Back in January, I wrote a post about The Jazz Singer and how that movie was based on a Samson Raphaelson play and short story. The Jazz Singer was Raphaelson’s first film credit, but he went on to write and gain credits for more than a total of five decades. His two most well-known scripts were The Shop Around the Corner (1940) which starred Jimmy Stewart and was directed by Ernst Lubitsch, and Suspicion which featured an Oscar-winning performance by Joan Fontaine. (The film also co-starred Cary Grant and was directed by Alfred Hitchcock.)
It turns out he wrote a book back in the late forties called The Human Nature of Playwriting. I’m not sure if any other screenwriting blogs have discovered this book, but I had never heard of it before. It’s out of print, but I tracked now a copy at screenwriter John August’s old stomping grounds—Drake University in Des Moines. I don’t know if August ever checked this book out from the Cowles Library back in his undergraduate days, but I’m guessing it’s been there a couple of decades.
So a couple of months ago when I was doing some post-production work in Des Moines I found my way to the Drake campus to do a quick read of Raphaelson’s book. Raphaelson was born in New York City in 1894, but according to an article by Smith Glaney he spent his teenage years in Chicago and studied English at the Illinois Institute of Technology. (He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1917 and that’s where his papers are archived.*) In the spring of 1948, well into his career, Professor Fred S. Slevert asked Raphaelson to speak to the school of Journalism at U of I. A stenographer was on hand to record the entire four-month class. And that was the basis for the book. And there it sits on the shelf at Drake, right next to the classic Kenneth Rowe book Write that Play.
So for the next few days I’ll pass on some quotes from the class.
“The creative piece of writing—play, story, poem, rides on emotion. Usually on the emotion of the central character. By emotion I mean hunger, a desire, something burning under that character, humming and beating like a motor, sending him forward.”
The Human Nature of Playwriting
*Back in 1921 Raphaelson wrote the fight song for the University of Illinois— “Fight, Illini!: The Stadium Song.” The next year he wrote the short story The Day of Atonement which got published and later became the play The Jazz Singer.
P.S. Excellent article where Betty Kaklamanidou compares Little Shop Around the Corner with the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film You’ve Got Mail.