In the late 1920s, newspaper columnist, reporter, playwright, and Algonquin wit Herman J. Mankiewicz moved from New York, the hotbed of American literary activity, to Hollywood. A few months later, he sent this cable to his writer friend Ben Hecht: “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.” Sooner or later, though, it did. Since their inception, the moving pictures have offered scribes the opportunity for comparatively easy money — a few weeks’ work dashing off a screenplay or a punch-up job to subsidize the year it’s going to take to write The Great American Novel.
Yesterday’s news that Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon will take a pass at the script to Disney’s Magic Kingdom movie (in the wake of Pirates of the Caribbean, that studio will not rest until every square inch of its theme parks have been turned into films) wasn’t a huge shocker — and not just because Chabon has done previous work for Disney, or worked on the script to Spider-Man 2. He is simply the latest respected author to take Tinsel Town up on the offer of a generous paycheck. Join us after the jump for a look at ten other literary figures that did the same.
Mankiewicz’s Algonquin Round Tablemate, noted poet, satirist, and raconteur Dorothy Parker, moved to Hollywood in 1934 with her new husband Alan Campbell. Her quick wit was perfect for the talkies, and she was quickly signed by Paramount for $1,000 a week. Her fee rose quickly over the next several years, as she worked (often with Campbell, an actor-turned-screenwriter) on over a dozen films, including Hitchcock’s Saboteur and William Wyler’s The Little Foxes (that script was one of the film’s nine Oscar nominations). Parker’s most enduring work as a screenwriter, though, was William A. Wellman’s 1937 film A Star is Born, which was nominated for Best Screenplay and begat several remakes: the first in 1954 (with Judy Garland and James Mason), the second in 1976 (with Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), and a forthcoming fourth version, this time reportedly with Clint Eastwood directing Beyoncé in the leading role.