The book that fueled an unprecedented bidding war in a Hollywood commission before it was published.
Two couples are caught in an emotional web of adultery and deception that turns deadly on an African safari.
Ken Kramer, a Manhattan advertising copywriter and his wife Sheila, appear to have a comfortable life and loving marriage. But when Ken is taken along on a business dinner and introduced to the wife of his wife’s major client, we discover she is Ken’s old flame — in fact, the love of his life and the object of his sexual obsession as a young man. Baffled by her non-recognition, he learns that she has totally reinvented herself and snagged a rich husband who has no knowledge of her real early life. Unbeknownst to Ken, his own wife is carrying on a steamy affair with the client. When the love and sexual obsession between Ken and his old love bursts into flames again, the plot thickens as both couples embark on an African Safari with startling and tragic results.
Farce, foul play mix in novel of couple swap
Ken Kramer, who was going to be the next Hemingway but became instead a middle-age advertising copywriter, can’t understand why Carol Stein, who was going to be a prima ballerina but is here now at dinner as the wife of the pompous Eliot Butterfield, is pretending she never knew him, carnally or otherwise.
Carol and Ken were lovers, a complication that serves as an early alert to readers of Warren Adler’s fiction that mayhem follows. Like The War of the Roses, the theme of Private Lies is you only hurt the ones you used to love.
Ken’s wife, Maggie, who is always on the lookout for another couple with whom to chum, is anxious that he meets her new boss, Eliot. Hence the dinner. As Ken watches Carol approach the table, he feels he is about to be reproached for all he didn’t become. Carol and Ken were lovers in their youth and unabashed about staking their claim on future greatness.
But the Carol who is introduced as Eliot’s wife plays it as a stranger. And her personal particulars don’t fit the girl he used to know. Carol Stein’s parents hailed from Brooklyn, while Carol Butterfield’s father was a lesser French aristocrat killed in Vietnam. Several other discrepancies almost convince Ken this Carol isn’t his Carol.
The call comes a week later. Carol explains she had grown tired of the life of a failed dancer and so invented a personal history that would make her attractive to the wealthy and snobbish Mr. Butterfield. Ken agrees to keep her secret and thereafter suffers through months of “the torture of denial and proximity” inherent in their couples’ dinners. Then, one afternoon, they fall into bed together.
What was, will be. Carol and Ken plan a future together that, because of the terms of Carol’s prenuptial agreement, necessitates a wholly new couple configuration. If Eliot and Maggie could only be convinced they belong together, Carol and Ken could have each other and her stake in Eliot’s loot, too.
The four set off on an African safari, Carol and Ken convinced that in the atmosphere of sensuality that permeates the wild, Maggie and Eliot can’t help but realize their mutual attraction.
As intent as they are on their connivance and desperate for moments alone in the bush, they don’t realize that Eliot and Maggie have long since recognized, and acted upon, their attraction. To preserve Eliot’s dwindling fortune, he and Maggie have targeted Carol and Ken for an adulterous union and are similarly unaware their plan has already come to fruition.
What follows is a blend of farce and foul play as the game of check-on-mate (in hopes of finding him or her in a compromising position) moves between low comedy and malice aforethought.
Seattle Post Intelligence by Judi Hunt
Sex secrets flesh out a novel of lust
Women tell Warren Adler the most intimate details about their sex lives. Knowing that some of their secrets are likely to end up in one of Adler’s novels doesn’t seem to matter. Alone with him or sometimes even in groups, they talk, talk and talk.
“Maybe it’s my face, which apparently makes me look kind of safe,” said Adler, who was in Seattle this week to promote his newest book, Private Lies. He could be right; even when he’s not smiling, his eyes give him the look of an overworked but kindly and sympathetic priest.
Adler, 63, never was a clergyman before he sold his first book 17 years ago, but he held many other jobs, including newspaperman, head of an advertising/public relations agency, owner of an NBC-affiliated television station and co-publisher with his wife of “The Washington Dossier,” a D.C. social magazine.
Now he writes full time, turning out commercial successes and letting women unburden themselves to him wherever he is – at a cocktail party, over a quiet luncheon, on airplanes and even during media interviews.
