An art dealer’s story of friendship takes on a life of its own as a movie, Same Kind of Different As Me, now in theaters.
by Rachel Stowe Master
Denver Moore, left, and Ron Hall '71 (MBA '73) became friends when Hall volunteered at a homeless shelter.
Courtesy of Same Kind of Different as Me Charitable Foundation
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Topics: Alumni,Alumni Profile,how i got here
by Rachel Stowe Master
Ron Hall ’71 (MBA ’73) was slacking his way through TCU, thoroughly enjoying the social scene, when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. His two years of service included training as a top-secret nuclear weapons inspector at Sandia Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He returned to campus a changed man.
“It was eye-opening on the value of education and how I had wasted my first three years at TCU,” he said. “I came back to TCU and finished my last year with a 4.0.”
With a business degree (majoring in finance), Hall landed a job as a bank officer at First National Bank of Fort Worth, where he bought and sold tax-free bonds. On his first business trip to Houston, he wandered into an art gallery to kill time before a bond auction. The visit sparked a lifelong passion for art. Within minutes he had spent more than half of his monthly salary on a $350 LeRoy Neiman lithograph, In the Paddock.
His wife, Deborah Short Hall ’67, was livid. A schoolteacher, she made about $300 a month. “That’s why she was so upset when I spent the equivalent of her one-month salary to buy my little LeRoy Neiman print,” said Hall, who still owns the print. “That was my passport to the art world.”
Banking by day, Hall spent every spare moment soaking up art knowledge and buying and flipping as much as he could on credit. “I was on a fast track at the bank and most people were surprised – especially my wife,” he said, crediting his MBA from TCU for his quick rise to assistant vice president. “It was big promotions and low pay. When I left, I was making $15,000 a year, and they offered me $18,000 and a full vice president’s job to stay.”
International Art Dealer
By 1975, Hall was ready to take the plunge into art dealing full time and launched Ron Hall Gallery. At different times through the years, he had galleries in Fort Worth, Dallas, New York City and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
“I sold many, many museum-quality works by Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Gauguin, Jackson Pollock,” he said. “All the things you see when you walk into a museum, I’ve sold many of those.
“One of the dumbest things I ever did was give Andy Warhol’s self-portrait as a gift in 1975. It was only worth about $3,000,” Hall said. “It sold years later for $6.5 million. That’s how smart I was as an art dealer. In 1975 I didn’t feel like Andy Warhol was going to be anything but a passing fad.”
What Fort Worth locals might remember best is the flight of the massive Calder Eagle from downtown, and Hall was right in the thick of it.
“When the Fort Worth National Bank went down into bankruptcy in the ’80s, the bank assets were bought out by another banking organization, but the building and all its assets were bought by a Canadian real estate company. They wanted to sell the Calder,” he said. “I called all the local museums and spoke with some of the wealthiest people in town.
“For $1 million, the sculpture could have stayed in Fort Worth. One collector here in town was willing to put up half the money if we could find someone to match. But the deadline passed, and they wanted it sold.”
Hall and his partner pulled together the money, bought Eagle and shipped it to a foundry in Connecticut to be restored. “When the bank originally bought it, they didn’t like the way it sat on the plaza, so they cut 2 feet off the legs,” he said.
They found the legs in the basement, dug the 6-ton, 39-foot-tall steel sculpture out of 18 inches of concrete, and loaded it onto 18-wheelers.
“A lot of people in Fort Worth were very angry,” Hall said. “They didn’t know who took the Calder out of town, but they were ready to lynch whoever did. My partner and I named our mythological company The Phoenix because of the bird that flew. When I wrote Same Kind of Different As Me, I came clean and confessed I was the one who did that.”
Eagle was on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art before landing permanently at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle.
“The sculpture could’ve stayed for $1 million, and now it’s probably worth $25 million to $30 million,” Hall said.
At Hall’s wife’s insistence, he started volunteering with her at Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County, a homeless shelter in Fort Worth. With his wife’s encouragement, he befriended a homeless man, Denver Moore.
When Debbie Hall was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, Hall closed his local gallery and turned all other operations over to his business partner in New York City and his son, Carson Hall ’99, so he could stay home and take care of her. She died in 2000.
“Debbie’s final words to me were, ‘Don’t give up on Denver. God is going to bless your friendship in a way you could never imagine,’ ” Hall recalls.
Moore moved in with Hall. In 2006, the two men published the story of their friendship in Same Kind of Different As Me, written with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson). The book sold more than 2 million copies and spent 157 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list.
He and Moore gave 180 speeches in 2006 and even more the next year. “What we were trying to do at that point was to raise money to build a new Union Gospel Mission in Tarrant County, which is now the finest homeless mission in all of America.”
Hall estimates that he has given more than 1,000 speeches and helped nonprofits raise millions for the homeless. “When people hire me to come speak at their event, they’re expecting it will be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said. “I’m always disappointed if it’s anything less than a quarter of a million. I feel like a failure.”
What Difference Do It Make?: Stories of Hope and Healing (Thomas Nelson) followed in 2010 and a children’s version in 2013. Hall recently completed a manuscript about the untold 10 years with Moore, who died in 2012.
Hall also has a manuscript for a book about his relationship with his father, whom he described as a misunderstood World War II hero. The working title is Same Kind of Sorry As Me. “He was sorry that he had not been a better father,” Hall said. “I was sorry I had not been a better son. We had to figure out a way we could put it back together, and we only had a year to do it because he had cancer and was 90 years old.”
