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Posts Tagged ‘Ottumwa’

“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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“Let it roll off the tongue: Ali Farokhmanesh. Get used to it: Fuh-ROAK-muh-NESH.”
Brett McMurphy
NCAA Fanhouse

“When you’re a small program like this, you want to get your name out there.”
Ali Farokhmanesh


The name Ali Farokhmanesh is not a common name in Iowa. Probably not common in entire the United States. But it is a popular one here now and across the country. This week’s  Sports Illustrated has a picture of Ali on the cover and I thought I’d explore how Ali made a name for himself and found national fame. (Screenwriters and non-sports fans stick with me a minute.)

When his parents moved to Iowa when Ali was a teenager he took up the game of basketball because of its popularity here. His parents helped train him with techniques such as having Ali shoot over them holding a broom with a yardstick to simulate playing against taller players. At Iowa City West High School he was a two-time all-conference player, conference MVP, and first team All-State.

Are you starting to get the picture? That darn Iowa work ethic at play again.

But all those accolades did not result in a Division I scholarship that he had hoped for because Ali was not tall enough to be considered a major prospect. Nor did he receive a Division II scholarship. He ended up playing basketball in Ottumwa, Iowa at Indian Hills Community College his first year and Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids his second year. He played well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Northern Iowa where he started his Junior year. This season as a senior he lead the team in three-point shots with 75, including six in one game.

Of course, his biggest three pointers were last week when one beat UNLV at the NCAA basketball tournament and the one that broke the back of the number one ranked Kansas Bluejays. Ali said after the Kansas game, “That’s what you dream for is to make a shot like that.” But along with his dreaming he also normally practices shooting between  600-700 jumps shots a day—and he’s been doing that since his junior high days. (Remember the 10,000 hour rule?)

That’s how he ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That’s how he made a name for himself (albeit a hard one to pronounce).

“I just remember coming out of high school and not knowing if I was even going to play anymore. To go from that to, we’re in the Sweet Sixteen, we just beat the No. 1 team in the country. I mean, if someone would have told me that back then I would have laughed at them probably. But I think it shows that hard work really does pay off.”
Ali Farokhmanesh

I don’t know if Ali is interested in screenwriting (he’s a marketing major) but he’s got a heck of a story, and I think he just became the current poster child for Screenwriting from Iowa. That person who is talented but underrated and overlooked, and ends up in a community college in Ottumwa, Iowa dreaming of hitting a game winning shot in the spotlight. The person who works on his game far from the spotlight, but who with one shot makes a name for himself. And who ends up on the first page of Google search for “Ali,” replacing a slot usually reserved for one of the most well-known names in sports history, Muhammad Ali.

The funny thing is if he would have gotten a scholarship out of high school to his dream school (the University of Iowa) the odds are pretty good that he wouldn’t have hit the game-winning shot against Kansas that will be talked about for years, he wouldn’t be on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and he wouldn’t be playing tonight as the Northern Iowa tonight in the Sweet Sixteen game for the first time in the school’s history.

(Below are a couple photos I took Wednesday as Ali and the team boarded the bus here in Cedar Falls before they headed to St. Louis for their next game agaist Michigan St.)

Go Panthers!

And just to bring this home to screenwriting;  embrace your limitations, your odd location, hold on to your dreams, and practice the equivalent of 600-700 jump shots everyday.

P.S. And for the record Ali Farokhmanesh’s favorite film is Gladiator. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Related post: David & Goliath (and Screenwriting)

Scott W. Smith

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eldoniowajan092

Yeah, it’s kinda cold throughout the Midwest these days.  According to the weather channel’s website as I type this it’s -13 and feels like -35 here in Iowa. Is that legal? 

The cold weather is one of the reasons that half the people in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin drink so much and why the other half are screenwriters. Visit the various posts I’ve written on those states and you’ll know I’m only half kidding.

Yesterday I was shooting video all day in Tom Arnold’s old stomping grounds of Ottumwa, Iowa. Even shot some footage at his old school, Indian Hills Community College, and was told he was kicked out of the dorms there for rowdy behavior. (If you ever find yourself in Ottumwa make sure to eat a loose meat sandwich at the Canteen Lunch in the Alley which was the inspiration for The Lunchbox in the Roseanne Barr sitcom Roseanne.)

The last shot of the day was a short shot (a very short shot because it was zero outside) in Eldon, Iowa where the house sits that was the inspiration for the house in Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic.

But nothing quite warms my bones like the news of Nick Schenk’s Gran Torino script (that he wrote in Minneapolis) being the number one movie at the box office this week. 

But when I think of cold weather now I think of Canada, and of course they have there fair share of creatives up there so I found  a screenwriting quote that I dedicate to the them. It’s from the excellent Wordplayer website by writers Terry Russio and  Ted Ellott (whose writing credits include Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl).

“If there are two writers, one living in Toronto obsessively focused on quality and craft, and another in Hollywood, looking to make contacts — my money’s on the out of town writer all the way.”
                                                           Terry Rossio
                                                            I Love LA
                                                            Wordplayer Screenwriting Column 33

american_gothic

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