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OUTTAKES THE SEQUEL

Nurses at War!

December 06, 1987|Pat H. Broeske

After shying away from projects about the women who went to Vietnam, Hollywood's now got two in the works. But the authors of the two source books--both of whom were nurses there--are involved in a serious skirmish, with one trying to shoot down the other's project.

"Forever Sad the Hearts," in development at Paramount as a feature film for Cher, is based on the 1981 book by Patricia L. Walsh. Published as fiction, it's nonetheless based on her experiences as a civilian nurse in 'Nam.

Meanwhile, as we recently reported, Lynda Van Devanter's 1983 nonfiction "Home Before Morning"--about her experiences as an Army nurse in Pleiku, and her later bout with post traumatic stress disorder--is in development as a possible CBS miniseries. Maj Canton and Barbara Klein are producing for Chuck Fries Entertainment.

If the projects actually happen, each woman will serve as an adviser on her respective project.

But Walsh is trying to keep the Van Devanter project from happening at all. She heads up Nurses Against Misrepresentation (or NAM), a nonprofit organization that disputes the quality of medical care portrayed in Van Devanter's book. Said Walsh: "We know the power of Hollywood (and) we didn't want what was in Van Devanter's book to be put on the screen."

"She portrayed medical teams in an utterly disgusting fashion," added Walsh, who suffered serious back injuries and lost her fiance during the Tet offensive. "She wrote about a neurosurgeon who abused drugs and alcohol and about euthanasia and about GI bodies decomposing in a morgue. And about a nurse and surgeon who fell into bed together--covered with blood from the operating room. Well, those things didn't happen."

A case of professional jealousy?

After all, Van Devanter's book pushed Walsh's into the shadows with some strong reviews and publicity. Van Devanter acquired a kind of celebrity, partly as as the (then) national women's director of Vietnam Veterans of America, partly because Sally Field optioned "Home Before Morning."

Walsh said she took her own book "off the market" as a potential screen property when NAM began its letter-writing campaign (with Walsh doing much of the writing) to protest the Field project. It was only when Field dropped "Home Before Morning," Walsh said, that she allowed "Forever Sad the Hearts" to again make the studio rounds.

Walsh added that in a conversation with Cher, she stressed that an adaptation of her project could contain no alcohol or drug abuse. "And Cher agreed."

Walsh believes the efforts of NAM had "an impact" with Field, but a rep for Field's Fogwood Productions flatly denied it: "It was simply a case of not coming up with a script that we liked."

Walsh is now directing her concerns (via letters) to Canton-Klein and to CBS--including the CBS legal department. Bruce Teischer, a CBS attorney, said NAM's "concerns deal with only a small portion of the book (the medical treatment)" and will be considered.

Walsh defends "the honor of the medical teams in Vietnam," insisting Van Devanter's book could hurt survivors of the soldiers who died in the war. Walsh has even tracked down some of the actual people who served with Van Devanter to see if they match Van Devanter's "composite" fictional characters.

"She's gone through the book with a microscope," said Van Devanter. "In Vietnam, some of us did things that we were not so proud of at the time. But we were under enormous stress--physically, emotionally and spiritually.

"I want to be real careful about this, because I believe that she (Walsh) is still suffering a great deal.

"But the fact is, my book is not about sleazy people--it's about people who have been through an insanity. It's about attempts to find a moment of sanity in the midst of that."

Van Devanter added: "There was a time I felt very angry with her. But I've come to an understanding. I believe she has a lot of reasons to be angry. Did you know that the treatment of civilian women who served in Vietnam was much worse, after they returned home, than the treatment of military women?

"Military women got little enough in terms of benefits and all. But civilian women were even worse off. If you read the two books, our thoughts and experiences are very similar. So I feel sad she's taken this tack.

"If she hadn't, we probably would have been good friends."

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