Monday, January 24, 2011

Apocalypse Now, and Then: Earliest Known Script Surfaces

by Stephen J. Gertz

A very early draft shooting script, the earliest known, dated December 5, 1969, of Francis Ford Coppola's Viet Nam epic, Apocalypse Now, has come to market.

The screenplay was the property of actor Lee Marvin, who Coppola  solicited to portray the role of "Colonel Karnage," a character that would be renamed "Colonel Kilgore" and ultimately played by Robert Duvall in the classic film that was eventually produced, and released in 1979 - a full ten years after this draft was written.

Accompanying the script, ultimately co-written by Coppola and John Milius, is Coppola's handwritten note to Marvin:

"Mr. Lee Marvin / We'd like you to play the part of Colonel Karnage in Apocalypse Now. We're an independant [sic] company in San Francisco financed by Warner Bros. It's a good script. / Sincerely / Francis Ford Coppola."

Coppola was working on the project before writing and/or producing or directing THX-1138, American Graffiti, Patton, The Godfather, Godfather II, and The Conversation; he conceived it in the founding year of American Zoetrope, his ambitious production company. Indeed, the script is bound in an American Zoetrope wrapper, possesses the corprorate logo on the title page, and the accompanying note was written on the company's embossed stationary. Milius is given sole credit here; he later  shared credit on the final script with Coppola, and Michael Herr would receive a separate credit for his narrative dialogue. Coppola loosely based the film upon Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, presumably tossing out Milius's original idea and title: The Psychedelic Soldier.

"If I say it's safe to surf this beach, then it's safe to surf this beach...
Charlie don't surf!"

While it is difficult to imagine anyone other than Duvall in the role of Kilgore - he wholly possessed it - it must be admitted that Lee Marvin, an ex-Marine wounded during the Battle of Saipan in WWII, would have been equally commanding in the role as the napalm- and surf-lovin' Lt. Col. Kilgore, though, granted, Marvin, in his mid-fifties at the time of the film's production, would have been a senior, silver-haired surfer.

The movie received eight Academy Award nominations, including Best, Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay.

The script is being offered at $15,000 by Royal Books of Baltimore, MD.

[MILIUS, John]. Apocalypse Now. San Francisco: American Zoetrope, Dec. 5, 1969. Earliest known draft. Quarto. ALS is 11 x 8.5 inches on Zoetrope letterhead.

Image courtesy of Royal Books, with our thanks.

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