Wednesday, October 2, 2013

William Faulkner, Screenwriter

by Stephen J. Gertz

A cache of screenplays by novelist William Faulkner is being offered by Bonham's - Los Angeles in its Fine Books and Manuscripts including Historical Photographs sale October 16, 2013. The trove comes from the Richard Manney collection via the late, great Serendipity Books of Berkeley.

You haven't lived until you've read Faulkner's hilariously contemptuous screenplay notes, i.e. "Lana tells Mary whatever sappy stuff we need here about love conquers all things, etc...."

Mimeographed Manuscript, dialogue cutting continuity script
of Today We Live, 121 pp, 4to, n.p., April 8, 1933,
in tan wrappers, the Dublin censor's copy, annotations
throughout in green, red and graphite pencil.

Today We Live is based on the Faulkner short story "Turn About," and is one of only two films based on an original story by the author, and the only screenplay based on his own work for which Faulkner received credit. Director Howard Hawks saw the piece in the Saturday Evening Post in March of 1932, bought the rights, and hired Faulkner to write the script. Soon after Faulkner turned in his first draft, Irving Thalberg asked that a part for Joan Crawford be created, since the star was available. Faulkner dutifully complied, and the film, now a love triangle between two WWI pilots and Crawford, went into production in late 1932.

The Dublin censor removed some seemingly inoffensive dialogue and imagery: a reference to sipping communion wine, a shot of a cockroach in a box, Crawford's character putting her head on her brother's shoulder.

Mimeographed Manuscript, final draft of Zero Hour,
140 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles], January 27, 1936
(with blue revision pages bound in as late as
February 2, 1936), in plain blue wrappers stamped
"Twentieth Century-Fox ... Stenographic Department"
and copy #32 to title page.

Faulkner and Joel Sayer developed the present script, originally titled Wooden Crosses, then Zero Hour, and finally released as The Road to Glory, between December of 1935 and early January of 1936. The film, set in France during World War I, details trench life during that conflict. During the same period, Faulkner finalized the manscript of his most complex novel, Absalom, Absalom!

The University of Virginia's Faulkner collection has a copy of the January 27 "final" screenplay, though theirs is apparently four pages longer than this one.

Mimeographed Manuscript, screenplay of The Last Slaver,
144 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles], December 3, 1936, in
blue Twentieth Century-Fox wraps stamped #1, with
initials to upper cover and annotations throughout
of studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck.

This is Darryl F. Zanuck's copy of The Last Slaver, with his initials to the upper cover and with his many annotations in ink throughout.

In July of 1936 Faulkner, his wife Estelle, and daughter Jill traveled from Mississippi to California for another swipe at the lucrative work of screenwriting, this time for Twentieth Century-Fox Studios. He was assigned to adapt The Last Slaver, based on a novel set on board a slave ship in 1845. The film would be released in 1937 as Slave Ship, starring Warner Baxter, Wallace Beery and Mickey Rooney; Faulkner received story credit for the film.

This copy is dated December 3, 1936, and though stamped "Final," a pencil notation indicates that it is not in fact the final draft. A penciled note at the lower right corner of the title page indicates this copy as the "Faulkner draft." The text is annotated throughout in pencil by Zanuck, editing dialogue and making important character suggestions ("Swifty should watch all this from a distance, taking no part").

The copy of The Last Slaver in the Carl Petersen Collection is identified as the revised final draft and bears the date of December 15, 1936 (with revisions as late as December 20). That copy is identified as the text of Faulkner's September 1936 draft minimally revised by Nunnally Johnson. The University of Virginia has Zanuck's copy of the September 24 and October 10 drafts of The Last Slaver. No other copies of a December 3 draft have been located.

Mimeographed Manuscript, first draft continuity
screenplay of Splinter Fleet, 130 pp, 4to,
[Los Angeles], December 22, 1936, in orange
Twentieth Century-Fox wrappers. WITH: Mimeographed
manuscript, shooting final screenplay of Splinter Fleet
(crossed out and re-titled in pen Submarine Patrol),
160 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles], June 23, 1938,
in tan Twentieth Century-Fox wraps stamped.

