I decided to look up the nice copy of The Way We Were someone donated, because I couldn’t remember ever having seen a hardcover of the novel before. I hoped that, having been the basis of a hit film, the original novel might be worth something. As it happened, I had it backward: the book had been based on the movie. (I WONDERED how the endflap copy described a hero who looked so much like Robert Redford.) It is not, in fact, worth much because thousands of people bought copies of it. (If you have a copy signed by Barbra Streisand, that’s another matter. But I don’t, and I figure you don’t, either.)
Technically, though, I can’t really say the book was based on the movie, I suppose. It was, in fact, based on the screenplay because the same man wrote both. Arthur Laurents saved somebody the time and trouble by doing his own novel version of the partly autobiographical screenplay. He did the same thing with The Turning Point, another semi-autobiographical screenplay that he turned into a novel while someone else was simultaneously turning it into a movie. (You can check online for the whole background story. Then explain it to me. I found War and Peace easier to follow.)
I thought that was a neat answer to the novelization of a hit movie, but this week we got a book which took me to yet another level of novelization. We were given a signed copy of Road to Perdition, the graphic novel on which the popular movie was based. If we look around hard enough, we might be able to find a copy of the novelization of the movie, making this a novel based on a movie based on a graphic novel. Max Allan Collins, who wrote the graphic novel and did NOT write the screenplay, did write the novelization. In fact, the publisher could not use his first version, since the licensing required him to use only the dialogue from the movie and not from his original graphic novel. AND eventually another publisher got the rights to publish his first version, so Collins succeeded in doing not one but two novelizations of the movie based on his original. (He wasn’t tired yet: he wrote two sequels, Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise.)
The whole saga of books into movies and back into books (and sometimes into coloring books, children’s abridged versions, comic books, and so forth) is a long and complex one. Adding the author of the original at a later stage in the game can add all kinds of special effects.
Now, once upon a time there was a novel by Richard Matheson called I Am Legend, which became something of a legend itself, being turned into three different movies with different titles, starring, successively, Vincent Price, Charlton Heston, and Will Smith. Alas, though Richard Matheson did work some on the screenplay for the Vincent Price version (The Last Man On Earth) he didn’t like it much and did NOT write a novelization of the movie. For the Charlton Heston version (Omega Man), the publisher simply reissued the original novel with a new cover and title, and the Will Smith version actually used the original title. Donovan’s Brain was made into a radio drama and three movies (under various titles), but author Curt Siodmak had nothing to do with any of them, and I can’t find any separate novelizations of the scripts based on his novel, whether he wrote them or not.
And then there was First Blood, a novel by David Morrell which interested filmmakers, who thought something could be made of the lead character John Rambo. When the contract was written, Morrell had a little paragraph put in stipulating that he was the only author with the right to write about John. The movie Rambo was produced, with several major changes from the original text. First Blood could no longer serve as the novelization of the increasingly popular Rambo. The studio had to call on Morrell to write the book version of the movie version of his book (as well as the novelizations of the sequels.)
It would be really nice if someone wrote a screenplay about that, and David Morrell wrote the novelization. Unless Max Allan Collins writes The Road to Novelization.