Hall is finishing The Poopsie Chronicles, which he’s been writing on and off for four years. “Poopsie kind of fell to the wayside while I had projects that the publisher was a little more interested in,” he said. “According to the publisher, it goes against the brand of Same Kind of Different As Me. It’s kind of the rascal in me that they don’t want to reveal.
“You read Same Kind of Different As Me and come away with the idea that maybe I was an extraordinarily spiritual person instead of a guy who lived a story that was really a God-ordained story,” Hall said. “But when you read The Poopsie Chronicles, you realize I was just a normal guy out trying to make a living — doing what it took. Maybe sometimes doing more than what it took.”
Hall married Elizabeth Walker six years ago. In early 2017, the couple founded a nonprofit organization, the Same Kind of Different As Me Foundation (skodam.org). Walker attended TCU for two years before graduating from the University of North Texas.
“Beth runs the foundation — what we hope will become a foundation that provides emergency needs for homeless shelters, more specifically the smaller homeless shelters that do not have large bases of support,” Hall said. “My friend Denver used to say, ‘We’re all homeless, just working our way home.’
“We hope to put a new face on homelessness and have people begin to look at the homeless through God’s eyes and not through their own to see that we all are homeless, just working our way home,” Hall said. “If it wasn’t for the blessings of God, we would all be in that same shape.”
The film Same Kind of Different As Me is based on the 2006 nonfiction book by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.
Photos copyright 2017 Paramount Pictures, used by permission
Hall hopes the new movie Same Kind of Different As Me, which is based on the book, helps change how people view the homeless. “I want people to walk away from this film with new eyes to see the homeless through the lens of God and to realize it’s not the color of our skin that divides our country. It’s the condition of our hearts,” he said. “If we get our hearts right, we will all come together.”
The road from best-selling book to completed film was long and bumpy. “It was two failed attempts with two other studios and producers,” Hall said. “Through multiple lawsuits and legal maneuverings, I got back control of my own life rights, which was very costly. I decided to write the screenplay myself and produce the movie myself.”
Hall formed SKODAM Films, and when Paramount Pictures called wanting to be involved in the project, he jumped at the chance. “They brought a lot of value to the project — was it going to be Ron Hall making his first movie or was it Paramount, one of the oldest and most successful movie companies in the world, as my partner? I didn’t have to dust off my old TCU MBA to make that decision.”
The movie was delayed when a musicians union sued because SKODAM Films was using nonunion musicians to record the film’s score. “The judge threw the case out of court and said there wasn’t a basis for the lawsuit because SKODAM Films was under no obligation to hire union employees,” Hall said. “They were going after us, saying it was a Paramount.
“Well, Paramount was just an investor in my company and not the lead in the film, and we are a Texas company, so we had no obligation,” Hall said. “But it was still a long, drawn-out, costly lawsuit. We couldn’t finish the rest of our original music until we finished that.”
Hall has his eye on the bigger picture now. “The movie is something that hopefully will cause a rising tide for all people who work in homeless ministries because it’s a call to action,” he said. “I would question the heart of anyone walking out of our film and not wanting to do something to make a difference in their community or with one person.”
The movie, which stars Renée Zellweger, Djimon Hounsou and Greg Kinnear, is scheduled for national release Oct. 20. Brad Paisley wrote a song for the soundtrack — Stubborn Angels — and Pure Flix is promoting the film.
“He’s had a great impact on homelessness throughout the country as well as locally,” said Don Shisler, president and CEO of Union Gospel Mission of Tarrant County. “His book is kind of a love story, but it inspires people that they can deal with homeless issues and it makes homeless issues more personal to everyone.
“As far as the ongoing PR from the book, he may mention something about us in his speaking engagements, and with the movie now, it’s been invaluable.”
“I never expected to be involved in [the story] this long,” Hall said. “I thought I would just write a book, raise some money for Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth and then just go about my life as an art dealer. And now I work harder than ever.”
Your comments are welcome
My father was so moved by the book he bought many copies and handed them out. He also insisted each of family members read it. The last Christmas we had with him (the day he died of a heart attack) he sat at the table and made each one of us who hadn’t read it promise to read it. It was as though he knew he was dying and it meant that much to him. My daughter now works with the homeless in Austin. I couldn’t be more proud.
I attended TCU from 1982-1984 and though I graduated from another school I still call TCU my alma mater.
My wife and I just saw this movie this week! Though I had not previously read the book, my wife had. I had identified with it because it was based in Fort Worth, where I lived, and Ron Hall was a student at TCU, my alma mater, during the same time frame that I was there, and during which time I had become a Christian. What spoke to my heart from the movie was Denver Moore’s comments regarding what he termed “white folks’” practice of “catch and release” when fishing for sport! He didn’t want to be befriended by Ron and Debbie Hall just to be released back into the swamp from which he came just so that they could enjoy the sport of doing so! As a Christian, I don’t want to be guilty of leading others to Christ, that is, making baby Christians, only to abandon them on someone’s doorstep, instead of discipling them and becoming involved in their lives! God has called us to be fishers of men, but not to catch and release! Ron Hall’s friendship with Denver Hall is a testimony to us that God is in the business of restoring, not only lives, but also relationships, with God and with one one another!
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The alumnus talks about the promise he kept with his late wife and his commitment to helping homeless people.
Campus News: Alma Matters
A Q&A with the author of The Same Kind of Different As Me
Bestselling Same Kind of Different As Me author Ron Hall ’71 (MBA ’73) returned to campus to promote his follow-up book.