This is a rare draft of an early Faulkner screenplay, along with a copy of the shooting script.

In September of 1936, Darryl Zanuck assigned Faulkner to work on the dialogue Splinter Fleet, while Kathryn Scola was tasked with keeping an eye on the story line. Faulkner told Scola that producer Gene Markey had told him to "follow the story line, but I can't find the story line" (Blotner 373). Scola told Faulkner's biographer that the dialogue was "Good Faulknerian dialogue," but that it had little to do with the story at hand, as it seemed to relate more to aerial than naval warfare.

The presence of the later shooting final script here offers a rare chance to assess how much of Faulkner's work made it into the final script (Blotner claims nothing did).

The University of Virginia has a copy dated December 7, 1936 which is one page longer than this copy; no other copies of the December 22 version have been located.

Typed Carbon on yellow foolscap, treatment of
Drums Along the Mohawk, 26 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles],
March 14, 1937, housed in blue wraps bound with brads,
with typed title and date, marked "only copy" twice
at upper margin and with ownership signature of
assistant producer Ben Silvey to upper right corner.

On March 12, 1937, Faulkner began an extended assignment for Twentieth Century-Fox Studios (Blotner p 954). Three days later he turned in this 26-page breakdown of Walter D. Edmonds' best-selling novel, Drums Along the Mohawk. Never a fan of studio work, Faulkner injects a fair amount of contempt into this treatment. From page 21: "McKlennar's house. Two Indians enter the house, set fire to it, kill Mrs. McKlennar, find Lana in bed with her child which is about three years old. They tell her the house is on fire. They are drunk. Lana forces the Indians to carry the wedding bed outside of the house. Lana gets into it again with the child. The two drunken Indians are finally driven away by the child. This will be comedy. Lana lies in bed and watches the house burn." If that's not clear enough, in his final paragraph, as the next generation is taking up the challenge of settling the new frontier, he writes, "Lana tells Mary whatever sappy stuff we need here about love conquers all things, etc...."

The University of Virginia has a mimeographed version of this treatment bearing the same date, but no typescript or other typed carbons have been located.

Mimeographed Manuscript, dialogued treatment titled
Drums Along the Mohawk, 248 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles],
July 3, 1937, housed in blue Twentieth Century-Fox
wraps bound with brads, upper cover marked "only copy."

Faulkner's full-length adaptation of Edmond's novel: From March until mid-June of 1937 Faulkner worked on this "dialogued treatment," which includes a detailed list of characters with description, a sequence-by-sequence breakdown of location, and a 238 pp screenplay. After he turned this treatment in, Faulkner was taken off the project and Lamar Trotti and Sonia Levien took over (and earned final screen credit).

Walter Edmonds' novel of the hardships endured by settlers of the Mohawk Valley in the 1700s was a runaway bestseller in 1936. Faulkner was something of a logical choice to adapt the book, given his experience writing about rural life and tensions between cultures. The contempt evident in the short treatment (See lot 2301) is no longer present here. He apparently takes the assignment seriously, crafting the long novel into a workable three act structure. Among other things, he boils down Edmonds' long subplot of servant girl Nancy Schuyler's loss of innocence and later marriage to an Indian into a single scene: after a brave surprises Nancy at a stream, the two engage in a silent dance: "CLOSE SHOT OF BOTH -- Nancy shrinks slowly back, as the Indian lifts her shawl away and touches her hair. He takes it up and examines it with interest and admiration. He gestures and speaks to Nancy in Indian. Nancy stares at him. The Indian gestures to her to get up. She doesn't move. He takes her arm and helps her up, stands facing her, takes her hair into his hands again, speaks to her in Indian. Nancy's terror goes away. He takes a small pouch from his shoulder and hands it to her, still speaking. She takes the pouch, staring at him stupidly. He taps his chest, then he taps Nancy's speaking Indian. He hangs the pouch over Nancy's shoulder, points toward the forest, advances, stops, looks back, beckons. Nancy follows him. He looks down at her feet, speaks again, approaches, takes from the pouch a pair of mocasins, drops them at Nancy's feet. She sits down and puts them on, the Indian watching. he beckons again. She rises. He turns into the forest, Nancy following."

