I usually say I worked on 53 or 54 screenplays. That is a close number, but the truth is, I can’t be sure. I wrote about twenty screenplays before I began doctoring. When one doctors, one may be hired to do a section of a script or the whole thing. I honestly don’t know how I came up with the number, I only can assure that I worked on more than 50 scripts and less than 60. A lot of them were my own that were then doctored by others. The ones I doctored were mainly the work of the original screenwriters that usually had lived with their version so long and rewritten it so often that they could no longer see it. I came in, no more than a technician with a fresh eye, and could see pretty clearly what needed to be done. When I did it, usually under the duress of a shooting schedule that began in two weeks, if it worked I was regarded by the studio as a genius. I wasn’t and I knew it. I refused to take a credit for doctoring (which drove my agents wild.) The people who had done the work of writing the screenplay had done the heavy lifting and deserved the credit. I was a technician that was able to put the blueprint of a screenplay in order.
I include here a couple of examples from favorite projects. A FAN’S NOTES was made (badly in spite of some wonderful performances) in Canada by Warner Brothers. The Diamond as Big as the Ritz was written on spec without my owning the rights, was nevertheless optioned by Twentieth Century Fox, was budgeted with care and story-boarded, and I was sent with producer, director and production manager to scout locations around the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, North Carolina.It all worked! But as egos often explode, the director saw THE GODFATHER and demanded that the DIAMOND budget be quadrupled so he could do what Coppola did — as if anyone could. Our project was shelved and never saw the light of possibility again.
I also include enough pages of Madison Station, Madison Hill to completely hook an unsuspecting reader. It’s an original screenplay that I just discovered as I was putting together this web page. Never submitted or optioned, I’m not sure how it slipped through the cracks; I may have been too involved with other projects at the time. It’s a romantic murder comedy in present day small-town America, similar in style to Hitchcock’s THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY. It was written as a feature or a pilot, I can’t remember which. No matter, it’s a great read.
If anyone wants to try these three projects, please let me know. They’re all available! And when you read the selected scenes from the adaptations, don’t forget that so much of the good stuff comes from the underlying work. Having Fred Exley and F. Scott Fitzgerald supplying the goods was little short of pure joy.