The Oscars were always a big deal at our house. It was one of the few nights our parents let us stay up late. My brother and I used to study the checklist of Academy Award nominations on the back page of the local TV Guide and then devise a complex betting system involving pennies (five pennies were awarded if our favorite nominee won, four for our second favorite, etc.) so that the sound of the ceremony on television was always drowned out by the “plunk, plunk, plunk” of pennies dropping into the copper bowls (his red, mine blue) where we harbored our winnings. There was Pepsi and Fresca and potato chips -- and not just chips, but also...dip! Chip dip was only for special occasions: New Year’s Eve...the occasional big family get-together...and Oscar Night. And, since this was the late sixties/early seventies, we’re talking about French Onion dip made from one container of sour cream mixed with one pack of Lipton onion soup mix. (If we were really daring, we’d make it with Zevo, which was some kind of low-calorie sour cream of the era.)
The irony is that, for all our excitement, we were too young to have seen any of the movies...didn’t know the actors and actresses who were nominated...and could barely stay awake though all the boring categories (short subjects, documentaries) to see the big awards given out in the last few minutes of the ceremony.
Today’s Sunday Brunch is all about children’s books and movies. Can you guess how many Newbery-winning books have been filmed? How many children’s book authors have won Oscars? Some of the answers are below...and, here, have some chip dip while you’re reading. Don’t worry, we didn’t make it with Zevo.
THE DISNEY BRAND
This Oscar weekend actually started on Friday night when I stopped at my favorite bookstore and picked up a copy of Jonathan Stroud’s new book, HEROES OF THE VALLEY, an epic adventure/fantasy that draws on Scandanavian myth.
I read the first couple chapters and was quite impressed by the exciting action and beautifully-written prose. Then I set the book down for a moment and noticed this on the heel of the spine:
That Disney logo also appears on the title page. The fact that Hyperion Books is a division of the Disney Company is well-known and has never bothered me before. They’ve published some great books and even won the Newbery with Avi’s CRISPIN : THE CROSS OF LEAD. But in the past the Disney connection was not emblazoned on the spine in that familiar font. I don’t know if others will agree, but I feel that logo cheapens Stroud’s book because it puts me in mind of junky grocery-store activity books featuring Mickey Mouse and princess stickers. It’s hard to take a book seriously when it sports the word "Disney" in a jaunty font with a little circle dotting the i.
NEWBERY BOOKS ON THE SCREEN
If you had asked me a couple days ago how many Newbery Medal books had been made into motion pictures or TV-films, I would have said, “I dunno...six? Seven?” Then I started researching the topic and discovered that at least 25 of them have been filmed, including the very first Newbery-winning title, THE STORY OF MANKIND! How did they make a movie based on Hendrik Willem van Loon’s history of civilization? Not very well, it appears. Here is a chronological list of all the films I could find. Have I missed any?
1922 THE STORY OF MANKIND by Hendrik Willem van Loon was made into a 1957 blockbuster starring Ronald Colman, Hedy Lamarr, Vincent Price, the young Dennis Hopper and...the Marx Brothers? The advertising slogan was “No Greater Cast Ever! Rarely So Vast An Undertaking!” Surely any movie in which Harpo Marx played Isaac Newton was destined to flop.
1923 Hugh Lofting’s THE VOYAGES OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE may not have been the specific novel that inspired the 1967 musical DR. DOLITTLE, but the character certainly did. The movie, which starred Rex Harrison singing such lines as “If people ask me, ‘Can you speak rhinoceros?’ I’d say, ‘Of courserous! Can’t you?’” was nominated for nine Oscars including Best Picture. Eddie Murphy has recently played Dr. Dolittle in some comic remakes. Can you imagine what Polynesia the Parrot would say about that?
1927 Will James’ novel SMOKY THE COW HORSE has been filmed three times -- in 1933, 1946 (starring Fred Macmurray and Anne Baxter) and 1966. (Incidentally, Will James himself used to appear in old westerns as a cowboy extra.)
1936 CADDIE WOODLAWN by Carol Ryrie Brink was made into a 1989 television movie which, based on the picture used in the ad, could have been called CADDIE LONGSTOCKING.
1941 CALL IT COURAGE by Armstrong Sperry was filmed for the Disney TV series in 1973.
1944 Esther Forbes’ JOHNNY TREMAIN was made into a 1957 Disney feature. Not one of Disney’s classics, this is one novel that deserves to be remade.
1945 RABBIT HILL by Robert Lawson was broadcast as a TV episode of NBC CHILDREN’S THEATRE in 1967 with the title LITTLE GEORGIE OF RABBIT HILL.
1949 KING OF THE WIND by Marguerite Henry was made into a 1990 movie starring Richard Harris and two-time Oscar winner Glenda Jackson. Who knew? I sure didn’t.
