I love movies about writers and the power of writing so when I noticed the trailer for Trumbo, based on the life of blacklisted Hollywood writer Dalton Trumbo, I had to see it right away – and I did and now I recommend you see both the trailer – and the film. The script was adapted from the book by Bruce Cook (which is also worth reading) by John McNamara, who I remember pitching to when he was a producer on The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. (which was the show he did before his long run on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, which itself was the ‘new Superman’ before Smallville arrived on the scene).
Anyway, what I enjoyed about the trailer is the idea that this is not just a plot-laden movie about the guy who wrote Roman Holiday (another movie you should see) with a front during the Blacklist; Trumbo the movie looks to be a movie about ideas and the freedom of speech and thought that is at the heart of the Constitution of the United States. As I said, I love movies about writers and the journeys to find their own voices and Trumbo’s story is one of those – along with the chance to make choices about what is worth standing for in this world – and the fact that those choices can lead to sacrifices – he spent 11 months in jail. And as you’ll see in the trailer – John Goodman is in the movie so how can it miss?
Random fun from my research – where were you (or were you) for the 1966-67 Television Season? Which shows did you watch then and which in reruns years later?)
Top 30 Network Programs by household ratings
(Households with TVs – 55.15 million)
Bonanza (NBC) – 29.1
The Red Skelton Hour (CBS) – 28.2
The Andy Griffith Show (CBS) – 27.4
The Lucy Show (CBS) – 26.2
The Jackie Gleason Show (CBS) – 25.3
Green Acres (CBS) – 24.6
Daktari (CBS) – 23.4
Bewitched (ABC) – 23.4
The Beverly Hillbillies (CBS) – 23.4
Gomer Pyle USMC (CBS) – 22.8
The Ed Sullivan Show (CBS) – 22.8
The Virginian (NBC) – 22.8
The Lawrence Welk Show (ABC) – 22.8
A Family Affair (CBS) – 22.6
The Dean Martin Show (NBC) – 22.6
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (CBS) – 22.2
Hogan’s Heroes (CBS) – 21.8
CBS Friday Night Movies (CBS) – 21.8
The Wonderful World of Disney (NBC) – 21.5
NBC Saturday Night Movies (NBC) – 21.4
Dragnet 1967 (NBC) – 21.2
Get Smart (NBC) – 21.0
Rat Patrol (ABC) – 20.9
Petticoat Junction (CBS) – 20.9
That Girl (ABC) – 20.8
Bob Hope (NBC) – 20.7
Tarzan (NBC) – 20.5
ABC Sunday Night Movie (ABC) – 20.4
The FBI (ABC) – 20.2
I Spy (NBC) – 20.2
My Three Sons (CBS) – 20.2
CBS Thursday Night Movies (CBS) – 20.2
Spent the first day of my summer vacation (which didn’t start until all grades everywhere were calculated and posted) in my most favorite way to spend a day – reading an entire book in my garden in a series of sittings (interrupted by tea and lunch and hanging laundry and dinner, etc). What book you ask? Something deep and dark like War and Peace or Dr. Zhivago? Nope. I opted to open my summer with the autobiography of an old friend, though we’ve never met (though why he never appeared as a guest on Touched by an Angel is a mystery to me). Tim Conway, aka Ensign Parker on McHale’s Navy; aka Barnacleboy on Spongebob Squarepants aka a dozen crazy characters on The Carol Burnett Show.
Why did I choose that to begin my summer reading? Partly because he was raised in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, where my Mom used to take me for ice cream treats during the summer; partly because he graduated from Bowling Green State University (as Doug and I did); and partly because I knew it would be full of fun tidbits about the early days of radio and television both in Cleveland (where he worked with Ernie Anderson before he became Ghoulardi) and in Los Angeles. Just about as funny as the book Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III) wrote with his wife, Henny, in the 1980s.
Conway’s book is full of funny stories about scrambling to fill time on early radio and television shows and honest discussions of being happy in life even if you’re always the second banana, never the star. He talks about being raised by his immigrant parents – Dad Daniel from Ireland and Mom Sophia from Romania — and then raising his own 6 kids with their lessons in his mind all the time. He talks about being bilingual (English and Romanian) and losing that second language as he grew up. He talks about the joy and honor of meeting and working with the great stars of his childhood movie-viewing including Cary Grant and Ernest Borgnine and his enthusiasm for all the blessings in his life is catchy.
I smiled often until page 70 when I fell on the floor laughing (much as I did while watching all those Carol Burnett shows in elementary school) and pretty much never got back in my chair. It was too precarious to ponder. I found myself regaling Doug with several of the stories even as he tried to read something else. If you’d like to spend some time in happy company I highly recommend What’s so Funny?
While I have much grading to do as always, I was drawn to spend the weekend reading Gidget (by Frederick Kohner) thanks to my friend Ken Lazebnik’s book Hollywood Digs which includes an interview with the real life Franzie Kohner who IS Gidget. In fact, she kindly appeared with Ken at a book reading he did in Malibu recently.
Before actually reading the book I didn’t know gidget stood for “girl midget” since she was so small on her surfboard (and now wonder how many women were named Gidget without now that); I didn’t know her father was a refugee from Nazi Germany who came to LA to be a screenwriter; and I didn’t know the book was going to be so good (both Gidget AND Hollywood Digs! – which I knew would be good because Ken is such a wonderfully evocative writer). I suggest them both.
