Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ross Thomas's Hollywood

There's been some talk about crime writer Ross Thomas and his connections to films on the Rara-Avis e-mail list that focuses on hardboiled and noir literature. Even though Thomas has been one of the best crime novelists working in the United States for the past thirty years (even though never a bestseller), there's been surprisingly few films based on his work. Thomas wrote the original screenplay for Bad Company, a relatively minor, but stylish film with Larry Fishburne, but that's about it. He also worked as one of the writers of Wim Wenders's Hammett. (On which maybe later.)

Beside that, Joe Martino who has worked a studio executive at Fox and Morgan Creek wrote the text below in the Rara-Avis list, and I got his permission to use it.

Some history of Ross Thomas and Hollywood

The only other film based on a Ross Thomas novel was ST IVES - a 70's Charles Bronson film based on the Oliver Bleeck (and Ross Thomas pseudonym) novel THE PROCANE CHRONICLE.

Mr Thomas also wrote many screenplay (unproduced) based on his films and several original (also unproduced).

I had the opportunity to meet Mr Thomas several times and optioned TWILIGHT AT MAC'S PLACE when I worked at Warner Brothers for a possible Warren Beatty / Jack Nicholson project... Guess what? It never happened.

An original Ross Thomas screenplay JIMMY THE RUMOR is owned by Robert Evans at Paramount. It told the story of a hitman who had no identity at all and what happens when he falls in love with his latest hit. Jack was at one time attached to that as well.

Fox at one time optioned THE FOOLS IN TOWN ARE ON OUR SIDE which told the back story of Lucifer Dye and his upbringing at Shanghai Lilly's. Thomas also wrote the screenplay.

Novelist Brian Garfield also had producing clout in Hollywood in the 70's. One night over a poker game (with Donald Westlake and Ross Thomas) they talked Ross into adapting THE SEERSUCKER WHIPSHAW into a screenplay. Ross did, but instead of setting it in Africa he switched it to America and re-titled it SPOILER. It even had two endings - one only less cynical that the other.

Columbia Pictures owns THE MONEY HARVEST, but nothing was ever done with it. Ross also sold an original SIGNAL THE INSTRUCTIONS PLEASE to them but it also was never made. Columbia doesn't have a copy of the script and the only other existing copy perished (along with most of Ross's works) in a fire at his Malibu home.

That was the main problem the studios had with Ross Thomas's work. They found his characters so dark and cynical, it was hard to root for anyone. Of course that's what was so great about his work.

His works continue to be optioned today, so maybe there's still some hope.

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