Saturday, March 2, 2013


I swear to You-know-who, I honestly did not know that the movie The Lost Weekend was based on a book until I read this article in Vanity Fair. I didn’t care for the movie, so I doubt I’d care for the book, either. It was just too depressing, a real downer. I suppose the fact that my father imbibed a bit....  

 The Lost Weekend—a novel about five disastrous days in the life of alcoholic Don Birnam—was an improbable success when it was published in 1944. Rejecting the novel, Simon & Schuster had assured its author that it wouldn’t sell in the midst of a World War (“Nobody cares about the individual”); within five years of its publication by Farrar & Rinehart, The Lost Weekend sold almost half a million copies in various editions and was translated into 14 languages. [I always like to hear about the success of scripts which were initially rejected by biggies.]
 Production began in October, and the first sequence to be shot was Don Birnam’s slog along the pawnshops of Third Avenue, which Wilder had decided to shoot on location in New York rather than try to re-create that particular jumble of scenery—including the El and its jagged shadows—on a Paramount soundstage. Lest a crowd of pedestrians interfere, cameras were concealed inside delivery trucks and empty storefronts, and for three weeks a disheveled, unshaven Milland waited in a cab for his cue to shamble along for another block or two while the cameras furtively rolled. (Once, he was recognized by a motorist who happened to know someone at Paramount. “I just want to tell you,” the man reported, “that I saw your friend Ray Milland dead drunk on Third Avenue. If I were you I’d try to get hold of him and straighten him out.”)
 When the movie almost swept the Oscars in March 1946—winning for best picture, best director, best screenplay, best actor, and three other awards—Jackson learned, without much surprise, that his name hadn’t been mentioned once during the ceremony. Brackett, who’d won (with Wilder) for best screenplay, wrote to him afterward, “For the reason of your omission, the rules of Academy Presentations are to be changed to include a brief speech by the winners in future, if that’s any comfort.”
 Alas, over time the movie became such a classic that even literate people tended to forget that it had been based on an acclaimed best-seller of the same name. “I have become so used to having people say ‘We loved your movie’ instead of ‘We read your book,’ ” wrote Jackson, “that now I merely say ‘Thanks.’ ”

I’m reminded of Sam Malone of "Cheers." Sumner, one of Diane’s previous lovers, returned hoping to win her back, but Sam didn't want to lose her. So to impress Diane, Sam struggled through what he had heard was the best piece of literature, War and Peace, in five days’ time. When Diane chose Sam, he asked her why: “You did it for me. I think it was harder for you - call it a hunch.”  It was then someone mentioned there was the movie War and Peace, to which he said (paraphrasing): It was a MOVIE!?

Isn’t it always the case: make a movie from a bestseller and it’s the movie everyone remembers. -- I could live with that.


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