Posts tagged ‘Hollywood’



From the blog team:

We’re thrilled to tell you that Fred’s novel Gateway may soon be on your TV screen.

Entertainment One Television (Hell on Wheels) in collaboration with De Laurentiis Co. (Dune< and Hannibal) plan to develop and produce a TV drama series adapted from the book, which was one of Fred’s favorites, and a winner of the 1978 Hugo Award for Best Novel, the 1978 Locus Award for Best Novel, the 1977 Nebula Award for Best Novel, and the 1978 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best science-fiction novel.

The two companies were the winners of an auction with a number of producers bidding on the the screen rights to the novel. Martha De Laurentiis and Lorenzo De Maio of De Laurentiis will be the executive producers, along with eOne TV’s John Morayniss, CEO; Michael Rosenberg, executive VP of U.S. scripted TV; and Benedict Carver, senior VP of filmed entertainment. They’re now looking for a writer to do the screenplay adaptation, so interested sf writers with TV experience should contact them.

Some of you will wonder — yes, Fred knew this was coming together before he died.

Frederik Pohl IV

Frederik Pohl IV

I used the word “movie” in conjunction with the word “Gatewaythe other day, and several quick-witted blog readers wrote in to ask what was going to happen with a film for my novel of that title. I shouldn’t have said anything, because it’s a long way from anything tangible, but I was kind of excited about it.

The small amount of news behind my remark is just that, after the previous producers spent somewhere around a million dollars on scripts without finding one they could film, I decided, in collaboration with my son Rick, aka Fred the 4th, to write our own. I do hope it works out well and maybe earns us at least an Emmy or something.

Rick already has three Emmys of his own, but his problem is his good wife is collecting them faster than he is, so what he would really like is an Oscar.

Of course, before we can start thinking about that we really should finish writing the script.

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The conclusion of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.

Alfred Bester, 1979 (Photo by Frank Olynyk).

Alfred Bester, 1979 (Photo by Frank Olynyk).

Audience: What’s it like to start writing the next book after you have written, say, The Demolished Man?

Bester: I’ve just finished a book about a month ago and I’m absolutely pooped — there’s nothing left. It happens with me when I’ve finished something big like a novel. Not a script — with a script or a short story, next week you write another one. But with a book, I’m exhausted.

Now at my advanced age I know better — I leave it alone and the next thing I know, a few weeks, a couple of months maybe, an idea begins to niggle me and the next thing I know I’m beginning to dream and think about it. Who’s as surprised as me when there’s something in my head and there’s my legal pad, and a book is formed? You just have to wait for the battery to recharge. I just wait patiently and it starts all over again. There are so many ideas that one has.

I may think, “Ah yes, there’s that play that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time and I’m going to start on that play,” and the next thing I know it’s going to turn into a novel. You don’t know what will happen — you’re constantly surprised.

Pohl: You’re a much more organized person than I am. I don’t work on one thing at a time. I usually have eight or 10 projects going at one time. I work on one until I’m bored, and don’t know what to do next. Then I put it away and work on another. So the point never really comes where I have to say this day I start from scratch with something new, but each day, to the extent possible with the vicissitudes of travel or something, I do some writing!

Every day. I find that sometimes it gets a little treacherous though because I want to write the same scene in three different novels. There are two novels that I’m working on now and I’ve got a great scene and I want it in both of them.

Bester: I’ve stolen scenes from myself many a time and been ashamed.

Audience: Do you consider the increasing commercialism of science fiction will have a detrimental effect on the future?

Pohl: The increasing commercialism of science fiction has worried me sometimes because it seems to me that the prices have got pretty high and it’s a sort of South Sea Bubble thing that is going to bust before long. But I don’t think it’ll affect any writer seriously. Writers that are good enough to command the sky-high prices that are going on, especially science-fiction writers, are generally also so damn stubborn that they’re going to do what they want to do anyhow. And not too many of the first-rank writers that I know are going to worry about commercialism. They will do their thing.

From time to time I’ve flirted with things like television where you can’t really do your thing unless you have a commanding position and have spent 20 years earning it, but I don’t want to do that, even though I could make much more money and reach a wider audience. It’s not my thing. And most of the writers I know will not do what they don’t want to do, no matter what sort of money is about.

Bester: I agree completely. I do an occasional science-fiction special, but I can’t write for any of the standard shows. The coast — Hollywood — is impossible.

There’s a little gag: What is a camel? A camel is a horse designed by a committee. Out on the coast, it is all committee work.

Pohl: Yes, all these people have to justify their salaries by having an opinion! If they don’t have an opinion, they’re fired.

