Talk about your boardwalk empires: Atlantic City native son Norman Twain has built a business brimming with what some other Hollywood/Broadway producers may consider product as prohibitive as Prohibition: socially relevant films and plays.
Now represented on screen by "My Dog Tulip," Twain's train of triumphs goes back to an early Jewish Jersey upbringing that stressed heart and soul and empathy -- sentiments that brought strength, not sentimentality, to his projects.
Lean on him? Hollywood did, and he came up with the 1989 hit "Lean on Me," about a Paterson, N.J., high school principal who would pal around with a baseball bat if it meant instilling principles in his undisciplined underprivileged delinquents/students.
The biographical film about the cocky Joe Clark earned top marks for its broadsides at the educational system's weaknesses, and the heart and heroism needed to smack it rightside its head.
Twinned with Twain's executive producer role in "Boycott" -- an HBO film about the 1955 Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott that buoyed civil-rights causes -- he earned a right-on and awards from the NAACP.
Fixing social insecurities and inequalities means preparing a budget with morality the bottom line. But then, "working on projects of social justice has always meant so much to me," allows Twain, who still treats himself to an occasional visit to his hometown of famous fudge and Steeplechase Pier fame.
There are few peers in the business willing to deal with such social strata on such a consistent basis, reflected not just on screen, but on the boards as well; to Twain's credit are regional productions of "Streamers" (and its Vietnam implications) and "Our Town."
Hours spent on works of "social manners," as he calls it, have earned Twain respect and rewards. So, just how does "My Dog Tulip," based on the J.R. Ackerley memoir about a man and his dog, fit into his social graces? "It's about people connecting with others," whether human or canine.
Can Twain relate it to today's world? "It's all about looking for love and, when it comes down to it, isn't everybody?"