In 1943, at Alfred Hitchcock’s request, John Steinbeck wrote a novella expressly to serve as the basis for Hitchcock’s new film, Lifeboat. As with any adaptation, Hitchcock and his screenwriters adapted the text to serve his purposes, and in 1944, Steinbeck watched the finished film — but was completely mortified and offended by what he saw. In his estimation, and in the letter he subsequently wrote to the studio, which we first saw over at Letters of Note, Hitchcock had turned his well-crafted black character into a parodic “stock comedy Negro” and did not want these “strange, sly obliquities” to be revealed to the public under his name. Click through to read, and — especially if you’ve seen the film — let us know what you think in the comments!
Steinbeck wrote the following letter to 20th Century Fox:
New York January 10, 1944 Dear Sirs: I have just seen the film Lifeboat, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and billed as written by me. While in many ways the film is excellent there are one or two complaints I would like to make. While it is certainly true that I wrote a script for Lifeboat, it is not true that in that script as in the film there were any slurs against organized labor nor was there a stock comedy Negro. On the contrary there was an intelligent and thoughtful seaman who knew realistically what he was about. And instead of the usual colored travesty of the half comic and half pathetic Negro there was a Negro of dignity, purpose and personality. Since this film occurs over my name, it is painful to me that these strange, sly obliquities should be ascribed to me. John Steinbeck
A month later, he sent this telegram to his agent, Annie Laurie Williams:
MEXICO CITY FEBRUARY 19, 1944 PLEASE CONVEY THE FOLLOWING TO 20TH CENTURY FOX IN VIEW OF THE FACT THAT MY SCRIPT FOR THE PICTURE LIFE BOAT WAS DISTORTED IN PRODUCTION SO THAT ITS LINE AND INTENTION HAS BEEN CHANGED AND BECAUSE THE PICTURE SEEMS TO ME TO BE DANGEROUS TO THE AMERICAN WAR EFFORT I REQUEST MY NAME BE REMOVED FROM ANY CONNECTION WITH ANY SHOWING OF THIS FILM JOHN STEINBECK
The studio ignored this request.