Bester: Which they impose on you. I’m all kinds of author, but I’ve never yet written anything in which I’ve not been in complete control. And I just will not put up with committee work.

Audience: Another person who comes to mind as somebody who has tried very hard to do his own thing within the framework of media work is Harlan Ellison!

Pohl: Harlan does his own thing. Harlan chooses for reasons not known to me to flagellate himself by going back and writing episodes of The Flying Nun from time to time. Why he does this I don’t really know; he doesn’t need the money.

Bester: Harlan did a Star Trek script and it was the one good script that they had. Harlan’s a marvelous writer, there’s no doubt about it.

Pohl: The reason I don’t get involved in film and top TV, is neither that I’m allergic to money nor above that sort of thing. It’s just that I don’t want to deal with all those people. One maniac editor is all that I can handle at one time; 27 lunatic network executives would just drive me insane.

AD: But Fred, now you’ve achieved enough clout to get away with it.

Pohl: I can get away with it until they come back and say, “NBC loves your idea but they won’t allow you to do what you said you want to do.” And then I walk away.

A couple of years ago, I was coming to Los Angeles and my Hollywood agent called me up and said: “When you come, I’ve got somebody for you to meet. He’s a producer and he wants you to write a script for him.”

And I said: “What kind of script?”

“It’s a Japanese monster movie!”

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 8: Hollywood and the Name Game’ »

The Demolished Man was worth all of Horace Gold’s editorial aggravations. The Demolished Man was fresh, adventurous and beautifully written, and it began a stretch of five years or so during which Alfred Bester was turning out what was arguably some of the best writing in the sf field, right up to his second great novel, The Stars My Destination, sometimes called Tiger! Tiger! in 1956.

But, as far as great sf novels were concerned, that was it. Alfie did produce a group of first-rate short stories and novelettes around that time — “Fondly Fahrenheit,” “5,279,009” and my own personal favorite, “Disappearing Act,” for example — and he did write more novels later on, but I don’t think anyone has ever argued that they came up to the standards of those first two terrific books. Maybe Alfie really needed Horace’s nagging to make them great.

And, actually, science fiction lost a lot of its interest for Alfie Bester.

Alfie hadn’t stopped being a money writer. He had returned to science fiction because the money had got better — magazine word rates had tripled after World War II, and now the stories were being picked up by book publishers for even more money. And Alfie had just gotten some significant Hollywood money (for a film which, of course, was never made), which gave him and Rolly the chance to live in Europe for a while.

This suggested to him that he try a little nonfiction travel writing for a magazine named Holiday, which he discovered was just as painless to write as anything else, provided you were Alfred Bester. That paid pretty well. In fact, the magazine’s editors liked his writing so much that they offered him an editorial job, at quite a decent salary, and Alfie suddenly had a new home.

That is, for eight or nine years he did, up until the time when the magazine, as magazines do, went bust.

And then, after he and Rolly had been happily married for forty-eight years, Rolly died. And he began to lose his vision. And things, which had been going quite well for Alfie Bester, were beginning to be less idyllic.

Continue reading ‘Alfie, Part 2: When Bester was the Best’ »

Possibly in Arizona? Possibly late ’60s?

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan.

For some time now, I’ve been putting on paper recollections that I think will sooner or later go into what will be either an expanded new edition of my autobiography, The Way the Future Was, or a new book which is a sort of sequel to that one. The trouble is that for some of the most interesting events, including some obscure cons, I’ve forgotten a lot of important details, even such matters as when and where they were held.

Take, for instance the one I think of as the “Johnny Weissmuller Con.” It was in many ways a great con, with a terrific cast of guests — Robert Heinlein, Jack Williamson, Gordie Dickson and many another writer (including me) and even such rarely observed media people as Johnny Weissmuller and Tarzan’s favorite Jane, Maureen O’Sullivan.

Maureen O’ had been one of my most-loved stars ever since she starred in that early, and pretty sappy, sf film, Just Imagine. Getting a chance to talk to her was pure gravy. (When you saw the two of them on the stage at the con, it seemed that the personalities of their roles in the Tarzan movies were drawn from the real-life personalities of the pair of them. Smart, competent Jane had to help musclebound but tongue-tied Tarzan come up with answers to the questions in their on-stage interview.)

So if any of you remember anything about that con, I’d be grateful if you dropped me a line.

The Starship Enterprise

“A kind of Wagon Train in space. . . .”

The Man Who Launched the Enterprise

Majel Barrett and Gene Roddenberry.

      Majel Barrett and Gene Roddenberry.

