Pat Arnow Political and Personal

How I learned to stop worrying about my 401K and love to bomb Iraq

Archived Home Page, Spring 2003
Back to Archive Index
Elephant pooping missiles in antiwar demonstration in Union Square, New York, March 2003, photo by Pat Arnow

Antiwar demonstration in Union Square, New York, March 16, 2003.

© Photo by Pat Arnow 2003


*Scroll down to meet some Iraqi citizens in photos by Terry J. Allen.

About Adaptation

The writers of the books that led to the movies Adaptation and About Schmidt liked the results just fine. Louis Begley and Susan Orlean told some 200 people crowded into my favorite bookstore, Housing Works Used Books Café (*scroll down for more about the bookstore), that they didn't mind that the movies barely had a nodding acquaintance with their work. The Adaptation screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor showed up for the discussion, too, and novelist Jonathan Lethem moderated.

Susan Orlean assumed Hollywood would make changes because her nonfiction book about orchid collectors, The Orchid Thief, had no narrative arc. Her agent warned her about the Adaptation script. “'It's a little different from the book. There are a lot of people in it—for instance, you're in it.'” The early screenplay Orlean read was even more extreme than the movie turned out. “I'm a professional journalist. It had me sleeping with a subject. It had me killing a park ranger. Never in a million years was it anything I expected.”

Charlie Kaufman, who she didn't know but who has since become a friend, didn't spare himself as a subject. “He's masturbating throughout the movie.”

Orlean allowed her real name to be used. “It was important that real people were in it for the conceit of it to work,” she said. But Meryl Streep didn't base the Orlean character on the real Orlean. The two didn't meet before the movie came out.


Louis Begley: People ask when will they make the real About Schmidt?
Susan Orlean: When they make The Orchid Thief.
Louis Begley: Could be Schmidt will get together with Susan Orlean.
Writers Susan Orlean and Louis Begley, 2003. Photo by Pat Arnow
Photos by Pat Arnow © 2003

Writer Susan Orlean, 2003. Photo by Pat Arnow

The movie pleased Orlean. “The fact that it was not a literal adaptation did not bother me. There are a lot of verbatim passages. The book is a character. I have no regrets. I'm not disappointed. I'd rather someone do something passionate than to do something verbatim.”

And she's amused that she has become a celebrity. “People who have never read anything I've written now know me as a writer.”

Louis Begley. Photo by Pat Arnow

“I remained calm and fatalistic,” says Louis Begley after he saw the script for About Schmidt. Now set in Nebraska rather than New York, it featured a middle-class insurance man rather than a high-powered anti-Semitic attorney.

Begley was also lulled by his “sort of starstruck feeling about Jack Nicholson,” who had committed to playing the lead. “The notion that Jack Nicholson would be in it was so overpoweringly wonderful.”

Then he saw the finished film. “I thought it was absolutely marvelous. I was looking at something that was not my novel—that took themes of my novel, and I was quite pleased.”

Begley only minded the loss of Schmidt's young lover, Carrie. Scriptwriter Jim Taylor (below left) says, “We didn't want to give Schmidt the satisfaction (of a young lover).”

After film school, director and writer Alexander Payne (right) had written a screenplay about a retiree in crisis. Years later, he read the New York Times book review of Begley's book and wanted to read it. “I love books about retirees in crisis.” About Schmidt screenwriter Jim Taylor and director and screenwriter Alexander Payne, 2003. Photo by Pat Arnow.
Novelist Jonathan Lethem, March 2003, photo by Pat Arnow. The moderator of the authors' discusion, Jonathan Lethem, sold the rights to his extraordinary novel Motherless Brooklyn at the behest of actor Edward Norton. "It's subject to his every whim. He's as good a match as could be. I thought that was a bargain I could make." Lethem won't have any control over the script, nor does he want it. "I won't do more than try to get an occasional expensive lunch."

Orlean's life has changed. They lavished money on promotion for Adaptation. She remembers how they apologized profusely when she had to ride business class rather than first class on a trip to the coast. “It's nothing like publishing. You're visiting Shangri La—and then you return to New York.”

It reminded her of another experience. “If you've ever taken Ecstasy once—or in my case twice—everything is delicious, every car you ride in is wonderful…Is it depressing to go back to your normal life?”

*Housing Works Bookstore Café is one of the most wonderful places in New York—great atmosphere, great books, good cause—the bookstore donates all of their profits to Housing Works, a nonprofit organization that provides housing, health care, job training, advocacy, and many other services for homeless New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS. The bookstore is at 126 Crosby St., a half-block South of Houston and a block east of Broadway.
vides housing, health care, job training, advocacy, and many other services for homeless New Yorkers living with HIV a

February 2003 in Iraq
Meet some civilians. Photos by my friend Terry J. Allen from her recent trip.
Terry J. Allen © 2003

Woman in Iraq, February 2003, photo by Terry  J. Allen Man in Iraq, February 2003, photo by Terry  J. Allen
Girl in doorway in Iraq, photo by Terry J. Allen, February 2003


Peace march signs
from Miriam Bein

—How many Lives per Gallon?
—Don't blame me, I voted with the majority
—Who would Jesus bomb?
—The last time we listened to a Bush, we wandered in the desert for 40 years


To Previous Archived Home Page (02.03)
To Next Archived Home Page (06.03)

Back to Archive Index
Home Page