The infant mortality rate in cinema is very high. Here are data on film projects on which various producers and companies have engaged me, but which for one reason or other never made it. They give an idea of a range and variety of films that might have been.
Original screenplay based on play The Dybbuk by S. Anski. Columbia Pictures. Director: Fred Zinnemann.
Anski's play, set in a 19th century Hassidic Russian community, tells of a boy and girl pledged to each other in marriage before they are born. The boy's family emigrate; the girl's father becomes a rich merchant. Years later the boy returns, a solitary and poor young student, not knowing why he is so 'drawn' to this place; glimpsing the girl in the synagogue, he falls in love with her, and she with him. But three times her father rejects him, in his search for a rich husband for her. On the fourth rejection, the boy dies of a broken heart. At the girl's unhappy wedding, to a rich young bridegroom she has never seen, the dead boy's voice starts to speak from her mouth: he has come back as a demonic dybbuk to inhabit his true bride's body.
A beautiful and cruel story, from the Jewish 'old country' of Shalom Aleichem and Issac Bashevis Singer. At my first meeting with Mr Zinnemann, he explained to me that he had specifically chosen a Gentile as screenwriter so as not to ghettoize the film. One of the great Hollywood directors of the later studio period, Zinnemann was of an Austrian Jewish family who had been constrained to 'convert' to Catholicism during the rise of anti-Semitism in the 1930s, and many of whom were to perish in the Holocaust. As we worked together, daily over periods of several months, (a severe initiation for me into the disciplines of screenwriting,) it came clear to me that I was in the presence of a major artist painfully re-connecting with his ancestral inheritance and with ghosts of family that he had lost. This would have been his greatest film since High Noon, and altogether his strangest and most personally charged.
For me, it was my first experience of imagining myself into a Jewish world. Zinnemann himself greatly helped me with this; and the Israeli cultural attaché said of the script that he could not believe a Gentile had written it.
We had completed the Final Shooting Draft; reconnaissance and casting had begun; overnight, the project was 'pulled' by the incoming new head of Columbia, on the ground that they already had a 'Jewish movie' on the slate: Fiddler on the Roof. So it goes. Zinnemann never worked so truly to himself again.
Adaptation of The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles.
1860s Dorset, the hilly coastal resort of Lyme Regis. Out on the twisting tilted pier, a black-clad woman stands day after day, gazing across the Channel toward France and her lost love, the lieutenant who has abandoned her. A young gentleman visiting the town becomes intrigued by her unconventionality, obsessed with her... They begin a passionate affair. He is attracted also to unconventional ideas - particularly the scandalous new anti-religious theories of Evolution, evidence for which he sees about him in the resort's crumbling cliffs where fossils abound. But he is drawn backward too - into the social safety of a Victorian marriage to a businessman's conventional daughter, to whom he is already engaged... He is at a moment of life-choice: go one way, and he will lock himself into Victorianism and himself become a fossil like those he is collecting; or go the other, with the more dangerous other woman, into a future frightening and unknown, but evolutionary... The novel suddenly forks into two alternative endings, dramatizing the two possible futures before him.
First Draft. Several years later a film emerged - with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, the writer whom the novelist had wanted all along.