Cover image for My movie business : a memoir
My movie business : a memoir
Irving, John, 1942-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, 1999.
Physical Description:
170 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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PS3559.R8 Z468 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3559.R8 Z468 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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John Irving's memoir begins with his account of the distinguished career and medical writings of the novelist's grandfather Dr. Frederick C. Irving, a renowned obstetrician and gynecologist, and includes Mr. Irving's incisive history of abortion politics in the United States. But My Movie Business focuses primarily on the thirteen years John Irving spent adapting his novel The Cider House Rules for the screen--for four different directors.          Mr. Irving also writes about the failed effort to make his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, into a movie; about two of the films that were made from his novels (but not from his screenplays), The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire; about his slow progress at shepherding his screenplay of A Son of the Circus into production.          Not least, and in addition to its qualities as a memoir--anecdotal, comic, affectionate, and candid--My Movie Business is an insightful essay on the essential differences between writing a novel and writing a screenplay. The photographs in My Movie Business were taken by Stephen Vaughan, the still photographer on the set of The Cider House Rules--a Miramax production directed by Lasse Hallström, with Michael Caine in the role of Dr. Larch. Concurrently with the November 1999 release of the film, Talk Miramax Books will publish John Irving's screenplay.

Author Notes

John Irving published his first novel at the age of twenty-six. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation; he has won an O. Henry Award, a National Book Award, and an Academy Award.

(Publisher Provided) John Irving was born John Wallace Blunt, Jr. on March 2, 1942 in Exeter, New Hampshire. His named was changed to John Winslow Irving when his stepfather adopted him at the age of six. He was a dyslexic child and it took him five years to get through Exeter Academy, which is where his adoptive father taught Russian history. He received a B.A. (cum laude) from the University of New Hampshire in 1965 and an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, in 1967, where he studied with Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

His first novel was Setting Free the Bears (1969) but it wasn't until The World According to Garp was published in 1978, that he became a literary star. The novel spent six months on the bestseller list and won the American Book Award in 1980. It was also made into a movie in 1982 starring Robin Williams and costarring Glenn Close and John Lithgow. In 1981, he received an O. Henry Award for the short story Interior Space. Some of his other novels were also made into movies including The Hotel New Hampshire starring Jodie Foster and Rob Lowe; A Prayer for Owen Meany, which was titled Simon Birch starring Jim Carrey; and The Cider House Rules starring Michael Caine. He won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules in 2000.

Irving also wrote two memoirs; one detailing his wrestling adventures entitled The Imaginary Girlfriend, and another concerning his novels made into Hollywood films entitled My Movie Business: A Memoir.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The particular business at hand is the new movie based on Irving's novel The Cider House Rules, for which the novelist wrote the screenplay, composing the first version 13 years ago. Two producers and four directors were involved in getting it filmed, and when the film editing was done, it was some 50 scenes shorter than when shooting commenced. Irving begins his account of that long process much earlier, with his interest in medicine, physicians, and the issue at the center of the novel and the film, abortion. His grandfather was an innovative obstetrician who, Irving believes, saw enough of the consequences of untimely pregnancies to be sympathetic to the sober proabortion argument that informs the drama of The Cider House Rules. That drama is the story of how, in Depression-era Maine, an institutionalized orphan, personally trained by the orphanage's doctor-director to perform abortions as well as licit obstetrics, rebels against the procedure and leaves the place but, forced to perform an abortion in a crisis, understands his mentor's position and returns to replace him at the orphanage. Irving also recalls his involvement with attempts to film four of his other novels, but he homes in on the Cider House experience. His is very much a writer's perspective; he speaks of character, dramatic development, casting, and acting to the virtual exclusion of the details of visualization, sound production, and montage that are additional paramount concerns for a film director. Cineasts as well as Irving's fans ought to find this book enthralling whether they see the movie or not; those who see and like the movie shouldn't miss reading it. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

