Navigate / search

Screenwriter Paul Schrader’s papers open for research

By Elana Estrin

In the late 1970s, screenwriter Paul Schrader began writing a script titled Born in the U.S.A., and he asked Bruce Springsteen to write a song for the film. The script sat on Springsteen’s table until one day, while working on a song called “Vietnam,” he noticed Schrader’s script, sang the title, and “Born in the U.S.A.” became the hit title song of one of Springsteen’s best-selling albums. Springsteen eventually wrote a new song for the script, which Schrader renamed Light of Day (1987).

Drafts of Schrader’s Born in the U.S.A. and Light of Day scripts and correspondence between Schrader and Springsteen are just a few of the many highlights found in Schrader’s archive, which opens for research today at the Ransom Center.

From drafts of the Taxi Driver (1976) screenplay to Schrader’s baby book, from an outline for Raging Bull (1980) to letters from Schrader’s parents, the archive encompasses Schrader’s career and personal life.

Photographs abound in the archive. Of particular note are film stills, on-set photos, and publicity shots for Taxi Driver, the film that launched Schrader’s career. One photo shows Schrader and a young Jodie Foster at the Cannes Film Festival, and another shows Schrader, Martin Scorsese, and Robert De Niro laughing on set. Invoking De Niro’s Taxi Driver character Travis Bickle, Scorsese inscribed a photo of him with Schrader: “From one Travis to another.” In an e-mail, Schrader wrote that he felt like a Travis Bickle “at one time.”

Immediately following Jaws’s blockbuster success, Steven Spielberg asked Schrader to write a screenplay for what would become Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Spielberg read Schrader’s script, but they didn’t agree on how the story should progress. Spielberg ended up writing the script himself, but drafts and notes for Schrader’s version are included in his archive.

In the mid-1980s, Bob Dylan asked Schrader to direct a music video shot in Japan for his song “Tight Connection to My Heart.” Unhappy with the result, Schrader later called the video “a source of embarrassment.” In addition to scripts, photographs, and film documenting the video production, Schrader’s archive includes a 2002 letter to an executive at Sony in which Schrader looks back on the project 16 years later:

“It was a disaster. Bob had asked me to do it but I really didn’t ‘get’ the new music video language. He didn’t want to do it and by the middle of the shoot I didn’t want to do it. I remember saying to him at one point, ‘Bob, if you ever hear I’m making another music video, just take me out in the back yard and hose me down.’”

When asked how he felt about his archive opening to the public, Schrader responded, “I hope to be too busy to even give it a thought.”

Please click on the thumbnails below to view full-size images.

Photo Friday

By Jennifer Tisdale

Each Friday, the Ransom Center shares photos from throughout the week that highlight a range of activities and collection holdings. We hope you enjoy these photos that reveal some of the everyday happenings at the Center.

Actors Adam Couperthwaite and Robbie Ann Darby perform in ‘No Snakes in This Grass,’ a one-act play by James Magnuson, director of the Michener Center for Writers. Prior to Thanksgiving, The University of Texas at Austin Graduate School and the James A. Michener Center for Writers hosted the event outside the Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
Actors Adam Couperthwaite and Robbie Ann Darby perform in ‘No Snakes in This Grass,’ a one-act play by James Magnuson, director of the Michener Center for Writers. Prior to Thanksgiving, The University of Texas at Austin Graduate School and the James A. Michener Center for Writers hosted the event outside the Ransom Center. Photo by Pete Smith.
Students following the program song list that Thomas G. Palaima created for the Ransom Center’s Poetry on the Plaza 'Harmonica Bob: The Poetry of Bob Dylan.' Palaima is the Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics and Director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Students following the program song list that Thomas G. Palaima created for the Ransom Center’s Poetry on the Plaza 'Harmonica Bob: The Poetry of Bob Dylan.' Palaima is the Dickson Centennial Professor of Classics and Director of the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory at The University of Texas at Austin. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Judith Freeman, author of 'The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and The Woman He Loved,' researches the archive of jazz journalist and historian Ross Russell. Freeman is a recipient of a fellowship funded by the Erle Stanley Gardner Endowment for Mystery Studies. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.
Judith Freeman, author of 'The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and The Woman He Loved,' researches the archive of jazz journalist and historian Ross Russell. Freeman is a recipient of a fellowship funded by the Erle Stanley Gardner Endowment for Mystery Studies. Photo by Anthony Maddaloni.