Quite some time ago I mentioned an accidental meeting with a well-known writer and producer at Chicago’s Map Room. The producer and I had worked together on a project, Never Come Morning, Nelson Algren’s second novel about Polish youths gangs in 1940’s Chicago. Some history:
I had adapted the book into a play. This had a five-month run with Prop Theater, Chicago. It won awards. Later I was hired to do the film adaptation. Nelson Algren had two novels adapted: Man With The Golden Arm, nominated for three Academy Awards, and Walk On The Wild Side, Jane Fonda’s first major role, and Lawrence Harvey’s last movie. One would think Algren would have considered these cinematic forays successes.
The story goes that Otto Preminger virtually stole the rights to Man With The Golden Arm by getting Nelson drunk and signing away rights after a disastrous all-night poker game. Algren had no love for the movie and would often resist talking about it.
Flash forward, 20 years: With this history in mind, Prop Theater producers and I fought to “be true” to the original. We brought on the previously-mentioned film producer (Mad Dog and Glory, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). This would be his first directing gig. For that privilege he would open his Rolodex and bring leverage to bear. We would shop it around locally and in LA but keep close to the original material. Nelson Algren would not be screwed again.
The waiting began. The rejections came. Too dark, too dated. There was local interest, some nibbles, but they wanted us to toss out the novel’s gritty, brutal ending. The project was dismissed as “Rocky with a bummer ending.” Couldn’t we make it a bit more upbeat? No, we could not. Nelson Algren would not be screwed again!
Two years went by, ultimately there were no takers. The option came due and no one stepped up to plunk down $10,000 dollars. The option expired. Fade out.
Flash forward, five years. Our producer never lost interest in the property. Because rights were available, he took the project to Steve Conrad (Wrestling Earnest Hemingway, The Weatherman). Conrad, recognizing a good thing, ponied up the $10,000, and became the owner of the rights. The producer called me: “Sorry Paul, what can I do? No hard feelings.”
I had become the ex-writer.
Flash forward, one year. Conrad wrote his draft. The Producer called me again: “Steve’s not happy with the draft. We want to use elements of your script. You’re back in”.
Back in! Yes! But back in to what? There still wasn’t dollar one or stars attached.
Flash forward, one year: No bites. Nothing substantial. Conrad doesn’t pick up the option. It expires again. Seven years later, the project is back to square one.
This is the way it goes and goes. I have no doubt, one day, someone will re-option and make Never Come Morning (may you be cursed by hungry sand fleas if, after seeing this post, you option it and don’t seek me out to write the adaptation!)
What if they make Never Come Morning without me? Will I end up in a West Side crackhouse hallucinating about pool parties with Paul Shraeder that I should have had and never did?
Nah. It’s just the business. Go with the flow, ride it out, try not to get too high or too low. Like Tom Waits sang: “That’s life. That’s what all the people say. You’re riding high in April. Seriously shot down in May.”
I’ll leave you with one of the best title sequences of all time, from Nelson’s second movie, Walk On The Side. Enjoy!
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