“I’ve taught myself to be a good listener, so all I have to do is ask leading questions and women do the rest,” said Adler, who maintains two residences, one in Beverly Hills and the other in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
“I love to be around women and I think that shows, too.”
Actually, Adler’s appreciation of women, who emerge from his pages as powerful characters willing to stoop to anything – including murder – to get their way, has made him a very rich man. The most famous of his books, The War of the Roses, became a successful movie two years ago – $85 million at the box office – that Tri-Star bought Private Lies for $1.2 million before it was published.
Warner Brothers paid slightly less for another unpublished novel, “Cries of Laughter,” and Tri-Star reactivated the novel Random Hearts, which had been mired in the studios for years. And three short stories called The Sunset Gang, about lower middle class Jews who retire to Florida, have been turned into television plays. “American Playhouse” broadcast the first last week on public television and the others will air the next two Fridays.
Adler has become such a hot commodity in Hollywood that he has demanded and won the right to do the screenplay for Private Lies. As executive producer, he also hopes to have some say in who is cast in the leading roles.
Though married for nearly 40 years to the same woman and professed lifelong student of the female species, Adler admits that women are still a mystery that he hasn’t solved.
“I’ve learned, however, that women and men don’t meet on the same level emotionally, nor do they think the same way. The difference is much more than just physical. They really do pass each other in the night.”
That doesn’t make female characters impossible for a man to write, Adler said. He insists that the best female characters in literature have been developed by men. He uses as examples Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Thackeray’s Becky Sharp and any of Shakespeare’s women, especially Lady Macbeth.
“I don’t know any women writers who’ve done any better than those.”
While female characters are of special interest to him, Adler doesn’t limit himself to them, attempting to write from both a male and female point of view. Doing that has placed him smack in the middle of the war of the sexes, he said.
“All of my takes are cautionary explorations of that war, and as I get older I find it interests me more and more.”
That wasn’t the motivation for The War of the Roses his 1981 book about a crumbling marriage that became a hit movie in 1989 starring Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. “That book is more about greed than the sexual wars, while my new book is more about unfulfilled dreams,” Adler said.
Although he didn’t intentionally write it to symbolize the attitude of the ’80s, The War of the Roses did just that, Adler said.
“In some ways, it was the death knell of the yuppies’ me-first decade.”
His latest book, which tells the story of two couples who are having affairs with each other’s spouses, faces head on the matter of marital infidelity and lust out of control, Adler said.
The sex surrounding that lust is explicitly – and quite frequently – detailed in Private Lies but Adler doesn’t believe he has been overly descriptive for most of his readers.
“In fact, I cut out the really dirty parts because a female editor said they were too male oriented. But I left the rest because I believe in sexuality in books. All of my works have it.”
Adler says he didn’t write his latest novel with one eye on lucrative movie contracts and the other on book sales, although the film rights were sold long before the book was finished. “I couldn’t write and enjoy what I was writing if I had to worry about the marketplace,” he said, grimacing as if he’d heard bad news.
“It isn’t the money that drives me to write,” the former PR man said. “I write primarily for myself. But sure, I hope the public likes what I do and reads my books. What good are books if no one reads them?
“And I wouldn’t mind if Private Lies became a best seller. But what I really want is to last. The secret of being a successful writer is whether books are still being read long after their author is gone. The only true literary critic is time.”
Adler hopes that when his life is over, “at least 25 books from now,” he’ll be able to put on his tombstone something that he says the fighter Joe Louis once told him:
“Joe said all he wanted when his life ended was some notice that he’d won some, lost some and now, in death, he was even.”
Cincinnati Enquirer by Ann Hicks
Writer has novel idea for the movies
“Roses” author insists on adapting own work for film
Warren Adler gets right to the point. The author of War of the Roses strongly believes that when a novel is sold to the movies, the novelist should write the screenplay.
“There are nervous, insecure people out there on the West Coast, and their only solution to a problem is to throw more writers into it,” Adler says. “They never go back to the book.”
He tosses out examples.
“Tom Wolfe took the money and ran,” Adler says. “They trashed his book Bonfire of the Vanities…Take Gone With The Wind – who reads Margaret Mitchell today?”
Last year, Adler says, there were 400 theatrical movies made. Of those films, fewer than 32 were adaptations from novels.
