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Stanley et Anthony: A correspondence between Stanley Kubrick and Anthony Burgess

By Michael Gilmore

On the surface, it is a correspondence between friends:  Did you read the book I sent? Did you like it?

 

Generic questions for most, perhaps, but the inquiry was from Stanley Kubrick, and the questions concerning Arthur Schnitzler’s book Traumnovelle were addressed to Anthony Burgess. A series of letters in 1976 between Kubrick and Burgess in the Ransom Center’s Anthony Burgess collection shed light on the early stages of the work that would later be translated into Kubrick’s final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

 

In 1976, Kubrick, sensing his research for his planned biographical film about Napoleon Bonaparte would not pan out due to financing problems, was looking for a post-2001, A Space Odyssey (1968) project. He first read Schnitzler’s dream story in 1968 and was so enamored of it, he sought the film rights, but, fearing his involvement would inflate the price, he convinced Jay Cocks, a journalist at the time, to acquire the rights by proxy.

 

Kubrick even had in mind an actor for the role of Fridolin: Woody Allen.

 

During this time, screenwriter Terry Southern, who helped Kubrick turn the script for Dr. Strangelove (1964) into a hip satire, gave Kubrick a copy of A Clockwork Orange. Kubrick put the Schnitzler project on a back burner, which placed Southern in a bit of a bind with Mick Jagger and The Beatles.

 

It was understood that once the rights for A Clockwork Orange had been optioned by producer Si Litvinoff, Southern would write the screenplay, Jagger was to play the part of Alex and the rest of the Rolling Stones would play Alex’s droogs. The Beatles were to compose and record the music. Litvinoff had shopped the idea around to a dozen different directors without success. As the original plan was coming apart at the seams, it was reported that actor David Hemming, star of Blowup (1969), was under consideration for the lead. A petition signed by Marianne Faithful, each of The Beatles, and a few hangers-on in the London Bohemian underground of the time—including The Flasher and Strawberry Bob—was sent to Southern denouncing his perceived treachery.

 

The rights for A Clockwork Orange sold for $500, $2,000, or $5,000, depending which account you read. Burgess was unimpressed with his financial gain on the deal and dismayed that he had suddenly, in the eyes of the press and public alike, become an “expert” on juvenile violence. He was thankful though, that in conversation with Kubrick, he did get the idea for his next novel, Napoleon Symphony.

 

After the release of the film A Clockwork Orange (1971), Kubrick used his Napoleon research in the making of Barry Lyndon (1975). It would be another 20 years before the Schnitzler project would culminate in the film Eyes Wide Shut, which is listed in Guinness World Records as the film with the longest continual shoot: 400 days. In retrospect, 400 days isn’t long at all, considering the making of the film took 30 years from gestation to final cut.

 

But in 1976, Burgess still felt undercompensated after the film version of A Clockwork Orange had become a critical and commercial success, and it must have rankled him that a few critics pointed to satirized authority figures in the film as resembling rumpled versions of Burgess himself. As for the exchange of letters between Kubrick and Burgess, you can sense a certain edginess in Burgess’s response to Kubrick’s complaints that in Traumnovelle “[t]here is, I fear, a narrative anti-climax which I have not been able to improve without doing violence to what I believe were Schnitzler’s ideas …”

 

“The question is,” Burgess writes, “do you want me to do anything about it? If so, how and when and for how much?” 

 

Book annotations document scuffle between Ernest Hemingway and Max Eastman

By Michael Gilmore

Annotated inside cover of Max Eastman's "Art and the Life of Action, with other Essays."
Annotated inside cover of Max Eastman's "Art and the Life of Action, with other Essays."

Ernest Hemingway, on his way to cover the civil war in Spain, stops in New York for a couple of days and drops in at Charles Scribner’s Sons publishing house. He wants to touch base with editor Max Perkins. Hemingway’s arrival is unannounced, and another writer, Max Eastman, is in Perkins’s office at the time. Hemingway nods at Eastman and proceeds to ignore him until he remembers a comment of Eastman’s. In a review titled “Bull in the Afternoon,” Eastman had described Hemingway as a member of the “False Hair on the Chest School of Writing.” Hemingway exposes his chest and asks, “Look false to you, Max?” Hemingway unbuttons Eastman’s shirt, and Eastman’s chest proves to be, in Perkins’s words, “as smooth as a bald man’s head.” Perkins tries to demonstrate that it’s not such a bad review by reaching for Eastman’s essay collection and reading a passage. This proves to be a tactical error. Hemingway snatches the book from Perkins’s hand, reads a passage that inflames his temper, and snaps the book shut on Eastman’s nose, and the two began grappling on top of Perkins’s desk and then the floor—until Hemingway, whom Perkins thinks is going to tear Eastman apart, begins to laugh.

If you think this a never-filmed Woody Allen parody, you’d be wrong. The Hemingway/Eastman dust-up is documented in various forms in newspaper columns of the time and in several biographies of Hemingway, Eastman, and Perkins. Depending on the teller, punches, slaps, shoves, and wrestling figure into the narrative.

***

This narrative featured into my work at the Ransom Center decades later in relation to Lee Samuels, a tobacco importer who travelled back and forth between New York and Havana. He collected Hemingway first editions and ephemera and not infrequently lent Hemingway money. He hung out with Hemingway, and the poolside author photo on the original dust jacket of The Old Man and the Sea was taken by Samuels. Samuels donated a box of manuscripts and books to the Ransom Center in June 1963, but the materials were restricted from access for 25 years.

When I learned the Hemingway/Samuels box was to be opened in 1988, I “volunteered” to catalog the Hemingway monographs. Most of the contents were manuscripts and went to that department, but about 15 books made their way to my desk. I was excited to examine the titles. I picked one up, and it opened flat between pages 100 and 101 because the spine was cracked. I was surprised because I thought Hemingway took better care of his books. I could see threads in the broken binding. Then I noticed the header “Bull in the Afternoon” above the text block.

No, it couldn’t be.

I turned a few pages and at the bottom of page 95, at a slant in the corner, “Witness: Max Perkins” and underneath, in a different hand, “Aug 12 1937 / for archive / Papa.” I then turned to the front free endpaper and halfway down the page was a crude drawing of a hand, beneath which was written, “This is the book I ruined on Max (the Prick) Eastman’s nose, I sincerely hope he burns forever in some hell of his own digging. — Ernest Hemingway.”

Annotated page from Max Eastman's "Art and the Life of Action, with other Essays." The book was part of a skirmish between Ernest Hemingway and Max Eastman.
Annotated page from Max Eastman's "Art and the Life of Action, with other Essays." The book was part of a skirmish between Ernest Hemingway and Max Eastman.