Friday, January 21, 2011

Filming The Great Dethriffe, 1974

In early 1972, these two men approached my dad about making a movie out of his second novel, The Great Dethriffe.

It's the story of two young men who cling to the long vanished life-style of the 1920's. The men , George Dethriffe and Alred Moulton, try to model themselves on the myth of a Scott Fitzgerald hero. But their pursuit of nostalgia alienates their other friends and Dethriffe's marriage literally goes up in smoke.
The book did not sell well so Dad has some surprising news for his friend Peter Neill:

There is a man who seems determined to make a movie out of The Great Dethriffe. Someone named James Ivory who did Shakespeare Wallah and the more recent "Savages" ...It got very strange reviews--rather like the Peter O'Toole "The Ruling Class" which I saw and loathed. I never saw "Savages" but the reviewers, too, either loved it or left it. Ivory wants to make a movie only about the Dethriffe part, leaving out Alfred, Rome, the model, Hawaii, the brother etc. which distresses me since that part is the part I liked least, or at least felt least interesting (Rome bored my ass off, but I liked Alfred and what was going on in parts of it)

The money would be 3% of the operating budget which seems to be set at around $500,000 meaning I would get $15,000, plus 5% of the producers' profits after the film...which will be nonexistent...He wants Sam Waterston to play Dethriffe which makes for interesting circles within circles.

(That's because Dad had known Waterston for years)

I know that Sam liked the book, mentioned wanting to play the part, but he's a very big star now particularly since the TV production of Much Ado About Nothing was such a smashing success and he may price himself out of it. If only I could get Candice Bergen to play "Alice"...if only I could get "Candice Bergen.. if only...if

So I went back to read Dethriffe yesterday and hated every minute of it. Why is it so difficult to reread something after it has been published.

Two weeks later, Dad received some incredible news:

For God's sake they do want, they really honest-to God no -kidding-scout's honor do want CANDICE BERGEN to play Alice...and (Ivory) told me that he wants his writers to spend considerable amount of time with actors and actresses to get speech patterns and pace as well as sentiment *sigh*

In May and June, Dad began writing the dialogue for The Great Dethriffe. James Ivory wrote the rest of the sceenplay. Ismail Merchant apparently already had backers at hand when news came that Waterston had signed on to play Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby.

Dad's reaction:

"Echoes within echoes within echoes. I cannot see how it can do anything but exactly what I had intended.

In fact Dad, his wife Sam and James Ivory went to Newport to see them filming The Great Gatsby. Sam Waterston showed them around the set. They were up all night filming the party sequences with extras taken from the cream of Newport society.
At one point a woman caught Dad's eye.

A beautiful tiny blond with porcelain complexion came down the stairs with two tiny children...and she kept looking at me as though she wanted to ask me something ( Did I have any pacifiers? Could I cure diarrhea? What do you do when a child vomits on your beaded purse?) but then she went away I and asked Sam who it was. He said "Daisy Buchanan."

(Mia Farrow to those who don't remember.)
Though shooting was scheduled to begin in the fall, Ivory had not found a leading lady and the movie just vanished. Nothing came of it.

 As Dad wrote in 1976:

The timing was bad. The Fitzgerald resurgence occurred about two years after the book

But the postscript is interesting. Merchant and Ivory went on produce and direct two Oscar nominated films, A Room With a View and Howard's End.
And Sam Waterston would play his friend, my dad, in the ABC TV movie "Friendly Fire" .
Finally Dad would use his screenplay experience when he wrote Beautiful Woman, Ugly Scenes.

Echoes Within Echoes ...Within Echoes... Within Echoes.

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