Incidental Acts of Spontaneous Cerebral Violence

Thursday, April 22, 2004

FSF does Hollywood

Talk about coincidence.

I just impulse purchased a copy of The Pat Hobby Stories, a series of fictionalized short pieces (originally published in Esquire) describing Fitzgerald’s experiences working for Universal in 1939 and 1940. I brought the book with me to read while on conference calls today.

Imagine my utter surprise when I saw Charles McGrath’s FSF article in today’s New York Times. The article describes FSF’s Hollywood work, a colossal failure by all accounts, in some detail:

Fitzgerald worked briefly and unsuccessfully as a rewrite man on a few other projects (including, for a disastrous week or so, "Gone With the Wind," for which he was forbidden to use any words that did not appear in Margaret Mitchell's text). But after "Three Comrades," his main MGM projects ended in failure. One, a movie called "Infidelity," which was intended for Joan Crawford, was canceled because the Breen Office, which controlled standards for the movie industry, took a dim view of pictures about adultery.

Like so many would-be screenwriters, Fitzgerald thought he could beat the studio system. He wrote to his daughter, Scottie, that he intended "to find out the key man among the bosses and the most malleable among the collaborators — then fight the rest tooth and nail until, in fact or in effect, I'm alone on the picture." But in the end the studio won, as it most always did, partly because Fitzgerald was an often grudging and reluctant collaborator and partly, perhaps, because his gifts never suited the medium in the first place.

A bit of advice to aspiring screenwriters: If you want to succeed in Hollywood, make sure you lack anything resembling genuine literary ability. The best scripts on paper are consistently the worst movies. Other than "About a Boy", I cannot think of a recent book that was improved upon by its cinematic adaptation.

By the way, Charlie Kaufman is the exception that proves the rule.

No Hollywood Ending for Fitzgerald, Papers Show

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