Turns out when it was released Gidget was compared favorably to Catcher in the Rye by book critics… and probably lost its edge in readers’ minds thanks to the bubblegum reputation the films gave the story – compounded by the fact that it was a girl’s coming of age story and not a boy’s. I learned long ago in teaching American Literature, to an all girl high school of all things, that educators believe girls will read about boy protagonists (in an effort to understand them enough to hook them) but boys will not be as enthusiastic about reading the story of a girl protagonist). So schools adjusted and chose mostly books with male protagonists for high school students of both sexes to study, which means boys lost the chance to learn the lessons first generation immigrants surviving economic hardship from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, among other losses.
Of course, the advent of such things as The Hunger Games trilogy seems to belie that idea — but you’ll notice publishers felt that in order to engage boy readers Katniss needed to wield a weapon, not merely master a craft like surfing. Another reason to return to reading Gidget.
And all of this mulling reminds me of a TED Talk on How Movies Teach Manhood that I showed students the other day by Colin Stokes, director of communications for the non-profit Citizen Schools. He compares the heroine of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy Gale from Kansas, to Luke Skywalker of everyone’s much beloved Star Wars and finds that Dorothy triumphs by mastering the leadership skills of working with others and bringing them together toward a common goal that benefits all while Luke triumphs as an individual by mastering a violent skill that requires killing the enemy to win.
My comparison between Gidget and Catcher seems similar in that Gidget experiments in the world of romance and sex without needing to make the acquaintance of a hooker – yet high schools read Holden’s story as literature and are never exposed to Gidget’s story at all.
Happy to say that I just received my copy of Torchwood Declassified in the mail – it has a chapter about the 3rd season arc “Children of Earth” that I co-wrote with my friend, Martin Griffin and for which we all trooped to Cardiff a few summers ago to deliver the paper that became the chapter. Great memories – and a great line for the CV!
I read this review of Backbeat, the new theatrical musical about the early days of the Beatles, to my MFA writing class because of its discussion of ‘the Jerome Robbins question’. Apparently when working on a new show Robbins would always ask for a one word description of the play.
For example, for Fiddler on the Roof the word was ‘tradition’. For this play about the Beatles, the word was ‘courage’. Read the review to figure out why – and try this same question in your own writing!
In telling the pre-history of the Beatles, director David Leveaux aims to make the action of both the music and drama converge in the Ahmanson-bound show.
Searching for his way into the new musical “Backbeat,” which examines the Beatles’ early days (and nights) in Hamburg, Germany, David Leveaux asked himself what he called “the Jerome Robbins question.”
It’s a tactic he picked up in 2004 while overseeing a Broadway revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.” That show’s book writer, Joseph Stein, was recounting his experience on Robbins’ original 1964 production and told Leveaux that one day the director asked, ‘OK, so what is this musical about? I want one word,'” Leveaux said.
This post begins my new series, Writers on Writing, (or WOW!) — a collection of the kinds of articles I bring to the attention of my writing classes on a regular basis.
This piece on Philippa Boyens seems like a nice place to start since she discusses the ten year odyssey she’s been on since agreeing to help adapt the world of J.R.R. Tolkien with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. She is particularly interesting when analyzing how writing The Hobbitt is different from Lord of the Rings.
Read on McGuff – and watch this spot for more WOW in the future. Feel free to send me good things you read about writing and I’ll post those as well. — Rosanne
“There and Back Again” is the subtitle of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” and it would certainly serve handily for a biography of many of those involved in taking the book to film, though none perhaps as well as Philippa Boyens.
Asked one day in 1997 if, as a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, she might have any interest in helping out friends and fellow New Zealanders Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh adapt “The Lord of the Rings” for film, Boyens, a former teacher and then executive director of the New Zealand Writers Guild, shrugged and said, “Sure, why not?”
Even though it’s about a film made in 1996 that even die hard Robert Redford fans have not likely seen (Up Close and Personal), this book about writing a blockbuster film by John Gregory Dunne discusses Hollywood honestly – especially as it deals with married screenwriters like he and his wife Joan Didion.
You don’t need to love the film to like this book about how a classic came together. I like the way Harmetz gives backgrounds on all the supporting characters and we learn how many were refugees from Nazi regimes.
McGillligan has 4 more books in this series – each one containing long, interesting interviews with screenwriters from a particular era from the 1920s to the 1990s. And as we all know, writers are highly entertaining conversationalists!
What’s to say except this is a great book if you love The Godfather – but even if you don’t it is a good reminder of how certain movies become entrenched in our national culture – and can do things like make us more comfortable with minorities so that they soon become majorities.
Early 1960s television characters came in a one-size-fits-all, squeaky-clean-cut style, from Dr. Kildare in his white lab coat, to Hoss Cartwright in his white Stetson, to Sr. Bertrille in her white habit. That lasted until 7:30 p.m. Monday, September 12, 1966 when four long-haired teenagers began dancing a Monkeewalk while singing, “Hey, Hey, We’re the Monkees.”
Though it looked simple enough, the comedy was about more than four struggling musicians living in a beach house they couldn’t afford, without adult supervision, and hoping for success while engaging in Marx(Bros)ian humor. According to star Micky Dolenz, the only actor with previous television series experience: “It brought long hair into the living room and changed the way teenagers were portrayed on television.”
Dolenz’s opinion is backed up by psychologist and author Timothy Leary in The Politics of Ecstasy: “While it lasted, it was a classic Sufi[ism] put-on. An early-Christian electronic satire. A mystic magic show. A jolly Buddha laugh at hypocrisy. And woven into the fast-moving psychedelic stream of action were the prophetic, holy, challenging words. Micky was rapping quickly, dropping literary names, making scholarly references.”