December 15, 2006

Ah, welladay

Trying to distract myself from the sparkly movie poster and today's, erm, grand opening (not unfavorably reviewed in today's New York Times, by the way), I've been rereading The Letters of E.B. White. Sometime during the week, while looking up something in the book, I stumbled across the new revised edition published under the direction of granddaughter Martha White, with a new selection of letters through Mr. White's death in 1985 (the original volume left off in May 1976, with a visit from, of all people, Bette Davis's former husband, actor Gary Merrill) as well as a new introduction by John Updike.

From my unrevised edition, worth pondering on this day when Oprah Winfrey and Cedric the Entertainer give voice to The Barn's geese:
  • "I think The Second Tree will do all right without club sponsorship, and that there will be pleasure and profit in it for both of us. There are other things in life besides twenty thousand dollars -- though not much." (October 1953; White's book "The Second Tree from the Corner" was a collection of his essays. The club is the Book-of-the-Month Club.)
  • "My secretary sent me only one disk [the LP record of Julie Harris reading Stuart Little], failing to notice they were in sets of two. So I still have the first half of the story to listen to. NBC, you may be amused to know, is at work on a television version of the story, and I feel in my bones that it will end with Stuart's finding Margalo -- thus bringing to an abrupt close the quest for beauty in America. As Don Marquis used to say, "Ah, welladay." (October 1965)
  • "It is the fixed purpose of television and motion pictures to scrap the author, sink him without a trace, on the theory that he is incompetent, has never read his own stuff, is not responsible for anything he ever wrote, and wouldn't know what to do about it even if he were. I believe this has something to do with the urge to create, and the only way a TV person or a movie person can become a creator is to sink the guy who did it to begin with. I'm not really complaining about NBC [which developed a TV production of Stuart Little in 1965], because by and large they set out to be fairly faithful to the general theme of Stuart, and they did not try to corrupt or demolish it. But there were a hundred places that, if they had wanted to take me into their confidence, I could have bettered for them. It was their choice, not mine." (March 1966)
  • From a letter to his lawyer representing White in negotiations with John and Faith Hubley, whose plans to make an animated version of Charlotte's Web ultimately fell through and gave way to the Hanna-Barbera version: "In [the contract's item] 4, I don't know what 'merchandising rights' means. Does this refer to my right, subsequently, to make other deals, or does it refer to objects of merchandise -- dolls, pigs, sweat shirts? Again excuse ignorance.
    There should probably be a clause somewhere prohibiting the publication in book form of the screenplay or any other adaptation of my book. When Disney made 'Mary Poppins' he got out a book, 'The Walt Disney Mary Poppins.' I'm against anything of that sort." (May 1967)
  • From another letter to his lawyer: "The purpose of the 'right of approval' clause is two-fold: it should protect me from a motion picture version of 'Charlotte's Web' that violates the spirit and meaning of the story, and it should protect the Hubleys from obstructive behavior of an author." (May 1967)
Perhaps the best way to bring Charlotte's Web to life is the audiobook version recorded by E.B. White himself. Laura in particular has listened to the CDs so often that at times she's picked up his accent, and does an unnervingly good impression of the geese. (The link has that garish poster, which startled me, but I'm sure it's the audio CD edition from about five years ago).

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