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Meet some of Alan Smithee's screenwriting compadres

October 21, 2002|Robert W. Welkos

Most Hollywood movies are works of fiction, but what if the screenwriters credited with creating them are fictional as well?

In Jonathan Demme's new film, "The Truth About Charlie," which debuts Friday) with a cast that includes Mark Wahlberg and Thandie Newton, one of the screenwriters listed in the credits is Peter Joshua. Sound familiar? It does if you recall that in Stanley Donen's 1963 romantic thriller "Charade," on which Demme's movie is based, one of Cary Grant's identities is Peter Joshua.

In reality, the Peter Joshua credited with Demme, Steve Schmidt and Jessica Bendinger with writing "The Truth About Charlie" is none other than Peter Stone, who wrote "Charade." Why the fictional name?

"Since Peter Stone didn't do any work on this adaptation, he, in deference to Jonathan Demme and the other writers, took the name Peter Joshua as a nod to the character in the original movie," explains a spokeswoman for Universal Pictures.

Hollywood is replete with films in which fictional names are listed in the credits, from W.C. Fields, who wrote under such colorful pseudonyms as Mahatma Kane Jeeves and Otis J. Criblecoblis, to Robert Towne, who reportedly was so dissatisfied with the movie that he used the name of his sheepdog, P.H. Vazak, on "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes." In "Adaptation," which debuts Dec. 6, Charlie Kaufman and Donald Kaufman are listed as the screenwriters, although Donald does not exist.

And how does the Writers Guild of America feel about this?

"The right of writers to pick a pseudonym is embraced in the guild's contract" with the studios, a WGA spokeswoman said, but "the studios usually try to curtail it."

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