No copies of this treatment appear in WorldCat, though the Morgan library has later treatments by Trotti and Levien that are purportedly based on this one. This script provides the unique opportunity once and for all for scholars to determine the extent of Faulkner's contribution to the final film.

Mimeographed Manuscript, final screenplay of
The Bouncer and the Lady, 134 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles],
April 7, 1941 (blue revision pages dated as late as
April 19, 1941 bound in), in blue Twentieth Century-Fox
steno department wraps, stamped #21 to title page.

In March of 1939 Faulkner worked for two days on a project titled Dance Hall, before being once more listed by the studio as "unassigned." The film was released four years later under the original title of Dance Hall and starred Carole Landis and Cesar Romero.

Typed Carbon titled "Battle Cry—Hawks,"
144 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles], April 21, 1943,
treatment in prose and screenplay format,
moderate thumbing to leaves, housed in
plain blue wraps with typed title, story
department stamp, and penciled annotations
to upper right corner ("rec'd Geller9/16/43".

Faulkner's original story treatment of Battle Cry. Following Howard Hawks to Warner Bros., Faulkner was assigned to Battle Cry in early 1943. The film was to celebrate the U.S. and its allies in the world war. Hawks and Faulkner roughed out an outline, and Faulkner completed this 144 pp treatment on his own by late April. This draft was scrapped, however, and so Faulkner began again, completing a 231 pp script by June, at which point screenwriter Steve Fisher was brought in to collaborate.

Faulkner was excited about the prospect of an epic like Battle Cry making it to the screen, not the least because it would help restore the four-figure screenwriting salary he so desperately needed. The project, however, was canceled by Jack Warner, either because director Howard Hawks clashed with the studio exec, it was too sympathetic to the Soviets, or just too expensive to mount.

The 231 page expanded story treatment and the second temporary screenplay of Battle Cry were published in volume IV of Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection (Oxford, MS: 1985), but this, the first treatment, remains unpublished.

Mimeographed Manuscript, revised final screenplay
of The Left Hand of God, 140 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles],
July 18, 1952, in plain blue wrappers stamped
"Please return to RKO Story Files" and "20" at
lower right, minor toning to leaves, light staining
to upper and lower wraps. WITH: HAYES, ALFRED.
Mimeographed manuscript, final draft of
The Left
Hand of God
, 135 pp, 4to, [Los Angeles], February 22,
1955 (blue revision pages dated as late as
June 7, 1955 bound in), in blue Twentieth Century-Fox
wraps stamped copy #8 to lower right.

In early 1951 Howard Hawks reached out to Faulkner once more, asking him to come to Los Angeles and work on The Left Hand of God, a script about a former army pilot in China who escapes a warlord by masquerading as a priest (Blotner 537). Faulkner turned in a draft early, earning a bonus, and later that year the trades announced that RKO would make the film and Kirk Douglas would star. Faulkner revised the draft again in 1952 (the original typescript of the present draft appears to be with the Howard Hawks Collection at Brigham Young University), but again the project was delayed. In early 1954, Paramount and Hawks sold the property to Twentieth Century-Fox, which eventually produced the film starring Humphrey Bogart and Gene Tierney. The screenwriting credit went to Alfred Hayes.

• • •

There are many stories about Faulkner in Hollywood. My favorite: While under contract to Warner Brothers and unhappy and weary showing up for work to the Writer's Building on the Warner's lot in Burbank, he asked studio head Jack Warner if he could go home to write. "Sure, go ahead," Warner replied, presuming that Faulkner preferred to work alone in his house.

He did.

Days later, Warner was looking for Faulkner and couldn't find him. The writer had indeed gone home to write.

To Oxford, Mississippi.

All images courtesy of Bonham's, with our thanks.

A tip o' the hat to Bonham's cataloger.

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