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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Robert M. Rubin

A screenplay is a text that wants to be a movie.  It may also be a textual bridge between a novel and a film.  This is what I collect. An artist I know once described this process material as “exformation” –not part of the final work, but informing its creation. I call it the stuff that falls off the back of the truck.

The more a screenplay differs from the final product on the screen, the more interesting it is to me. Final shooting scripts are less revelatory of the creative process than early drafts. I look for multiple drafts from different dates of the same film. In some cases I have more than ten variations of the same screenplay, spanning several years of pre-production. I also seek working copies with extensive holograph notations by the director, writer, editor, or script supervisor. I have only manuscript, typescript, and duplicated copies (often numbered and signed for) produced before filming started. No posterior photocopies, no born digital materials. Once film production becomes digital, I lose interest.

My collection focuses on Westerns (in the broadest sense, to include, everything from The Searchers and Red River to Two Lane Blacktop and Greaser’s Palace), film noir, and New Hollywood independent filmmakers like Robert Altman. I also collect set and continuity photographs, often assembled in "keybooks" used during production, and have other special items such as presentation copies with custom bindings (Warlock), books used as film props (Duke of Death from Unforgiven), and interesting association copies of books into film (Larry McMurtry).

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Nathanael West’s Bible, open to “Exodus” 9-10: The Plague of the Locusts, and marked with a laid-in leaf.

West’s Day of the Locust, a Hollywood novel which draws its apocalyptic motif from Exodus, was made into a film in 1975. Provenance: S. J. Perelman, who was married to West’s sister. Born Nathan Weinstein, West had this Bible monogrammed with his nom de plume, which included the German aristocratic particle “von” plus “Wallerstein” for extra “provenance.” The leaf may have been put there posthumously. Technically this is a case of literature into literature into film…

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Same Movies, Different Endings.

Doctor Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick & Terry Southern, directed by Kubrick, 1964. Still photograph by Weegee.

Accompanying still photograph by Weegee of the “Cream Pie Fight in the War Room” scene, which was cut from the final version film. Weegee’s set photographs are all that remains of the scene, as the original footage was discarded. This was Southern’s own copy of an early draft script, with his annotations throughout the main text.

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Double Indemnity.

Screenplay by Billy Wilder & Raymond Chandler. Directed by Wilder, 1944.

This is Chandler’s own copy of the September 25, 1943 draft, with his signature on the front pastedown endpaper of the springback binder covering the script. The text on the final leaf describes Barton Keyes (played by Edward G. Robinson) witnessing the execution of his colleague, Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray) for murder. The ending was deemed too hardcore for the moviegoing public. Instead, the director (Billy Wilder) had Neff confess as he dies in Keyes’ arms after being shot by femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck, thus sidestepping the necessity of sending the flawed protagonist to the gas chamber.