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Posts Tagged ‘Travels with Charley’

“During the 1920s, at the height of his fame and literary power, Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951) was more than a bestselling author. He was a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace whose novels were hotly discussed as social criticism more than literature.”
                                    
Morris Dickstein 

Writers are curious folks. They explore the side roads of life physically, mentally and spiritually. Maybe no more than other people at the start, but after they’ve turned over a rock they tend to ponder what they find longer than most and then write down what they see. And what they write often makes the rest of us take a second look at what they’ve observed. 

And if the writer has done their job well it makes us curious as what inspired the writer in the first place. Over the years I’ve found myself in little corners of the country trying to get a glimpse what may have inspired people who have inspired me; Hemingway’s house in Key West, Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s house in rural Cross Creek, Florida and Walden Pond where Thoreau lived for a spell.

Apparently John Steinbeck did the same thing. He writes in Travels with Charley about going to Sauk Centre, Minnesota which is now the proud birthplace Nobel-Prize winning novelist Sinclair Lewis. Though they weren’t always proud of their native son who brought an x-ray to the town with his writings and examined the lives they were living. Steinbeck who became friends with Lewis observed how Sauk Centre embraced Lewis after he died;

I had read Main St. when I was in high school, and I remember the violent hatred it aroused in the countryside of his nativity.
     Did he go back?
    Just went through now and again. The only good writer was a dead writer. Then he couldn’t surprise anyone any more, couldn’t hurt anyone any more. And the last time I saw him he seemed to have shriveled even more. He said, “I’m cold. I seem to be always cold. I’m going to Italy.”
     And he did, and he died there, and I don’t know whether or not it’s true but I’ve heard he died alone. And now he’s good for the town. Brings in some tourists. He’s a good writer now.

Main Street was made into a movie in 1923 and in total there have been more than 30 of Lewis’ stories that have become movies or TV programs. The most lasting of his stories made into movies seems to be Elmer Gantry. (The book was published in 1927 and caused quite a stir and was even banned in certain parts of the country.) But the 1960 film about a phony preacher would be a cliche if written today. 

Certainly fallen Catholic and Protestant leaders haven’t helped their cause in the last 20 years, but when’s the last time there was a positive portrayal of a minister, pastor, or priest in a major Hollywood movie? Maybe On the Waterfront in 1954? 

Related post: Screenwriting Quote of the Day #18 (Sinclair Lewis)

 

Scott W. Smith 

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Though writer John Steinbeck has been dead for more than 40 years he’s been in the news a few times this year. Earlier in the year producer Brian Glazer announced he was going to remake East of Eden, last month the DVD was release of the six-hour production of East of Eden that first aired on ABC back in 1981 and starred an outstanding cast including Jane Seymour (in which she has said was “the best role of my career”), and also last month one of the 25 DVD movies President Obama gave UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown was Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.  

More than 15 of his stories have found their way to film and TV screens including Of Mice and Men back in 1939 and the quirky Cannery Row with Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. (Did you know that Hitchcock’s Lifeboat was based on a Steinbeck story? And that it was one of his three Oscar nominations?)

One of my favorite books is John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, In Search of America. I was reading it again yesterday and stumbled upon this little gem:

“I have never passed an unshaded window without looking in, have never closed my ears to a conversation that was none of my business. I can justify or even dignify this by processing that in my trade I must know about people, but I suspect that I am simply curious.”
                                                                    John Steinbeck
                                                                    Travels with Charley 

But you probably want a quote from Steinbeck more in line with writing so here that is: “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”

 


 

Scott W. Smith

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