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On the Right Track is a 1981 American comedy film that was the first feature film starring Gary Coleman.[2] It was directed by Lee Philips, produced by Ronald Jacobs, and released to theaters by 20th Century Fox in the spring of 1981.

On the Right Track
On the Right Track Poster (1981).jpg
On the Right Track movie poster
Directed byLee Philips
Produced byJim Begg
Ronald Jacobs
Written byAvery Buddy
Richard Moses
Tina Pine
StarringGary Coleman
Music byArthur B. Rubinstein
CinematographyJack L. Richards
Edited byBill Butler
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
March 6, 1981 (and later in different cities)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$5.9 million (US/ Canada)[1]



After the debut of the sitcom Diff'rent Strokes in November 1978, Gary Coleman quickly gained popularity. Zephyr Productions was created to promote Coleman's star potential, and 1981's On the Right Track was the first movie developed from that initiative.[3][4] It was filmed in 1980, primarily in Chicago.[5][6] New York Loves Lester was an early working title for the project, when the film was planned to be set in New York City.[7][8] The subsequent working title was A Guy Could Get Killed Out There.[5][9]


Gary Coleman stars as a homeless shoeshine boy named Lester who is living in a locker at Union Station, Chicago. Already a beloved figure among the staff at the station who look after him, and suffering attempts to move him to an orphanage, he finds great popularity after it is revealed that he has an amazing talent for picking winning horses at the racetrack.[10][11]


  • Gary Coleman as Lester
  • Maureen Stapleton as Mary the Bag Lady
  • Norman Fell as the Mayor
  • Michael Lembeck as Frank Biscardi
  • Lisa Eilbacher as Jill Klein
  • Bill Russell as Robert
  • Herb Edelman as Sam
  • C. Thomas Cunliffe as Shoe Shine Concessioner
  • Belinda Bremner as Lady with Suitcase
  • Nathan Davis as Mario
  • Mike Bacarella as Sean
  • Jack Wasserman as Vito
  • Fern Persons as Flower Lady
  • Arthur Smith as Gerald
  • Mike Genovese as Louis
  • Harry Gorsuch as Harry
  • George Brengel as Bookstore Man
  • Corin Rogers as Mark
  • Page Hannah as Sally
  • I.W. Klein as I.R.S. Man
  • Muriel Bach as Beauty Salon Boss Lady
  • Ronda Pierson, Linda Golla and Brenda Lively as Salon Girls
  • John Mohrlein as Thief
  • Sally Benoit as TV Interviewer
  • Thom Brandolino as TV Crewman
  • Jerry McKay as Pantyhose Peddler
  • Mario Tanzi as Racetrack Window Man
  • Rick Le Fevour as Mugger
  • Edna Moreno as Old Lady
  • Bert Weineberg as Monkey Man
  • James Hogan Jr. as Minister
  • Debbie Hall as Bride
  • Jami Gertz as Big Girl
  • Steve Marmer as Customer with a Cold
  • Chelcie Ross and Felix Shuman as Customers
  • Gil Cantanzaro Sr. as Cab Driver
  • Gil Cantanzaro Jr. as Truck Driver
  • James Andelin as Transit Cop I
  • Al Nuti as Transit Cop II
  • Mark Hutter and T.W. Miller as Policemen
  • George Barrow as Bit
  • David Selburg as Felix
  • Richard Morava as Traveler / Train Passenger (uncredited)


Though it received a number of reviews concluding that it was overly sappy or simply capitalizing on Coleman's TV following,[12][13][14] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune,[15] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times,[16] and Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times[17] gave it somewhat more positive reviews. Gary Coleman earned a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor for his performance in the film, but lost to Klinton Spilsbury for The Legend of the Lone Ranger.

The film was released on VHS in the 1980s, but it has never seen an official release on DVD. The movie has not received much attention in latter years, though a short article in Entertainment Weekly in 2004 compared the film to the then newly released Tom Hanks film The Terminal, where Hanks' character lives for months in an airport terminal.[18]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p234. Please note figures are rentals accruing to distributors and not total gross.
  2. ^ Blowen, Michael (21 April 1981). Review - Movie - Right Track, Wrong Direction - On the Right Track, The Boston Globe ("On the Right Track marks Coleman's feature film debut He plays Lester, a 10-year-old orphan who lives in luggage lockers in Chicago's Union Station")
  3. ^ Parish, James Robert. The Hollywood Book of Extravagance, (2007) (ISBN 978-0470052051)
  4. ^ (27 November 1980)Blacks on TV, Jet (magazine), p.54
  5. ^ a b (31 July 1980). Making a Film, Jet (magazine), p.41 (retrieved December 9, 2010)
  6. ^ Coleman Family & Davidson, Bill. Gary Coleman: Medical Miracle (1982) (ISBN 978-0425055953) ("It was Saturday, June 28, near the end of filming On the Right Track, Gary's first big theatrical movie for 20th Century-Fox distribution. It was about a young orphan, a horse-race-betting genius, who lives in a baggage locker in...")
  7. ^ Ebony Interview: Gary Coleman, Ebony (magazine) (June 1980), p.33, Retrieved December 9, 2010
  8. ^ (7 February 1980). Gary Coleman to do Two Feature Movies, Jet (magazine), p.61 (retrieved December 9, 2010)
  9. ^ Film Bulletin (1980), p. 10, 18 ("A Guy Could Get Killed Out There (Gary Coleman): Formerly titled "New York Loves Lester." Zephyr Productions presentation")
  10. ^ (11 July 1981). At the movies, Chicago Tribune ("Gary Coleman makes his movie debut as a high spirited orphan in "On the Right Track." 20th Century-Fox")
  11. ^ Movie Review: On the Right Track[dead link], Cineman Syndicate (January 1984)
  12. ^ Labonte, Richard (11 July 1981). Young TV Favorite Stars in Real Movie, Ottawa Citizen
  13. ^ Maslin, Janet (18 July 1981). 'Track', Vehicle for Middle-Aged Child Star, The New York Times ("On the Right Track is a vehicle for Mr. Coleman that depends entirely on the premise that he is lovable. Only his most ardent television fans are likely to accept this.")
  14. ^ Freedman, Richard (9 October 1981). 'On the Right Track' derailed by thin plot that goes nowhere, Times-News (Idaho)(Newhouse News Service copy)
  15. ^ Siskel, Gene (13 July 1981). 'On the Right Track' is just that--a truly charming Chicago movie, Chicago Tribune
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger. On the Right Track, Chicago Sun-Times (1981 review)
  17. ^ Thomas, Kevin (28 August 1981). "On the Right Track", is Generally, Los Angeles Times
  18. ^ Katz, Paul (25 June 2004). Planes, Trains, And..., Entertainment Weekly

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