1954 Joseph Krumgold was involved in the world of motion pictures from a young age. His father ran silent movie houses in New Jersey and Joseph grew up to write several screenplays including SEVEN MILES FROM ALCATRAZ. His Newbery winner ...AND NOW MIGUEL has an interesting history in film. It was originally created as a documentary for the State Department, with Krumgold later adapting his documentary into a novel. In 1966 that novel was made into a motion picture.
1961 Scott O'Dell’s ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS was made into a 1964 movie starring an actress named Celia Kaye wearing a slit leather skirt. No one remembers the movie; everyone remembers the skirt. In fact, this blog has actually had more visits from people Googling “Celia Kaye, slit skirt” than from people searching for information on the Scott O’Dell novel!
1963 The public had been demanding a movie based on Madeleine L'Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME for decades. It was finally broadcast on TV in 2003 and the public was underwhelmed.
1968 FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER by E. L. Konigsburg hit the screens in 1973 with three-time Oscar winner Ingrid Bergman as Mrs. Frankweiler. A floperoo at the box office, it was re-released with the new title THE HIDEAWAYS and still flopped. It was remade as a 1995 TV film with Lauren Bacall as Mrs. Frankweiler. Below you can see the different ways the movie was marketed, first with its original title and emphasis on the kids, then as THE HIDEAWAYS, featuring the kids and Ingrid wearing the fright wig she later loaned to Rachel Roberts for PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK. Later the adult stars (Richard Mulligan, Bergman, and Madeline Kahn) were highlighted. Finally, there’s Lauren (don’t call her Betty unless you know her personally!) Bacall as a sophisticated and modern Mrs. F.
1969 Lloyd Alexander’s THE HIGH KING wasn’t made into a movie, but it should be noted that an earlier novel in the Prydain series, THE BLACK CAULDRON (itself a Newbery Honor) was adapted for a 1985 Disney animated film.
1970 SOUNDER by William H. Armstrong is perhaps the most artistically successful of all Newbery adaptations. This 1972 film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, and received Best Actor and Actress noms for Paul Winfield and Cicely Tyson. A TV version was made in 2003.
1971 SUMMER OF THE SWANS by Betsy Byars was shown as an ABC Afterschool Special called SARA’S SUMMER OF THE SWANS. Christopher Knight and Eve Plumb (AKA Peter and Jan Brady!) had supporting roles. Poor Jan...always on the supporting sidelines...never a STAR!
1972 Robert C. O'Brien’s MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH was made into a 1982 animated feature film, though Mrs. Frisby became “Mrs. Brisby” and the title was changed to THE SECRET OF NIMH. I heard the name of the title character was changed because of a concern that it would be confused with the popular airborn spinning toy. If they made this movie in today’s world of product-placement, I think they probably would have struck some kind of deal with the Wham-O toy company and we’d be throwing Frisbees painted up with rodent faces.
1976 Susan Cooper’s Newbery winner THE GREY KING was not made into a film, but the second book in this series, THE DARK IS RISING, was released last year under the title THE SEEKER : THE DARK IS RISING.
1977 Mildred Taylor’s ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY was shown on television in 1978 with Morgan Freeman in one of the supporting roles.
1978 BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA by Katherine Paterson was made into a TV movie in 1985 and a major motion picture in 2007.
1979 THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin sounds like a natural for the screen, but its 1997 TV adapation was forgettable.
1981 Katherine Paterson’s second Newbery winner, JACOB HAVE I LOVED, was a 1989 TV movie starring Bridget Fonda as “Weezy.”
1983 Although Cynthia Voigt’s DICEY’S SONG has not been filmed, the first book in the Tillermann series, HOMECOMING, was made into a very fine 1996 TV-movie starring Anne Bancroft.
1986 SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL was made into an acclaimed TV movie in 1991 starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken, with Patricia MacLachlan adapting her own novel for the teleplay.
1987 Sid Fleischman wrote a number of screenplays over his career, including the 1956 tearjerker GOOD-BYE, MY LADY , which had me bawling like a baby when I was much younger. (Well, not that much younger; I saw it about five years ago.) Anyway, his Newbery winner THE WHIPPING BOY was made into a 1995 telefilm starring that notorious Oscar rejector George C. Scott.
1991 MANIAC MAGEE by Jerry Spinelli was made into a 2003 TV movie. It was directed by Bob Clark, who also directed the classic A CHRISTMAS STORY. (Okay, he also directed the Porky’s movies, but we’ll pretend he didn’t.)
1992 Phyllis Reynolds Naylor scored a trifecta, with SHILOH released as a movie in 1996, followed by its sequels, SHILOH SEASON and SAVING SHILOH, hitting the screen in 1999 and 2006.