“Only two were hits,” he adds, “Dances with Wolves and Wise-Guys. And 32 is a bonanza year – the year before it was 25.”
Adler, who has written more than 15 books including Random Hearts and The Sunset Gang, has two new books this year, Immaculate Deception, a mystery, and Private Lies.
Private Lies, like War of the Roses, is about hurting the ones you used to love. Ken Kramer accompanies his wife, Maggie, to a dinner with her most important client, Eliot Butterfield. Ken is shocked to discover Eliot’s wife, Carol, is a former lover he hasn’t seen in 20 years who doesn’t seem to recognize him. Ken later learns Carol has reinvented her past so she could snag a rich husband.
The inevitable happens: Ken and Carol have an affair and want to marry. Problem is Carol has signed a prenuptial agreement. If only Ken and Carol could get Maggie and Eliot together…
Ken and Carol have been so preoccupied with each other they fail to notice Maggie and Eliot have secrets of their own. When the four of them set out for an African safari, a blend of farce and foul play follows.
Private Lies is about getting lied to by so many people,” Adler says, “but look behind the fabric for the hidden agenda in this story.”
Private Lies has been sold to the movies (for a record $1.2 million), and Adler will write the screenplay (it’s in his contract).
Screenwriting is a craft, the author concedes, but it’s not that difficult.
“If you don’t have talent to visualize dramatic effects, you can’t do it,” he says. But “if you’re in the word business and spend a week studying (screenwriting), that’s all it takes.”
Adler considers himself a serious novelist.
“I’m proud of my books,” he says. “I don’t mind screenwriters changing them some, but leave my title alone and leave my ending alone.”
Eagle-Tribune, Lawrence, MA Associated Press by Mario Szichman
Ken and Carol and Eliot and Maggie
Novelist Warren Adler belongs to a curious breed of writers: the ones so bewildered by the great literary names that when they try to follow the trail of those masters, they end up betraying them.
But, nonetheless, he creates good, readable works.
Mr. Adler’s Private Lies is the story of Ken Kramer, a man who “had thought of himself as Hemingway incarnate” but had to settle for becoming an advertising executive. And it’s about Kramer’s passion for Carol Butterfield, a former ballet dancer he desperately loved when he was young and full of illusions. Ken and Carol are sensible and overwhelmingly married – to other people. As their affair rekindles, they plan to encourage a romantic relationship between their respective spouses that will enable them to start a new life together.
If the reader thinks that the plot smacks of soap opera, he is dead wrong. Mr. Adler is a skillful practitioner of the deception game, and on second sight, nothing appears to be as it was anticipated in the novel’s earlier pages. Neither Ken nor Carol nor their spouses follow traditional patterns, and once they decide their moves, greed and double crosses change their behavior, fleshing out characters who had earlier appeared as simple sketches.
Even the explicit heritage of Hemingway themes changes courses in the hands of Mr. Adler. The trip the two couples make to East Africa – which is less deft hands could have concluded as a parody of “The Short Happy Life of Frances Macomber” – is the best part of the novel: It’s full of tension and of precise and beautiful descriptions of the African milieu.
As almost always occurs in this kind of novel, villains perform much better than do heroes. Carol’s husband Eliot, a pompous defender of all the good causes, is more vivid and contradictory than Ken. And Maggie, Ken’s wife, is more credible than Carol in her newly acquired passion.
The only thing that spoils the novel is the unconvincing, anticlimactic ending. But the reader could enjoy the book very much if he closed it one page before the conclusion, at the exact moment when Ken discovers that his life would never be changed from the outside.
Daily News (Los Angeles, CA) by Chris Vadman
Private Lies will take you from the streets of Manhattan to the arid African plains. Intrigue and secretive liaisons involving “couple friends” Elliot and Carol Butterfield and Ken and Maggie Kramer are mediated by safari guide Jack Meade, a character straight out of a Hemingway short story.
Through his characters, Adler examines how duplicity can be expanded and adapted and is analyzed to suit the liar’s purpose. The characters are often self-indulgent and extremely analytical of their actions and reactions, but given the circumstances of betrayal, it is not surprising. Each page brings the reader closer and closer to a climactic conclusion on the banks of an African river where crocodiles and hippos inhabit the treacherous waters and lies are merely shadows shaded from the sun – where “truth shifts like a grasshopper from mind to mind.”
