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A Look Inside Vonnegut's 'Monkey House'

February 21, 1993|JOHN N. GOUDAS | KING FEATURES

Kurt Vonnegut is one author who doesn't quibble about his stories being adapted and presented on TV. In fact, the celebrated novelist thinks TV may even enrich his original story. He is currently the host of Showtime's monthly series "Kurt Vonnegut's Monkey House," which dramatizes some of the author's offbeat short stories.

So far, the series has shown an adaptation of "Fortitude" and on Sunday "More Stately Mansions," starring Madeline Kahn and Stuart Margolin, is scheduled. Upcoming are "Epicac" and "The Foster Portfolio." The author is seen at the beginning of each show, introducing the story while wandering around a surrealistic set of doors.

"I'm an old-fashioned storyteller, with no heavy erotic dimension," says the author. "I like to get to the heart of the story, and TV can do them very well, if they stick to the material. I am very pleased with the way 'More Stately Mansions' came out. Madeline Kahn is a superb actress and she added touches to the character of the woman who lived with the expectation of decorating her house just the way she wanted it. Those touches made the character come totally alive. I'm honored that actors and actresses of that degree of talent can respond to my material."

"Kurt Vonnegut's Monkey House" is shot in Canada, and Kurt adores the Canadian attitude in turning out TV shows. "They all get together and say, 'Let's make a good show' and they set about to do just that. I have seen so many other factors come into play in Hollywood where a couple of my books have been turned into movies. I have nothing but praise for director George Roy Hill's sensitive handling of the movie based on 'Slaughterhouse Five,' but I can't say that about every adaptation of my work."

Vonnegut's association with TV goes back to television's so-called golden days when he wrote for such anthology series as "Philco Playhouse" and "G.E. Theater." The 71-year-old author recalls the early days of TV, when a writer could mail off a script and have it done. TV was fairly hungry for writers, and if you were a published writer the industry didn't scrutinize the quality of the work too closely.

"In the early days of TV, people would watch a show on Sunday night, for instance, and talk about it the next day. That's how the reputations of Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling were created. Their plays were talked about and Hollywood listened and lured them. I don't know if I mind the new process of writing by committee, which is the way I understand most of the scripts are done for many of the shows these days. The results seem to be good. If unselfish people get together and work toward a common goal of making the best show they can, there's nothing wrong with that."

Vonnegut, who is working on a new book titled "Timequake," admits he wouldn't be if he hadn't already committed himself to it. The author says he might even prefer writing for TV rather than face the long period of isolation ("Don't bother Daddy; he's working") required to turn out a book. "TV writing, especially by committee, can be a more joyous occasion--certainly it is more social."

However, one gets the impression that while Vonnegut says all this, he still possesses the creative drive to sit down and come up with another book. In the meantime, Vonnegut's fans can tune in "Monkey House" on Showtime.

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