In remembrance of Paul on his birthday, I bring back an updated post from the past.
NOTE: This was supposed to post a week ago on January 25, but I messed up. Sorry.
This is about the first novel I had published, La Desperada.
It’s about the script adaptation I wrote that was based on that novel.
It’s about Paul Newman.
It’s about a lot of things.
But mainly, it’s about how (if I want to do the Hollywood stretch) I almost wrote a script for Paul.
Or if you want to do the reality check, it’s about how I maybe almost talked to him on the phone. I think.
And it’s about a book by Gwendon Swarthout called The Homesman.
Some years ago one of the producers on the film UNFORGIVEN read my western script, liked it a lot, and said to me, “You know, as I was reading this, I thought, this is the writer who needs to adapt THE HOMESMAN for Paul Newman.”
That is a moment. A Moment. Somebody actually tied me as a screenwriter to a project for Paul Newman. Not that he was in position to do anything about it, mind you. But still. It put an idea in my head. (Dangerous place for ideas, my head.)
I read THE HOMESMAN and loved a lot of it–except for (no spoiler here, I’m restraining myself with great difficult) how the female protagonist dealt with her loss near the end. And I knew, yes, I could write the hell out of this script, but not if Paul (he was Paul in my mind by this point) wanted THAT to happen!
I wrote Paul (well, it was official correspondence so I called him Mr. Newman as it didn’t seem right to call him Paul) and told him what I’d been told, and that I’d love to offer myself up for the task of adapting The Homesman for him.
I really did that.
It gets worse.
I did that knowing–KNOWING–that the script he’d been shopping around trying to get made was supposedly causing all sorts of problems because everybody “knew” that despite whatever name was on the script, Paul had written it himself. And nobody wanted to say, “Paul, this script is bad.”
So it didn’t get made, it kept getting passed around, and…
I wrote and offered my services as a screenwriter.
*takes a bow*
Yes, that is chutzpah.
Of course nothing came of it.
Until many months later, I came home from somewhere to find a message on my answering machine. A voice said, “Call for Patricia from Mr Newman.” And when I didn’t answer, there were murmurs and then a voice continued, “Mr Newman wanted to thank you for your interest in The Homesman, but he isn’t looking for a writer at this time. If his plans change, he will let you know.”
I almost fell flat on the floor. ON the FLOOR, people.
First of all, it sounded distinctly as if–had I been home–I might have actually spoken to MR NEWMAN my own sassy self! (That murmuring in the background? I am sure it was Paul-murmurs. Seriously. I could tell.) (Okay, maybe in retrospect I decided I could tell.) (Okay, I have no idea, but it had to be, didn’t it? Oh hush.)
At any event, his asst had called to pass verbally, and so nicely and–
Well, I eventually started breathing again.
And that was the end of it.
My brush with almost maybe writing a script for Paul Newman, okay, maybe almost talking to him on the phone.
Moving forward… I’d had a few people tell me that my book reminded them of Unforgiven in several ways (though my book was published first), and then this mention of my potential skill with the material in the The Homesman, and then…
One day I was looking for book comparisons for my new ebook, La Desperada, so I could say, if you like THIS you might like mine, it has been compared to Unforgiven* only with a love story and sex,” and somebody said, “This might be helpful. Unforgiven was written by a guy who was influenced by a novelist, did you know that? He was influenced by Gwendon Swarthout, who wrote The Shootist and The Homesman.”
As comparisons go, it probably doesn’t help me a lot, as these are books which I suggest very few of my target audience will have ever read.
And yet it felt very odd, like a voice from the distant past bring back a producer from Unforgiven and a near-brush with Paul Newman and The Homesman and…
I like to think that if Gwendon Swarthout had ever written a western with love and sex, somebody just might have said to him, “You know what, this reminds me a lot of that book by Patricia Burroughs….”
* I could tell you about the time my script got couriered to Carmel because Clint wanted to read it, but that would just be name-dropping.