The Movie Was Better

Two years now, and I have been stalled on the novel I drafted 3-4 years ago, decided was unwieldly, and decided to tighten up. "Decided" here means I had a velleity to tighten it up into a swiftly moving current of irresistible reading pleasure. I did not do this, though I still fully intend to.

The story was simple enough. At a young age, though not a particularly tender one (who's tougher than a 14-15 year-old, I ask you) I was dragooned into being a panelist on a proposed kiddie show in New York. The writer/producer of this kiddie show seemed to have impeccable credentials. He had been a writer for two well-known daytime television programs, one an NBC game show and the other an intellectual children's show syndicated out of Boston by WGBH-TV. Soon after I was invited to join the cast, it became obvious to me that our impresario was a confused pederast who had brought me aboard as a sort of "beard." All the other kids involved in the show were boys--boys he had met on the street, and had attempted to seduce by offering them drugs and hopes of television fame. This had been going on for some months by the time he met me. Until then he didn't have any girls at all on the show, in fact probably wouldn't have known where to find them. Since I went to an all-girls school in Manhattan he must have figured he'd hit a mother lode. For months he inveigled me into bringing a schoolmate aboard, which I eventually did. At that point he declared the cast complete, and so we traveled around promoting our show on the strength of nothing more than our producer's stellar resume, a book of headshots, and some grainy black-and-white videos of us kids sitting around a table and trying to be witty.

The trouble with my draft of the novel was that it was heavily interlarded with some disturbing subplots that had nothing to do with the kiddie show. For example, I lived with an emotionally troubled--well, drunken and abusive--aunt in the West Village. She had a motley series of boyfriends, some of whom commanded several chapters in the novel. There was also a sick dog, a filthy West Highland White terrier, that I walked as a favor to one of our neighbors. The dog died while the neighbor was away (she was an actress who had landed a three-line role in a movie of The Great Gatsby, then filming in Newport, RI). You could say I killed the dog, even though it was nearly dead when I threw it in the river. I weighted it down in a pillowcase with an old steam iron and tossed it off the Christopher Street pier. I had to leave town, you see; we were taking our cast up to the public-television station in Boston. And then there was the Sal Mineo screenplay. Sal Mineo was a friend of the actress (the three-line actress in The Great Gatsby) and he had written a script called "Sacred Bubblegum," a fantasia in which the Sal Mineo character played Svengali to a dimwitted David Cassidy-like teen-idol. Sal's agent told him to write a "treatment" of the screenplay--that is, a short, punchy description of what it was all about. Sal asked the actress to read it (that is, the actress with the dog) and she promptly passed it on to me, on the grounds that since I was 14 years old I could probably understand it...

I could go on with this, but you see my point.

The story is just too unwieldy for a single novel. It is difficult to cut, though, because so much of it is true, and I have so much invested in it emotionally. But what if you made it into a movie! Think what a skilled scenarist would do with it. For one thing, my constant guilt over having killed the poor terrier (though I didn't really kill her) could be condensed into just a scene or two. The Sal Mineo subplot might disappear altogether. After all, the writer would reason, who today remembers Sal Mineo?

I'm thinking now of the book and movie of L.A. Confidential. If you know them both, you know that Ellroy's novel had many good parts that just couldn't make it into a tw0-hour film script. Too many murders, mutilations, and subplots revolving around child-molesters and the launch of a Disneyland-style theme park. The novel had just too much Grand Guignol to be taken seriously on screen. Instead, only a couple of the running plots were used, along with a handful of the leading characters, so that the movie had much of the smell but rather little of the story of the original.


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