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WRITERS : The Hired Hand

January 04, 1987

The histories of literature and of Hollywood have yet to merge successfully. Although many of this century's greatest writers have traveled to Hollywood, few have left happy. For the most part, they leave behind a legacy of well-turned phrases expressing their exasperation, outrage or grief. Nonetheless, they keep coming.

"Let me tell you about writing for films. You finish your book. Now, you know where the California state line is? Well, you drive right up to that line, take your manuscript and pitch it across. No, on second thought, don't pitch it across. First let them toss the money over. Then you throw it over, pick up the money and get the hell out of there."

--Ernest Hemingway

"Going from writing a novel to writing a screenplay is going from heaven to hell. When you write a movie, the people you talk to suffer from a terrible confusion between power and art. What they have is power. What they think they have is art."

--Leonard Michaels

"If there was any truth in the original it had been carefully altered. If anything had been left unchanged it was because it was untrue."

--Graham Greene (on the film version of "Stamboul Train")

"If my books had been any worse I would not have been invited to Hollywood. If they had been any better, I would not have come."

--Raymond Chandler

"Our Hollywood greed! The great idea is to do a picture, then something else, then another picture, but no one--especially producers and agents--want you to live without some trouble to match their own stomach ulcers."

--F. Scott Fitzgerald

"This stuff about easy work is all wrong. My hours are from ten in the morning to six at night with a full day on Saturday. They gave me a job to do five minutes after I sat down in my office--a scenario about a beauty parlor--and I'm expected to turn out pages and pages a day. There's no fooling here. All the writers sit in cells in a row, and the minute a typewriter stops someone pokes his head in the door to see if you are thinking. Otherwise, it's like the hotel business."

--Nathanael West

"Each book purchased for motion pictures has some individual quality, good or bad, that has made it remarkable. It is the work of a great array of highly paid and incompatible writers to distinguish this quality, separate it, and obliterate it."

--Evelyn Waugh

"I looked on movie writing as an amiable chore. It was a source of easy money and pleasant friendships. There was small responsibility. Your name as a writer was buried in a flock of credits. Your literary pride was never involved. What critics said about the movie you had written never bothered you. They were usually criticizing something you couldn't remember. Once when I was on the 'Information Please' radio show, the plot of a movie I'd written a year before and that was playing on Broadway was recited to me. I was unable to identify it."

--Ben Hecht

"The writer is a necessary evil."

--Irving Thalberg, Head of MGM Productions, 1923-1936

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