Surprising Screenplays Written by Famous Authors


It’s not unusual for artists and other creatives to dabble in different mediums, especially when it comes to writers. Hollywood saw many well-known novelists pounding the pavement, looking for work — particularly through the 1950s. They were a hot commodity in Tinseltown when the demand for convincing characters, dialogue, and story lines became essential to box office success — and they were broke. Sometimes, though, the famous authors who took a turn at screenwriting have surprised us with the scope of their cinematic endeavors. Some of these unlikely pairings were in it for the paycheck. Other writers did it to flex their creative muscles, and several just seem to be really big geeks for genre films, which makes us love them even more. Whatever the reasons, you’ll find a few surprises past the break. Check out which of your favorite authors also wrote for the big screen after the jump.

William Faulkner wrote The Big Sleep (with Leigh Brackett)

With several titles already under his belt, including The Sound and the Fury — one of the greatest 20th century novels — William Faulkner still found himself broke, so he picked up work as a screenwriter. He arrived in Hollywood to get started on noir classic The Big Sleep (70 years ago today), which fellow novelist and sci-fi author Leigh Bracket eventually joined him on. The film became a critical success, and the duo even provided input about one of the film’s murder sequences, which had been left unresolved by author Raymond Chandler in the book version. Faulkner had also worked with director Howard Hawks on 1944’s To Have and Have Not. Need we elaborate on why Faulkner writing the script for a Hemingway adaptation is kind of hilarious?

Mario Puzo Wrote Superman

When most people hear the name Mario Puzo, they immediately think of the striking black and white cover of his 1969 novel The Godfather. Puzo later adapted the novel for Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film, but the author has also scribbled up a superhero movie. After several names were considered for the role — including gritty pulp, sci-fi novelist Alfred Bester (wow, that would have been interesting) — Puzo was hired for the job to add to the film’s name recognition. His working of the script turned out to be “too epic and too expensive,” and other writers were brought in to transform it — most famously, Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote the majority of the final script and never actually received a proper credit. Other interference led to further changes, including Puzo’s script for Superman II that was shot simultaneously with the original. While Puzo definitely feels like an unlikely choice, the emphasis on Clark Kent’s family saga is something audiences can connect to his works like The Godfather.

Ray Bradbury wrote Moby Dick

How did sci-f, fantasy, horror author Ray Bradbury of Fahrenheit 451 fame end up working on John Huston’s 1956 adaptation of Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick? “I had fallen in love with John Huston’s work when I was in my twenties… When I was twenty-nine I attended a film screening and John Huston was sitting right behind me,” Bradbury explained to the Paris Review in 2010. “I wanted to turn, grab his hand, and say, I love you and I want to work with you. But I held off and waited until I had three books published, so I’d have proof of my love.” Eventually the two connected, and Huston asked him to work on Moby Dick. ” I’ve never been able to read the damned thing,” Bradbury admitted to him before giving it a go. He described the work as sheer poetry. “You fall in love with poetry. You fall in love with Shakespeare… I was able to do the job not because I was in love with Melville, but because I was in love with Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote Moby-Dick, using Melville as a Ouija board.” Although Huston loved the final screenplay, the two famously fought during production. Bradbury later wrote several semi-fictional accounts of his explosive experience, including Green Shadows, White Whale.

Roald Dahl wrote You Only Live Twice

British children’s writer Roald Dahl — author behind memorable tales like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Fantastic Mr. Fox — wrote a spy thriller. He was a close friend of Ian Fleming’s and the James Bond creator set him to the task, putting Dahl’s dark, adult undertones to use. Dahl called You Only Live Twice Fleming’s worst novel and claimed it was impossible to adapt. He ended up modeling his screenplay after the first Bond movie Dr. No, but had to stick to strict plot formulas that prevented him from truly making it his own. Dahl wasn’t crazy about the screenwriting process overall. “If you’ve got enough money to live comfortably, there’s no reason in the world to do a screenplay,” he declared. “Harry Curtis once said that the only reason anybody ever does a screenplay is because you’re paid so much money and because you’re hungry. It’s an awful job.” Still, he later adapted Fleming’s other story for the big screen, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, amongst other works.

Truman Capote wrote The Innocents

The Breakfast at Tiffany’s author wrote a horror flick in 1961. (We wish he were still around to write one today.) The British terror tale based on Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw won Capote an Edgar Award. His atmospheric, Southern Gothic style makes sense for the story when you think about, although this may be a shock to those who most closely associate him with the romantic screen version of his 1958 novella featuring Holly Golightly.

Dave Eggers co-wrote Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze and pal Dave Eggers, McSweeney’s founder and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius writer, worked closely with author Maurice Sendak on the adaptation of his classic children’s story, Where the Wild Things Are. Some audiences didn’t jibe with the changes they saw from page to screen, particularly the world of the Wild Things. “From the beginning, though, Maurice was clear that he didn’t want the movie or the book to be timid adaptations. He wanted us to feel free to push and pull the original story in new directions. Spike also gave me total leeway to make the book my own,” Eggers said of the film. The writer’s lyrical prose and shifting emotional tone made Wild Things too dark for other audiences, recalling his somewhat divisive reputation.

Michael Chabon wrote Spider-Man 2 and John Carter

Wonder Boys novelist Michael Chabon wrote a quarterly anthology series for Dark Horse Comics — The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist — and set his award-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay in the comic book universe, but did you know he wrote a superhero movie and a sci-fi actioner? Chabon just completed work on Disney’s blockbuster disappointment John Carter and previously Spider-Man 2. Both films have a lot of heart and feature the kind of extraordinary transformation of ordinary people Chabon’s readers are familiar with. The writer is currently working with Jon Favreau and Pixar on the upcoming adventure tale, Magic Kingdom (yes, about the theme park).

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote unfilmed work for Gone with the Wind

The Great Gatsby author shifted his attention from the Jazz Age to 19th-century American South when he started working on script edits for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s epic, Gone with the Wind. After screenwriter Sidney Howard delivered a massive script that would have set the film to over six hours long, several writers were brought in to work on changes. Fitzgerald was among them — although he hated Hollywood and felt debased by needing the paycheck. His version of the dramatic tale pared things down and allied closer to the novel, but soon other writers swept in and carried on without him.

Gore Vidal co-wrote (uncredited) Ben-Hur

If you’re wondering who pissed off Ben-Hur star Charlton Heston when the writer admitted he made contributions to the script that included homosexual subtext, look no further than The City and the Pillar author Gore Vidal. His 1948 book made waves for its openly gay content, but that controversy also extended to the big screen. The author was appointed to rewrite the historical drama classic Ben-Hur, in which he depicted Messala and Ben-Hur as spurned lovers. He recounts the experience in the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet .

Martin Amis wrote Saturn 3

Money and London Fields author Martin Amis wrote a B-movie featuring boobs, Kirk Douglas as Farrah Fawcett’s pervy grandpa lover, and Douglas nudie wrestling with Harvey Keitel. That’s all you really need to know.