1999 Louis Sachar wrote the screenplay for his novel HOLES, which was released in 2003, starring Shia LaBeouf, Sigourney Weaver and Jon Voight.
2004 THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX by Kate DiCamillo was recently released as an animated feature film. In fact, if you hurry up you can probably still catch it at the dollar theatres.
2009 I think we can predict with great accuracy that Neal Gaiman's GRAVEYARD BOOK will become a film sooner rather than later.
I haven’t checked all the Caldecott winners to see which have been filmed. I imagine some have been made into short subject cartoons, but the only titles that I know have become full-scale motion pictures are both of Chris Van Allsburg’s winners. JUMANJI was made into a 1995 film and THE POLAR EXPRESS hit the big screen in 2004 with Tom Hanks in the starring role.
Last year’s winner, Brian Selznick’s THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET, is currently in development for film. This is particularly fitting since the book is about the early days of moviemaking. ...And did you know that Brian is a distant relative of the famed producer David O. Selznick.
WHY WE’LL BE SEEING MORE CHILDREN’S BOOKS ON THE SCREEN
It appears that films of children’s books have been doing particularly well at the box office lately. Of 2008’s top ten grossing films, TWILIGHT (based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer) was #7 and HORTON HEARS A WHO (based on the book by Dr. Seuss) was #10.
2007’s top ten included the third film in the SHREK series (based on the book by William Steig) and HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (J.K. Rowling.)
Incidentally, has there ever been a more faithful film adaptation of a children’s series than the Harry Potter books, with each volume being carefully made into a well-received movie with the same lead performers?
Another author treated very well by Hollywood is S.E. Hinton who, within a three-year period in the early 1980s saw four of her young adult novels, TEX, THE OUTSIDERS, RUMBLE FISH and THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW made into fine films -- two directed by Francis Ford Coppola! -- and featuring then-up-and-comers such as Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Nicolas Cage, Laurence Fishburne, Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise.
EIGHT GOOD MOVIES BASED ON KIDS’ BOOKS
In addition to some of the titles mentioned above (SOUNDER, RUMBLE FISH, etc.), here are a few especially good movies based on books for young people:
THE BLACK STALLION (1979) is based on Walter Farley’s novel.
BABE (1995) is adapted from the novel by Dick King-Smith.
CAPTAIN COURAGEOUS (1937) is based on Rudyard’s Kiplings classic; Spencer Tracy won an Oscar for it.
OLD YELLER (1957) originated in a Newbery Honor book by Fred Gipson.
THE YEARLING (1946) started with MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS’ novel which was published as a adult book, true...but can be found in every children’s library.
LITTLE WOMEN (1933) is based on the Louisa May Alcott novel and starring Katharine Hepburn.
CAROLINE? (1990) not to be confused with CORALINE, this TV movie was based on E.L. Konigsburg’s novel FATHER’S ARCANE DAUGHTER and won the Emmy for Outstanding Special of the Year.
CORALINE (2009) not to be confused with CAROLINE?, this movie from Neal Gaiman's novel is currently playing in theatres everywhere and getting raves.
SIX CHILDREN’S BOOKS MADE INTO MOVIE MUSICALS
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) may not be faithful to the L.Frank Baum novel, but it’s acquired a life separate from the book and is loved by almost everyone. Its theme song, “Somewhere Over theRainbow” won an Oscar.
MARY POPPINS (1964) isn’t real faithful to the P.L. Travers book either, but Julie Andrews won an Oscar in the title role and “Chim Chim Cher-ee” won Best Song.
CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1968) was adapted from the book by Ian Fleming. The title tune was nominated for an Oscar.
BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS (1971) is based on Mary Norton’s book BEDKNOB AND BROOMSTICK. (Why did they change the title? I guess in Hollywood they always believe that more is better.) This Angela Lansbury movie also had an Oscar-nominated song, “The Age of Not Believing.” Do you know it? Me neither.
THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967) was an animated film made from Rudyard Kipling’s book; it also got a Best Song nomination for “The Bare Necessities.”
HEIDI (1937) starring Shirley Temple. I know you’re saying, “But it’s not a musical!” No? Then why was that dumb “In Our Little Wooden Shoes” number plunked down in the middle of it? Don’t get me wrong, I love this movie...but that’s really a silly and unnecessary song. If they wanted to make this a musical, they should have gone full-tilt-boogie and made it a big ol’ all singing-all dancing extravaganza by adding a few songs like “I Love a Happy Yodelin’ Tune,” “Just a Squirt of Goat Milk,” “Papa, Watch Me Walk,” “Oh My Pretty Little Snowglobe (How Can I Put You Together Again?)” and the soaring duet “Grandfather, Grandfather! Heidi, Heidi!”
