Friday, July 6, 2018

For Summer Reading, Try FORREST GUMP

Man, how I would love to interview best-selling novelist Winston Groom.  In the spring of 1994, I was on the road with a two-man WNBC local TV news camera crew.  We had to go to an out of-Manhattan street fair or community bake sale or some other outdoor event from which I'd do live segments for the weekend morning news program.  On the way back, the cameraman was driving.  The audio guy was in the front passenger seat and I sat in the back of the van.  The audio guy would break out into an infectious giggle while reading a paperback book.  The cameraman and I had to know what he was reading.  He told us that he'd been at a garage sale in his neighborhood and he bought a book for a quarter.  He didn't know anything about the book but the price was right and he liked to have some reading material for periods of down time during the work day.  The book was FORREST GUMP by Winston Groom.
I told him I'd heard about the book thanks to entertainment reports that Tom Hanks would be playing the lead role in a film version.  Our audio guy said that he's started reading it the day before and could not put it down.  The following week, I checked the book out from my local library.  Just like the audio guy, I'd break out laughing and I could not put the book down. I read it within three days.

I've been a devoted Tom Hanks fan since his ABC TV sitcom days in the early 80s.  I'm in awe of his range and skill.  However, while reading the novel, I was curious to see how Hanks would play a big musclebound and seemingly well-endowed idiot savant Southern football player with a crew-cut.  I've written in a previous blog that if the movie FORREST GUMP was being cast today, based on his physical description in Winston Groom's book, the top candidate for the role would be John Cena.

The screenplay by Eric Roth takes Forrest and other main characters and sweetens them, if you will.  The movie is poignant, honey-flavored and sentimental.  The book has the tart tang of vinegar with the zest of lemon squeezed into it.  In the book, Forrest has several adventures and not just on the playing field.  He becomes a soldier, an astronaut for NASA, he encounters shady politicians and, in one of my favorite chapters, he gets Hollywood work.  He's in a low-budget sci-fi movie starring a cranky, gorgeous and nearly naked starlet named Raquel Welch.  In the book, Forrest has an active sex life.  He 6' 6" and not exactly pure.  He's got an edge to him that keeps you turning the pages.

His girlfriend, Jenny, is a 1960s free spirit who loves to have sex.  With Forrest and men.  His mother is a annoying old bat who selfishly clings to him and constantly whines.  Although he doesn't do well on scholastic tests, he's a savant who has an astonishing series of adventures.  Some of the funny, outrageous complications in Forrest's life cause him to say -- "Bein' an idiot is no box o' chocolates."

In the film, that line was sweetened to "Life is like a box o' chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
The mother in the movie version is flipped.  She's loving, unselfish and devoted to getting her special needs son the scholastic respect and attention he deserves.  She is not a rich Southern woman.  If sex is the only currency she has in negotiations to get a better life for her son, she will use that.  Sally Field is excellent as Mama Gump.  In real life, Sally Field and Tom Hanks are in the same age category and both graduated to Oscar winning performances in dramas after having started their national careers in lead roles on ABC sitcoms.
Thanks to the box office bonanza FORREST GUMP struck with moviegoers, the 1980s book became a best-seller again.  I've often wondered how people who loved the movie felt when they read the book.  I also wonder what kind of response Winston Groom got from folks who saw the movie first and then read his novel.  If you loved the movie, you'll discover a different Forrest if you read the book.  But I totally feel you will also enjoy it.  Winston Groom wrote a funny and delightfully twisted adventure with a memorable lead character.

If you're interested in screenwriting, read the book.  See how the characters were retained yet changed for the film version, a film that became a major money-maker and a top Oscar winner (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay).  Compare that to, say, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.  That screenplay, based on a short story, masterfully and brilliantly opened up the story while remaining very faithful to the original material and its tone.
The movie FORREST GUMP opened nationally on July 6, 1994.  Screenwriter Eric Roth went on to write THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON, which is basically a remake of his FORREST GUMP screenplay with Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Benson in variations on the Forrest and Mama Gump film roles.  I'm eagerly awaiting his upcoming film.  Eric Roth did the screenplay for the new remake of A STAR IS BORN opening in October.  It stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in the story first seen in 1937, then seen with music added in the critically acclaimed 1954 remake with Judy Garland and James Mason, then remade yet again -- this time with rock music -- starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson in 1976.

There you have it.  A summer reading book tip.  FORREST GUMP by Winston Groom.  If you read it, let me know what you think.

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