I just finished reading Joe Eszterhas’s book The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God! and I admit it’s a page turner.
And he’s right about the fact that the screenwriter doesn’t get the credit he or she deserves. They’re only the one that makes everything up after all!
Until I looked it up, I couldn’t name the screenwriter for It’s a Wonderful Life (Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett if you’re scoring at home) a movie I’ve seen 20 times! I always thought of it as Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life or James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life.
But who thinks of it as It’s a Wonderful Life, the movie Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett made up in their head?
Well that’s it then. I’m inspired to do the right thing now. I’ll watch one of Eszterhaus’s movies.
Let me check the 1001 Movie book.
How about Flashdance? Not in the book, huh? But it made $200 million dollars or so worldwide, as Joe reminds us. Oh, well.
How about Basic Instinct? Not there either, eh. $500 million worldwide and Joe slept with Sharon Stone, which he also reminds us of more than once.
The Music Box? Not there either.
Showgirls? Are you kidding?
And I wasn’t really criticizing Joe about Sharon Stone. If I had slept with Sharon Stone, my blog’s URL would probably be www.isleptwithsharonstone.blogspot.com.
Oh yes, back to the screenwriter.
Looks like I’m going to have to leave Mr. Eszterhas and go elsewhere to find a screenwriter superstar, but I think I have a candidate.
Paddy Chayevsky only wrote the screenplays for a handful of feature films, yet he picked up Academy Awards three times. (Marty, The Hospital, and Network if you’re STILL scoring at home.)
I remember when Network came out. The name that was at the forefront wasn’t William Holden, Faye Dunaway or Sidney Lumet. It was screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky!
I also remember when Altered States came out. What we heard about this film wasn’t about William Hurt or Ken Russell, it was screenwriter Paddy Chayevsky! That and people saying, “Wouldn’t this be cool movie to see after you dropped acid?”
Anyway, the film that made Paddy Chayevsky about as big a household name as a screenwriter could possibly be was Marty.
Plot outline of Paddy Chayevsky’s Marty: Marty Piletti is a lonely 34-year-old butcher who lives with his widowed mother. He considers buying the place where he works, but first must get financial advice from his cousin Tommy. Tommy lives with his wife Virginia, their new baby and Tommy’s mother, Catherine. This living arrangement isn’t working out too well and Tommy and Virginia persuade Marty’s mother to let Catherine move in with her and Marty.
This isn’t Marty’s biggest problem. Marty’s biggest problem is that he can’t find a date. A self-described “fat, ugly” guy that doesn’t have whatever it is that women want, Marty seems to be confirmed to a life of bachelorhood, unlike his younger siblings who have all gotten married. But his mother convinces him to go to the Stardust Ballroom with his friend Angie in the hopes of picking up a “tomato.” Marty doesn’t have much luck there until he finds a plain woman named Clara who he witnesses getting the “brush off.” He comforts her. Gets to know her. And talks about himself. And talks. And talks. Marty is usually quiet, but obviously he has a connection with Clara, who turns out to be a teacher.
While walking the streets with Clara, he runs into some friends who want him to ditch the “dog” so he can help them make time with some nurses. Marty rejects their offer. He takes her home. He tries to kiss her. She refuses. He feel rejected. She tells him she likes him and wants to see him again. He begins to feel better and wants to see her again too.
His mother comes home. She doesn’t like Clara, mostly because she’s beginning to feel that if Marty ever got married, he’d want to get rid of her like Tommy & Virginia did to Catherine.
His friends don’t like her that much either. They talk Marty out of calling her the next day so he can hang out with them. While Marty is with his friends the next day, they basically just talk to each other meaninglessly. “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” Marty realizes he has made a mistake and tells his friends he doesn’t care what they or his mother think, he’s going to call Clara again because he really likes her.
Something else Chayevsky did that Eszterhas recommend for screenwriters to do is get extra screen credits. Especially easy is an executive producer credit! You don’t have to really do anything and it puts your name up on the screen an additional time. (Chayevsky is listed in Marty as Associate Producer, which I’m guessing is pretty much the same thing.)
Marty is really a pretty simple story, but well told and the characters are well drawn. Marty and Clara, of course. But also, Marty’s mother, Virginia and Tommy and Marty’s Friends.
I really liked the scene where Marty’s average Joe friends are talking about the realative merits of novelist Mickey Spillane.
Marty’s friend #1: Boy, that Mickey Spillane boy-he sure could write.
Marty’s friend #2: I read everything this guy wrote. What I like about Mickey Spillane is he knows how to handle women. In one book, he picks up this tomato. She’s hit by a car and she throws a pass at him. Then he meets two beautiful twins and they throw a pass at him. Then he meets a beautiful society dame and she throws a pass!
Marty’s friend #1: Boy, that Mickey Spillane boy-he sure could write.
Another nice slice of dialogue comes from the scene where Marty and Clara first meet.
Marty:You tell me you’re not so good looking. My father was a real ugly man, but my mother adored him…I used to adore my old man because he was always kind. That’s one of the most beautiful things I have in my life. The way my father and mother were. And my father was a real ugly man. So it doesn’t matter if you look like a gorilla. So dogs like us ain’t such dogs as we think we are.
Though I was writing this blog with screenwriting on my mind, I will take a minute to mention Ernest Borgniine, who also won an Oscar for Marty. On my Facebook account one of my friends is…none other than Mr. Ernest Borgine. Now whether or not the 93-year-old Borgnine is actually playing Farmville and Mafia Wars on Facebook or just has an associate representing his presence on Facebook, I don’t know. For all I know, Ernest Borgnine on Facebook might really be a 15-year-old girl with a brass nose ring and a mohawk. But I like to think it’s really Ernie. I do remember seeing a presumably legitimate list on some sight of Ernest’s ten favorite movies, where I believe he listed 5 of his own (You go Ernie!)
Anyway, there was a message from Borgnine on Facebook for his fans that read, “God Belch America and a how do ya do! SEEYAZ ERnie Borgstein.”
Of course, this could have been a message from the 15-year-old girl with the brass nose ring and the mohawk, but I like to think it was Ernie.
“God Belch America and a how do ya do! SEEYAZ ERnie Borgstein?” I don’t think even Joe Eszterhas could have put it any better.