06/14/2009 3:20PM

Penny Lane


Admit it. We've all spent time wrestling with the question of "who plays me in the movie of my life?" It's clean, healthy fun. Nobody gets hurt. And if nothing else, it can be a constructive exercise in self-image. I once had a girl in high school tell me I reminded her of Don Knotts. High school can be so cruel.

Now Penny Chenery gets to play it for real. Diane Lane will portray Chenery--who went by Penny Tweedy then--in the Disney movie of the Secretariat story, due to start shooting soon under the direction of Randall Wallace. Wallace wrote Braveheart, directed We Were Soldiers and wrote and directed the 1998 version of The Man in the Iron Mask. That last one was fun, mostly because of Malkovich.

"Everybody says she's perfect," Chenery said of Lane. “I had not see her work, so I rented one of her movies and watched it last night. And she's just a wonderful actress.”

Chenery was 50 when Secretariat marched through the 1973 Triple Crown and she reigned as the undisputed first lady of horse racing. I am now picturing her, 36 years later, wandering the aisles of the local Blockbuster in suburban Boulder, Colo., searching for an old copy of Lonesome Dove or A Little Romance or even Cattle Annie and Little Britches. Chances are Penny would shy away from my personal favorite Lane movie, Judge Dredd (her interplay with Sly Stallone was reminiscent of Tracy and Hepburn). Instead, Chenery settled on a more recent film, Unfaithful, a gift from the guy who gave us Flashdance and Fatal Attraction.

“It's not a good movie," Chenery said. "But she was great in it. There was an awful lot of skin showing. I think Diane's very brave."

As a reward, Lane gets to swap Richard Gere for Secretariat as leading man. Asked how she would have played the casting game, Penny said her first choice would have been Meryl Streep (join the club), but if she could reach back to the all-time greats, there is no question.

“Barbara Stanwyck," Chenery said, with something like awe in her voice. "When I was growing up, she was just my heroine."

            Penny & co

"I don't have story approval or casting approval,” Chenery added. “But they want me to be 'happy.' I've seen the script--they keep me in the loop--and that's fine. I don't know how to make a movie, so why would I have any input? The horse part I just hope they'll get right.”

She’s not alone. Even Seabiscuit flubbed a few simple things about racing, and The Black Stallion, for all its wondrous mythology, is chock full of groaners when it comes to racing details. Cindy Pierson Dulay compiled a pretty thorough list of horse racing movies on her website (http://www.horse-races.net/library/list-movies.htm) -- a few good (Champions, Boots Malone, Casey‘s Shadow), most of them bad, and some downright ugly, although Hot to Trot does feature both Virginia Madsen and former jock Tom Wolski.

Other than sending out a call for perfect chestnut Thoroughbreds, the people making the Secretariat movie have yet to announce other casting choices. This gives the rest of us a chance to weigh in. I’m touting Kevin Spacey as Lucien Laurin (they‘d need to give him a nose), Matt Damon as Ron Turcotte (you‘re welcome, Ron), and Terrence Howard as groom Eddie Sweat, the man who spent more time with Secretariat than all the rest put together.