After three of his novels became motion pictures scripted by other writers (The World According to Garp, Hotel New Hampshire and A Prayer for Owen Meany, which was rechristened on screen as Simon Birch), and two of his own screenplays languished unproduced, Irving finally got his chance to adapt one of his novels to film. The focus of this slim, eloquent memoir is Irving's 13-year struggle to bring The Cider House Rules to the big screen, and its passage through the hands of various producers, four different directors and numerous rewrites. Backtracking to illuminate the origin of the novel's pro-abortion stance, Irving introduces readers to his grandfather, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and to the history of abortion. (Abortions didn't become illegal throughout the U.S. until 1846, when physicians sought to take the procedureÄand financial rewardsÄout of the hands of midwives, Irving reveals.) He also offers a fascinating and detailed look at how he trimmed his huge novel into a workable screenplay. Although he professes to love the final product, Irving details each scene and line that was cut as the film was edited down to two hours. While he claims to be pleased with the screen treatments of his previous novels, he is disappointingly silent on the subject of Simon Birch (he refused the filmmakers the use of the protagonist's name and also insisted that the screen credit state that the film was "Suggested by the novel"). 32 pages of photographs. (Nov.) FYI: The Cider House Rules, starring Tobey McGuire, Michael Caine and Erykah Badu, opens Nov. 24. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Irving also turns to nonfiction, though his memoir recalls a wild journey of a different sort. Here he details the 13 years he spent on the screenplay for The Cider House Rules. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Ether Addict The plot of The Cider House Rules is far more complicated than the compressed version of the story and its characters that I adapted as a screenplay (over a thirteen-year period, and for four different directors). In the novel, I began with the four failed adoptions of the orphan Homer Wells. By the end of the first chapter, when Homer returns for the fourth time to the orphanage in St. Cloudís, Maine, the orphanage physician, Dr. Wilbur Larch, decides heíll have to keep him. Dr. Larch, an obstetrician and (in the 1930s and í40s) an illegal abortionist, trains Homer Wells to be a doctor. This is illegal, too, of courseóHomer never goes to high school or to college, not to mention medical school. But with Dr. Larchís training and the assistance of Larchís faithful nurses, Angela and Edna, Homer becomes an experienced obstetrician and gynecologist. He refuses to perform abortions, however. The second chapter of the novel describes Larchís childhood and medical-school years, his first internship in Boston, and the experiences that have made him ìa patron saint of orphansî and an abortionist. The history of Homerís failed adoptions and Larchís background are not developed in the screenplay. Larchís ether addiction is developed in both the book and the film, but his sexual abstemiousness, a feature of his eccentricity in the novel, was never in any draft of the script; instead, in the movie, I strongly imply that Dr. Larch may have had (or still has) a sexual relationship with Nurse Angela. I wanted to make Larch more normal. There is less time for character development in a film than in a novel; a characterís eccentricities can too easily become the character. In the movie, I thought Larchís addiction to ether was eccentric enough. In the screenplay, as in the novel, it is both Homerís conflict with Larch over the abortion issue and Homerís desire to see something of the world outside St. Cloudís that make him leave the orphanage with Wally Worthington and Candy Kendallóan attractive couple who come to St. Cloudís for an abortion. But in the book, Homer spends fifteen years away from the orphanageóin that time, Wally and Homer become best friends, Homer falls in love with Candy, and Wally and Candy get married. The passage of time, which is so important in all my novels, is not easily captured in a film. In the screenplay, Homer stays away from St. Cloudís for only fifteen months, Wally isnít Homerís best friend, and Candy is the sexual aggressor in her relationship with Homer. And in the novel, Homer and Candy have a son, Angel, who they pretend is adopted. Wally, out of love for all of them, tolerates this obvious fiction and his wifeís infidelity. In the screenplay, there is no child and Wally never knows about Candyís transgressions. Developing sympathy, not unlike developing character, takes time; in the movie, I tried to make Homer more sympathetic by making him less responsible for the affair with Candy. I made less of the affair, too. But in both the novel and the screenplay, what precipitates Homerís return to the orphanage, where he replaces Dr. Larch as the obstetrician and the abortionist in St. Cloudís, is his discovery of the relationship between a black migrant apple picker and his daughter. Mr. Rose, the picking-crew boss on the apple farm where Wally gives Homer a job, impregnates his own daughter, Rose Rose. In the novel, it is Homer and Candyís son, Angel, who falls in love with Rose Rose and first makes this discovery, but since I eliminated Angel from the screenplay, I made Homer find out about Rose Roseís pregnancy directly. When Homer acknowledges that he must perform an abortion on Rose Rose, he realizes that he can no longer deny that procedure to other women who want it. All the time Homer Wells is away from St. Cloudís, the