and again the next day.
The trial dragged on for weeks in Jackson, and “flamboyant” attorney Willie E. Gary flew in his “Wings of Justice” plane to represent O’Keefe. The story is, according to the film’s website: “A lawyer helps a funeral home owner save his family business from a juggernaut. In an effort to give resonance to a dry case, the lawyer unearths a complex web of race, power and oppression that forces everyone to examine prejudice.
O’Keefe said her father tried to keep the case from going to trial. “My dad had tried to sort it all out,” he said.
Loewen rejected a settlement offered by her father’s attorney, Michael Cavanaugh, for $4 million, he said. The jury then returned a verdict of $500 million in actual and punitive damages, O’Keefe said.
Loewen eventually paid $150 million and went bankrupt.
Although the film is based on a true story, the filmmakers can take liberties with what really happened. Media reports of the film claim that the O’Keefe Funeral Home was bankrupt, which Jeffrey O’Keefe said was not the case.
The film also implies that O’Keefe may have suffered prejudice.
“Grandpa was always a great advocate for equal rights,” he said.
In 1976, he revoked a parade permit the Ku Klux Klan had obtained, according to a Sun Herald article. Klansmen were arrested, City Hall was vandalized, and O’Keefe had a cross burned on his lawn.