I was pretty satisfied with Tricon, the Worldcon in Cleveland in 1966. When it was over, I had had a chance to hang with many old friends, I had had a few talks with writers I wanted to juice up for the magazines I was editing, Galaxy and If, and I had picked up another Hugo Award — this one a “Best Magazine” award for If. I was aware that there was a lot of stuff going on that I had missed — like the showing of the pilot episode of something called Star Trek — but I had received an information package about it from its producer, somebody named Gene Roddenberry, and he had described it as “a kind of Wagon Train in space.” That didn’t awaken in my soul any desire to see it.

True, Roddenberry himself sounded sort of interesting: A B-17 pilot with 89 missions in the South Pacific in World War II, later a sergeant in the Los Angeles Police Department, who began writing TV scripts in his spare time. But by then I had had a fair number of dealings with TV people on my own, and they hadn’t impressed me with the breed. I wasn’t enough interested to offer to buy him a drink.

Then, in 1969, I won another Hugo for If and Star Trek won a Hugo of its own, and I got an idea. The most conspicuous thing about television was that their numbers were at least an order of magnitude larger than ours at the magazines. So why shouldn’t I try to get in on some of those large numbers, perhaps by obtaining the rights to publish an occasional story based on a Star Trek episode in one of my magazines? Would any of those numbers rub off on us?

I didn’t know that they would. On the other hand, I didn’t know that they wouldn’t. So I wrote Gene a letter, outlining what I had in mind and suggesting that he and I get together to talk it over. He responded at once with, “Sure, let’s.” And a week or two later, when I had been planning to be in L.A. for the purpose of urging some writers on anyway, I drove my rented convertible up to the gate at the Desilu lot, where Star Trek was filmed, and told the armed guard that I was here to see Mr. Roddenberry.

* * *

Gene turned out to be friendly, smart and obliging. He thought my plan could do nothing but good for both parties, and he thought it should be put into practice right away.

The only thing wrong with that plan, he told me, was that he didn’t have the authority to okay it. That belonged to the higher-ups in the company’s Byzantine Hollywood corporate structure. Star Trek didn’t own itself. It was owned by Paramount Pictures, which would have to approve the plan. Unfortunately, though, even Paramount’s approval didn’t mean I could start commissioning stories, because they, too, were owned, this time by the sprawling Gulf & Western, sometimes called Engulf & Destroy.

“So how long until we get a decision from Gulf and Western?” I asked, as politely as possible.

“Oh, you never know that,” Gene said. “Sometimes not too long. But anyway, as long as you’re here, I’ve got a photographer standing by. Mind if he takes a few pictures?”

I didn’t, and for a prop Gene picked his Hugo from the Worldcon off the shelf and we passed it back and forth for a dozen or so photographs — me awarding it to him for some, and then Gene awarding it to me (but with the lettering on the base carefully concealed) on the rest. And then I went on with the rest of my West Coast obligations.

Gene had invited me to try writing a script for the series. I did try, but without much luck. Perhaps the problem was that I didn’t really like the idea of another barrier between me and the audience — that is, a director and a bunch of actors — or perhaps I just wasn’t into network television, having already had my share of disillusioning experiences with it. Anyway, for some reason I just was no good at it. Still, that — and the hope that Engulf and Destroy might ultimately come up with the okay for us to do some of the stories — meant that I was in the habit of visiting Gene every time I hit L.A., which was always a pleasure. . . .

Well, almost always. There was the time when he invited me up to his home for lunch, high over Hollywood, where he lived with his wife, better known as Majel Barrett when she had appeared as Nurse Chapel in the series. It was a handsome house, with a grand view of the city spread out below. The furnishing was handsome, too, including the deep-pile, snow-white carpeting in the room we were in. Majel asked me whether I preferred white wine or red. I took the red. Then I almost immediately knocked the glass over, spilling the whole glass of that deep red wine onto the still deep-pile, but no longer snow-white, carpeting.

Majel was a sweet-tempered woman. The proof of that is that she didn’t snatch up one of the cheese knives and cut my throat on the spot.

I used to see Majel every once in a while at dinners of the local space society, where she was an honored guest. She spoke to me without rancor, which is proof, again, that she had totally forgiven me. (It is impossible that she simply forgot what I did to her beautiful white carpet.)

* * *

Star Trek had a good first year and a somewhat less good second year. For the third year it got canceled.

This sort of event is by no means unusual in the bloodthirsty world of network TV, but Gene wasn’t prepared to take it lying down. So he and some confederates concocted a plan to keep the show on the air for a while.

One of the confederates turned out to be me. To find out more about it, however, you’ll have to wait for the conclusion of this essay. That will be coming up in this blog before long, but not until I get around to writing it.

To be continued. . . .

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Raising Star Trek from the Dead