aging and ether-addicted Dr. Larch has been plotting how Homer can replace him; in the end of both the novel and the film, Homer accepts the responsibility Larch has left to him. The doctorís young apprentice becomes the orphanage physician. Left out of the movie was the book-length character of Melony, an older girl who befriends Homer as a young orphan at St. Cloudís. Melony is also the source of Homerís sexual initiation, and she extracts from him a promise he will breakóthat he wonít leave her. But I eliminated her from the screenplay; she was simply too overpowering a character. Over and over again, the limitation imposed on the length of a movie has consequences. The novel of The Cider House Rules was more than 800 manuscript pages longóitís more than 500 book pages. The finished screenplay was a mere 136 manuscript pages. It pained me to lose Melony, but I had to do it. It helped me that thereíd been a precedent to losing Melony. In several foreign countries where the novel was translated, I lost the title. (Of my nine novels, The Cider House Rules is my favorite title.) In some languages, The Cider House Rules was simply too clumsy to translate. In France, cider is an alcoholic drink; in German, ìcider house rulesî is one word. I forget what the problem was in Finnish, but the Finns titled the novel The Hero of His Own Lifeófrom the beginning of David Copperfield, which Dr. Larch reads and rereads to the orphans at St. Cloudís. Homer Wells takes the opening passage from David Copperfield personally. ìWhether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. The German title, Gottes Werk und Teufels Beitrag (The Work of the Lord, the Contribution of the Devil), imitates Dr. Larchís manner of speaking in code to his nurses. (The French made a similar choice for the title: LíOeuvre de Dieu, la Part du Diable.) This is Larchís way of indicating to Angela and Edna whether he is delivering a baby or performing an abortion. The point being that, in Larchís view, it is all the Lordís workóeither he is delivering a baby or he is delivering a mother. (In the film, Dr. Larchís willingness to give abortions is established in the montage over the opening credits. Homerís reluctance to perform the procedure is expressed in the first scene of dialogue between them.)         I felt that a man who takes on the enormous responsibility of life or no life in an orphanage in poor, rural Maineóa man like Dr. Larchówould be deeply scarred. For this reason I made Larch an ether addict. Ether was first synthesized in 1540 by a twenty-five-year-old Prussian botanist. People have been having ether frolicsóand later, laughing-gas partiesóever since. In the proper hands, ether remains one of the safest inhalation agents known. At a concentration of only 1 or 2 percent, it is a light, tasty vapor; some forty years ago, hundreds of cases of cardiac surgery were done with ether and partially awake (even talking) patients. Some of Dr. Larchís colleagues would have preferred nitrous oxide or chloroform, but Larch developed his preference for ether through self-administration. You would have to be crazy to self-administer chloroform. It is twenty-five times more toxic to the heart muscle than is ether, and it has an extremely narrow margin of safety; a minimal overdose can result in cardiac irregularity and death. Nitrous oxide requires a very high (at least 80 percent) concentration to do the job, and it is always accompanied by a degree of what is called hypoxiaóinsufficient oxygen. It requires careful monitoring and cumbersome apparatus, and the patient runs the risk of bizarre fantasies or giggling fits. Induction is very fast. Coleridge was a laughing-gas man, although the poet was certainly familiar with ether, too. It was unfortunate for Coleridge that he preferred opium. Ether is a kinder drug addiction to bear. But no drug addiction is without riskóand no self-administered anesthesia is safe. After all, in both the novel and the film, Dr. Larch accidentally kills himself with ether. When I first thought about the grounding for Dr. Larchís character, I kept one principle foremost in mind: he goes to extremes. In the novel, he has sex just once, with a prostitute who gives him gonorrhea. He starts taking ether to numb himself to the pain of the gonococci; by the time the bacteria burns itself out, Larch is addicted to the ether. I thought that he should be no less extreme as a doctor. In the movie, Larchís onetime experience with the prostitute, his case of the clap, and his subsequent sexual abstemiousness are gone. What remains is his ether addiction; without a history, it seems more desperate, more extreme. Homer defends Larchís reasons for taking ether by saying that Larch needs it to help him sleep (ìHeís too tired to sleepî), but the ether numbs Larchís overall pain. He takes it to relieve his angst, his Weltschmerz. Excerpted from My Movie Business: A Memoir by John Irving All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1. Mrs. Berkeley's Constipationp. 3
2. The Ether Addictp. 8
3. Rubber Glovesp. 16
4. Not Quite Awakep. 18
5. The Great God Irvingp. 21
6. To Be of Usep. 26
7. Paying the Piperp. 34
8. But Could It Really Be Taught to a Chimpanzee?p. 38
9. The Disintegrating Uterusp. 42
10. The Bleak Versionp. 50
11. No Escargotp. 57
12. First Haircutp. 66
13. The Motorcycle I Gave Awayp. 73
14. Not Completely Healedp. 82
15. Not Wang, Not Winterbottomp. 93
16. Losing Wally, Keeping Candyp. 106
17. A Terse Speculation on the Movie Posterp. 115
18. Alone at Their Tablep. 122
19. The Disapproving Stationmasterp. 131
20. Fuzzyp. 137
21. Lost Scenesp. 146
22. The Twelve-Year-Old Girlp. 153
23. Fade to Blackp. 163