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Posts Tagged ‘Edna Ferber’

Even though I’ve traveled to all 50 states in the U.S. and have been to every major city and most midsized cities, I’ve never been to Kalamazoo (metro pop. 326,589). I have been to Grand Rapids, Michigan and South Bend, Indiana— so I’ve been close. But did you know there’s been some big league talent from Kalamazoo? Hollywood talent.

Since this is a blog on screenwriting why don’t I start with one of the highest paid screenwriters in the history of motion pictures—Terry Rossio. Born right there in Kalamafrickin’zoo before he went on to pick up major checks for co-writing Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and the upcoming The Lone Ranger.

Novelist Edna Ferber whose work made it to the big screen many times including Cimarron, Show Boat, and Giant  (which starred Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean)—yep, she was born in Kalamazoo.

McG who directed We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation as well as executive producer on The O.C. and Check—born in Kalamazoo. Actor Tim Allen (Home Improvement) attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo where he majored in television production and worked as a DJ on the school radio station.

You can visit this IMDB link to see others in the film business with a connection to Kalamazoo, but perhaps the biggest name, highest achiever from Kalamazoo really does play in the big leagues.  That would be Derek Jeter who has played shortstop for the New York Yankees for the past 18 years. His list of accomplishments is astonishing; Rookie of the Year, American League MVP, All-Star Game MVP, World Series MVP, Golden Glove, and collector of five World Series rings. Recently he became just the 28th player in the history of baseball to cross the 3,000 hit plateau.

Jeter moved to Kalamazoo when he was four and played baseball at Kalamazoo Central High School where he was named USA Today’s High School Player of the Year his senior year in 1992. According to Wikipedia, when the Yankee’s were reluctant to draft Jeter because they thought he might take a scholarship to the University of Michigan, Yankee scout Dick Groch said, “The only place Derek Jeter is going is to Cooperstown.” And when Jeter’s career is over, he is in fact a sure bet to head to Copperstown, New York—home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

Once again proving that talent comes from everywhere.

P.S. According to the Kalamazoo Public Library, Kakamazoo appears to be a Native American word from the Potawatomi tribe and the word is generally believed to mean something like “boiling pot,” ‘where the water boils,” or “reflecting river.” The name of the village of Branson was changed to Kalamazoo in March 1836. A 1823 Atlas identifies the area as “Kikalemazo.”

Scott W. Smith

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“To be alive, to know consciously that you are alive, and to relish that knowledge–this is a kind of magic.”
Edna Ferber

“Life can’t defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death.”
Edna Ferber

Move over Tom Arnold.* On a recent shoot in Ottumwa, Iowa I learned that Arnold is not the only Ottumwan with ties to Hollywood. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edna Ferber (1885-1968) lived for a spell in Ottumwa.

Ferber’s novel So Big (for which she won the Pulitzer) was made into a movie—three times. The first was a silent film in 1924, the second version  (black & white with sound) starred Barbara Stanwyck in 1932, and the third incarnation was a color version in 1953 directed by Robert Wise and starred Jane Wyman and Sterling Hayden.  (Maybe a 3-D version is next.)

Ferber’s stories also made it to Broadway and Television—and in some cases her writings like Show Boat started as a novel, and became a Broadway play, and a movie. How many writers have pulled off that trifecta?  She wrote the play Dinner at Eight with Charlie Kaufman that also became a TV movie and the George Cukor directed film which featured John Barrymore and Jean Harlow.

Two of her best known works for film lovers are the western Oscar-winning Best Picture Cimarron (1960) and Giant (1956) which was directed by George Stevens and starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean. (How many people have overlooked the bottom of the Special Edition DVD: FROM THE NOVEL BY EDNA FERBER. (In 2009, Giant was adapted into a musical and performed at the Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia.)

Ferber’s first published work was Dawn O’Hara in 1911 meaning that her work is coming up on a 100 year run and still appears to have legs. Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, she began her literary career as a journalist after graduating from high school in Appleton, Wisconsin, before moving on to bigger stages in Chicago and New York.

In the book Great American Writers: Twentieth Century, R. Baird Shurman writes, “The triviality of the wealthy, the nobility of the working-class underdog, and the tragedy of senseless financial ruin are recurring themes in her work. These popular themes propelled Ferber’s career and ensured her popularity during the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II.”

“Edna Ferber is a small, peppery, restless, cosmopolitan, a Midwesterner transplanted to Park Avenue. She learned to write on a newspaper and retains a copy editor’s flair for strong simple themes and brisk sentences. Bold strokes. Challenges. Controversies. Crusades.”
Robert Wernick
Life magazine article The 3 Queens of Fiction
April 6, 1959

And while her time in Ottumwa was short it did impact her literary mindset (though not positively) according to Shurman, ” During Ferber’s early childhood years in Ottumwa, Iowa she and her family experienced unremitting anti-Semitism in a rough, marginally impoverished coal-mining town. Ferber recalled desperately running the gauntlet while taking her father’s lunch to the family store when she was young. Her witnessing of a lynching deeply impacted the young Ferber, as did recurring violent floods on the Des Moines River. The grim, dull life of the town and the often despondent attitudes of its inhabitants imprinted dark impressions on her imagination that ultimately inspired characters and plot elements in her literary works.”

Ferber’s work was also praised by Rudyard Kipling and she received an honorary doctorate from Columbia University. She was as part of the Algonquin Round Table, which was the subject of 1987 Academy-Award Winning documentary The Ten-Year Lunch. The writer’s group was also covered in the 1994 film Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, where Ferber was portrayed by Lili Taylor. Ferber’s autobiography is called A Kind of Magic.

Today Ottumwa is an All American City with a very nice performing arts center the Bridge View Center. Suitable for a revival of Show Boat.

* Though Tom Arnold grew up in Ottumwa, the town is probably more well-known to M*A*S*H fans as the home of the fictional character Radar OReilly from the book, movie, and TV show. (Or was the fictional character really based on Don Shaffer?)

Scott W. Smith

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