The Novelist as Screenwriter

The Novelist as Screenwriter
The writers of Away We Go, Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida, have both had successful careers as novelists. Eggers gained national attention with his non-fiction novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and Vida’s 2003 novel And Now You Can Go, about a young woman confronting a horrific incident, won high praise from book critics across the country. And now the two, who are also married (to each other), have lapsed into cinema. But they are not alone in their straying. The history of cinema is filled with excellent writers who, for one reason or another, suddenly find themselves writing screenplays. The following slide show chronicles the fictions, films and follies of some those poor writers.
William Faulkner
The master of the complex Southern rhythms and storytelling found in novels like Light in August and The Sound and the Fury came to Hollywood in 1932 for the same reason many writers did - the money. Over the next 20 years, Faulkner wound up with six screenplays to his name, and many more on which he is uncredited--including the one which he deemed his best work, the script for Jean Renoir's The Southerner. Interestingly, he adapted only one of his own works. The story "Turn About" became Howard Hawks' 1932 Today We Live. That film also started Faulkner's lifetime association with Hawks, writing the scripts for two of the director's best known films--To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep.
Raymond Chandler
Chandler was arguably the greatest pulp writer of them all, a taut stylist and brilliant plotter who elevated the previously derided genre with masterpieces like The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely and The Long Goodbye. However writing novels didn't always pay the bills and Chandler resisted writing stories for the "slicks," so he ended up with an occasional gig writing screenplays for Hollywood. He resisted offers to write screen versions his own books, choosing instead to predominantly write adaptations of other novelists' work. His most famous screenplays are for Double Indemnity (written with Billy Wilder and based on James M. Cain's novel) and Strangers on a Train, which he co-wrote for Hitchcock from Patricia Highsmith's thriller. In 1946, he wrote his only original screenplay, The Blue Dahlia, a post-war noir starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.
Norman Mailer
In the 1960s, when the Nouvelle Vague had reinvented the rules of cinema and independent filmmaking was emerging as a genuine movement, creative voices outside of film got enthused enough to see what they could add to the conversation. Norman Mailer, the wild man author of The Naked and the Dead and The Executioner's Song, got into the swing of things by writing the obtuse police drama Beyond the Law (which he also acted in and directed) in 1968, roping in pals Rip Torn and George Plimpton to appear in it. Two years later, he once again teamed up with Torn as he wrote, directed and acted in Maidstone, about a movie director running for president. In 1987, he adapted and directed a version of his own noir mystery novel, Tough Guys Don't Dance, which starred Ryan O'Neal and Isabella Rossellini.
Gore Vidal
Perhaps best known today for his surgically sharp political essays, Gore Vidal was first a novelist. When Vidal published his third novel, The City and the Pillar, in 1948, he both cemented and torpedoed his literary career. Its frank narrative about the struggles of an openly gay man drew gasps and guffaws from New York's stuffy literary crowd, and they proceeded to ignore his succeeding novels. Vidal ended up turning to television and films to supplement his career. While under contract he added his touch to several big MGM productions, famously inserting a gay subplot into Ben-Hur, and Vidal is most infamous for his political (The Best Man) and pornographic (Caligula) work. Through the 70s and 80s, Gore was again writing fiction, churning out one epic historical novel after the next, although none of them became movies.
Truman Capote
Truman Capote's 1966 non-fiction novel In Cold Blood changed in many ways the history of American literature, as well as serving as the basis of at least three films: Richard Brooks' 1967 adaptation of the book and two biopics--Bennett Miller's Capote and Douglas McGrath's Infamous--about the writing of the book. But in between his work of crime reporter and New York socialite, Capote earned a living writing screenplays. While in Rome, Capote was hired by Vittorio de Sica to write dialogue for his 1953's film Indiscretion of an American Wife, and that same year John Huston brought Capote on to rewrite, page-by-page, the script of Beat the Devil as they were in production. But perhaps his oddest work was working with William Archibald to adapt Henry James ghost tale Turn of the Screw into 1961's The Innocents.
Terry Southern
In the late 1950s, Terry Southern exploded onto the literary scene with with three novels in quick succession, Flash & Filligree, Candy and The Magic Christian. Candy - a scandalously raunchy female version of Voltaire's Candide - in particularmade him a literary star(though at the time the book was ascribed pseudonymously to "Maxwell Kenton"), and it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling to utilize Southern's ultra-hip edginess and shock value. All of the films Southern lent his talents to benefited from his subversive sense of humor and inherent understanding of contemporary mores, from Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and Roger Vadim's Barbarella to Easy Rider (for which Southern was Oscar-nominated) or his incendiary adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, co-written with Christopher Isherwood.
Christopher Isherwood
Undoubtedly more people know the Cabaret than they do The Berlin Stories, the Christopher Isherwood book on which the movie musical is based. But while much of Isherwood's literary work still lives in the shadow of Bob Fosse's 1972 film, Isherwood made a name for himself in Hollywood. The English writer left Berlin as Hitler came to power, eventually settling down in Hollywood in 1939. There he not only mingled with the expatriate English community, but also found work through many of his European friends. His first job was help adapt James Hilton's novel Rage in Heaven. He worked through the 40s doing various rewrites and dialogue before focusing solely on his own novels. He didn't return to screenwriting until he was hired to adapt Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, a dark comedy of an Englishman lost in Los Angeles.
Joan Didion
Joan Didion gained national attention when her second novel, Play As It Lays, was nominated for a 1970 National Book Award for its chilly depiction of the destruction that Hollywood creates. The next year Didion became part of the film world when she co-wrote with her husband John Gregory Dunne The Panic in Needle Park, and then in 1972 adapted (again with her husband) her own novel Play As It Lays. As she continued to hold up a cool magnifying glass to Hollywood and LA in essays and books, she also made a living co-writing such movies as the Streisand remake of A Star is Born and Up Close & Personal.
John Fante
Fante's writing was discovered by a young Charles Bukowski who was then inspired to put pen to paper, but had it not been for Bukowski's active efforts to bring attention Fante's work he might have remained almost completely unacknowledged. While Fante now is seen as one of the most influential writers of his era, he struggled to make ends meet for much of his life and so took Hollywood's dime just to get by. Fante actually strongly disliked writing screenplays - viewing it as hackwork compared with his other (much purer) literary pursuits - and would later take pot shots at the movie world in his book West of Rome. Despite all that, from the 1935 kids movie Dinky through to the 1966 adventure movie Maya, Fante sporadically swallowed his pride to bash out screenplays or stories for movies he felt were below his dignity. Walk on the Wild Side, the 1962 movie based on Nelson Algren's bordello-set novel, may be his most acclaimed movie. In 1956, Fante adapted his own novel Full of Life, which was directed by Richard Quine and starred Richard Conte and Judy Holliday.
Larry McMurtry
While some people know Larry McMurtry as the screenwriter who received a Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award (along with Diana Ossana) for Brokeback Mountain, others cherish him as America's great novelist of the West. Although to be honest, he's also adapted many of his own novels (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, Horseman, Pass By, and The Last Picture Show) for film and television. As such, McMurtry has wrapped together two careers: traveling to Hollywood regularly to meet with film and television executives and staying home in Texas tapping out another novel on his typewriter.

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