Screenwriters Who Should’ve Known Better

I can’t dis Hollywood screenwriters. I’ve got to work here.

Of course, there are the famous flubs, like Joe Eszterhas and Jade, or Towne fighting to keep Dunaway alive at the end of Chinatown, but mostly it’s writers brought down by substance abuse or bad marriages or, mostly commonly, an inability to make their living with a pen.

However, I am put in mind of one friend who should’ve know better, I guess. I’ll just call him Richard. He wrote a string of hits that you’d know, all genres. He could write anything. I was surviving, and not badly, just off scraps from his projects.

He married an actress and began spending more time in New York. He attended her rehearsals, mostly off off broadway, and O’Neill and Williams revivals. If you follow Broadway, you might get the impression that it’s all musicals anymore, but Richard found a lot to watch and think about theatrically.

His wife secured the role of Hesione Hushabye in Shaw’s Heartbreak House and he sat through the play innumerable times, and began tracking down other Shaw plays to watch as well. Then Hollywood called with a project, Cinderella meets Ugly Betty, and when he turned in his script, which is storied in the industry and which I read and which is probably mounted over in the flop Hall of Fame, he had Cinderella marrying the old and corrupt head of the world’s largest cosmetic company, killing him with kindness, as it were, and then converting the company to produce fertilizer, spending the rest of her life increasing crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa.

After a number of scripts like this, Richard left L.A. permanently. He became the resident writer and creative-writing chair at St. Felix of the Fields in update New York, and lived simply there.

3 Responses

  1. That sounds like a happy ending. I mean, wouldn’t you rather live in St. Felix in the Fields than in LA? Overall, I’d rather live in the Bay Area, but say St. FOF is where the jobs are…

    I do have a few questions. First, did the wife join him in St. FOF? Second, I’ve never read Shaw, and am wondering if all his heroines are as righteous as the one Richard invented. Finally, and thirdly, what’s a good Shaw play to read first?

    • You can read Shaw, but he is meant to be watched. His heroines aren’t exactly righteous, they’re usually struggling with the social issues of the times.

      Gabriel Pascal filmed Pygmalion, Major Barbara, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Androcles and the Lion. The BBC Play of the Month series did Heartbreak House, The Devil’s Deciple, Arms and the Man, Mrs.Warren’s Profession, The Millionaires, and one or two others.

      With Shaw, you must settle back for the 40-minute scene in which a variety of characters argue. That must be my thing, because I love it. For his most bald presentation of the choices a woman must make in a sexist society, I might choose Mrs. Warren’s Profession. It’s not spoiling anything to say that in that play, mom is a rich madame, graduated from hooker, and daughter is a poor engineer.

      In Major Barbara, the daughter gives up a life of good works on a personal scale (she’s a major in the Salvation Army) to head up the world’s largest arms company, but for reasons of social justice.

  2. I guess that would be St. FIF, not St. FOF. Funny how much funner “in” is than “of.”

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