SIX MOVIES ABOUT CHILDREN’S AUTHORS
THE DREAMER OF OZ, a 1990 telefilm, starred John Ritter as L. Frank Baum.
1993’s SHADOWLANDS starred Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis.
Johnny Depp got a 2005 Oscar nomination for his performance as J.M. Barrie in FINDING NEVERLAND.
Rene Zellwegger portrayed the creator of Peter Rabbit in the 2006 film MISS POTTER.
Danny Kaye had the title role in the 1952 movie musical HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN.
Matt Damon, who won an Oscar for writing GOOD WILL HUNTING, and Heath Ledger, who will probably win a supporting actor Oscar this evening for THE DARK KNIGHT, played the lead roles in 2005’s THE BROTHERS GRIMM.
...AND ONE WAITING TO BE MADE
I understand THE SECRET LIFE OF THE LONELY DOLL : THE SEARCH FOR DARE WRIGHT by Jean Nathan is about to be made into a movie. I love this book. In fact, I loved it so much that, as soon as I finished reading it the first time I turned back to page one and started reading it again. I thought that was due to my interest in children’s books, but I then gave the book to someone else to read -- someone who knew nothing about kids’ books -- and they reported that they had to read it twice as well. It’s that kind of book.
I’m really curious to learn who will be cast in the pivotal roles of that tortured soul Dare Wright and her (s)mother Edie, one of the most controlling maternal figures ever. Whoever takes the role of Dare must be beautiful, charming, ethereal, willing to play scenes of madness and near-degradation. Full frontal nudity required. (Curious why? Read the book. It’s great.)
ONE MOVIE SET IN A CHILDREN’S BOOKSTORE
The 1998 Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks romance YOU’VE GOT MAIL concerns a children’s bookstore that was modeled after New York’s famous BOOKS OF WONDER. During the course of the movie, several children’s titles are referenced, including the BETSY-TACY books by Maud Hart Lovelace, BOY by Roald Dahl, and the “Shoe” books by Noel Streatfeild.
DID I DREAM THIS?
Reading up on books made into movies for this blog, I came across a TV movie called THE WORLD OF STUART LITTLE which won a 1966 Peabody Award. I actually have a very dim recollection of seeing this movie when it aired (I was only seven) and seem to recall hearing that one of the scenes was shot in Caroline Kennedy’s classroom and that she can be seen among the students in the film. I also remember hearing that a man is seen sitting in the back of the room at one point -- Caroline's bodyguard. However, I Googled “Caroline Kennedy” and “Stuart Little” today and found no reference to this anecdote. Does anyone else remember it or was it just a product of my fertile childhood imagination? (Though why I’d imagine THIS story is beyond me; I certainly didn’t spend much, if any, time thinking of Caroline Kennedy as a kid!)
HAVE ANY CHILDREN’S BOOK AUTHORS WON OSCARS?
Let’s ignore those actors who “write” children’s books (I wish PUBLISHERS would ignore them!) and just focus on real working writers. So far I can only think of three who were nominated or won an Academy Award. Can you think of any more?
GIVING TREE author Shel Silverstein was nominated for an “Original Song” Oscar for writing “I’m Checking Out,” which Meryl Streep sang in POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE.
Norman Juster, who wrote the children’s classic THE PHANTOM TOOLBOOTH wrote 1966’s “Best Short Subject Cartoon” Oscar winner, THE DOT AND THE LINE : A ROMANCE IN LOWER MATHEMATICS.
The late Barbara Cohen wrote many outstanding children’s books including THE CARP IN THE BATHTUB, about a boy trying to save a fish from becoming Passover dinner, and my personal favorite FAT JACK, which concerns a high school drama club. In 1985, Ms. Cohen’s Thanksgiving story, MOLLY’S PILGRIM, was filmed and the author even had a small role as a school crossing guard. The following year, MOLLY’S PILGRIM won an Oscar for “Best Short Film, Live Action.”
Barbara Cohen later wrote about her experiences seeing her book turned into a movie. She said that as exciting as it was to see her story win an Oscar...she would rather win the Newbery Award!
Well, that’s all for today’s pre-Oscar Brunch. Hope you can fill in any of the empty spaces in today’s blog -- what other children’s book people have been nominated for Oscars? What children’s books made into films should I have mentioned -- INKHEART? SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES? What mistakes have I made? Please feel free to add any comments. I’m off to buy some sour cream and onion soup mix for tonight’s festivities.
Incidentally, the more things change the more they stay the same. When I was a kid I never knew any of the nominated movies because I was too young to see them -- and could barely stay awake to the end of the ceremony because I was too tired. Flash forward to 2009. This year I don’t know many of the nominated movies because I’m too busy working and blogging to see them and will barely be able to stay awake to the end of the ceremony because I’m too old and tired!