As a movie, The Running Man was one of the more forgettable box-office hits of 1987, but the story behind it is the stuff of dreams. It stars a 40-year-old entrepreneur by the name of George Linder, whose previous credits include a bicycle importing business and a wheelchair company. Best of all, the story is true.

It begins in 1983. Linder is the co-founder and CEO of the wheelchair company, Quadra Medical Corp. He reads a book by an obscure author named Richard Bachman and enjoys it so much that he contacts the author's agent about buying the film rights. The price, says the agent, is $20,000. "Twenty thousand!" Linder protests. "But this guy is unknown."

Take it or leave it, says the agent. Linder takes it -- and is glad he did, as he discovers a year later that Richard Bachman is a pseudonym for Stephen King. "I felt like I'd found a Rembrandt at K mart," Linder recalls.

A Rembrandt it isn't, but a bankable property it is. Linder proceeds to sell the film rights to a production company, which signs him up as co-producer, and together they arrange for Arnold Schwarzenegger to play the lead. Before long, Linder is engrossed in his new responsibilities -- writing the screenplay, hiring the director, picking locations, designing sets, watching costs. "It's just like being an entrepreneur," says Linder, who claims to be the highest-paid first-time producer ever. Meanwhile, he has merged Quadra with Ortho-Kinetics Inc., a Milwaukee manufacturer of scooters and lift chairs. But busy as he is on the movie, he maintains a relationship with Quadra, calling in several times a day, and dropping by when he's filming near its offices in Westlake Village, Calif.

Eventually, production is completed; the movie is released; and The Running Man goes on to become one of the year's top-grossing films. As for Linder, he goes back to managing day-to-day operations at Quadra. The employees "treat me the same," he says. "They all want to know what Schwarzenegger is really like."

But will Linder stay at the company, or has he been bitten by the showbiz bug? "I'd love to make more blockbusters," he says. "But still, the most creative work I've ever done has been at Quadra."

Published on: Apr 1, 1988