Los Angeles Times by Elaine Kendall
In the End, a Mercenary Foursome Gets Its Just Desserts
Moved back a few centuries, the two mismatched couples in Warren Adler’s Private Lies would be giving each other love potions and declaring their passion in Shakespearean verse.
Unfortunately, the world has changed drastically in the last 400 years, and these four unprincipled New Yorkers dispense with the preliminaries and do their avowing in contemporary clothes.
Ken Kramer is a jaded adman, married to Maggie, a computer expert with “an Earth Mother quality.” Like many hucksters, Ken wanted to be a novelist, and if you give him the cues, he can still spout his favorite Hemingway passages. Maggie is his first wife but his second choice.
Eliot Butterfield’s inherited wealth has enabled him to devote himself to environmental issues and to hire Maggie to organize his philanthropies. Her admiration for her boss is obvious. “Eliot doesn’t work, not for money,” Maggie explains to Ken. “He is an independent. As I told you, he thinks.”
Pensive Eliot is married to the glamorous Carol, who has managed to retain her ballet dancer’s body, although she’s lost her early ideals.
When Maggie waves to Eliot at the trendy Manhattan restaurant where she and Ken are dining, Eliot introduces Carol. She appears to be a clone of Ken’s college lover, with whom an affair ended when the woman decided that an aspiring ballerina needed freedom.
Within a few seconds, Ken realizes that Carol is no clone but the original, despite having reinvented her family and lopped a decade off her age. Instead of an accountant’s daughter from Long Island, she presents herself as the descendent of a French marquis.
Carol is Eliot’s second wife, and he’s never questioned either her age or her distinguished genealogy. He has, however, insisted on an ironclad prenuptial agreement, just in case Carol might someday abandon him for someone younger and less pompous.
Eliot is a well-preserved 50, but it’s always risky to marry a woman your daughter’s age. In Eliot’s world, there’s an 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not invade capital. While the original 10 are more honored in their breaching, this one is rigorously observed.
A week after this fateful restaurant encounter, Carol meets Ken to clarify her present situation and ensure his silence about their shared past. After years of struggle, she had given up ballet and settled for becoming Mrs. Eliot Butterfield. Their eyes lock and so, in short order, does everything else. It’s the 1960s all over again, only better, because they’re both more experienced.
Soon Friday afternoons in the hotel room cease to be enough, and Ken and Carol begin using dangerous words like always and forever. Wouldn’t it be marvelous if Eliot and Maggie could also fall in love? They already share so many professional interests.
Two divorces would be difficult, but a four-way, no-fault switch would be ideal.
That way, Eliot would become the adulterer, enable Carol to avoid the financial penalty in the prenuptial agreement. Earth Mother Maggie would have Eliot to nurture, leaving Carol and Ken to fulfill the dream interrupted two decades ago.
(This is the point where the love potion would be administered, but conventions and ethics have both deteriorated.)
When Eliot proposes an African safari, Ken and Maggie eagerly accept.
The offer not only feeds directly into Ken’s Hemingway fantasies but presents unique opportunities to encourage a sexual attachment between Maggie and Eliot.
Perhaps because they are so besotted with each other, Ken and Carol have remained oblivious to the fact that Maggie and Eliot are way ahead of them with an analogous agenda of their own.
Unfortunately, Africa isn’t the Forest of Arden, and matters don’t work out quite so sweetly anymore, especially when the lovers are mercenary, hypocritical, and amoral instead of romantic, winsome, and virginal.
Despite their elegant outward appearances, these characters are less than the sum of their parts. Ken and Carol and Eliot and Maggie all get their just desserts, but some will seem more just than others.
New York Daily News By Sherryl Connelly
Roses’ Author Blends Farce and Foul Play
Ken Kramer, who was going to be the next Hemingway but became a middle-aged advertising copywriter, can’t understand why Carol Stein, who was going to be a prima ballerina but is here now at dinner as the wife of the pompous Eliot Butterfield, is pretending she never knew him, carnally or otherwise.
Carol and Ken were lovers, a complication that serves as an early alert to readers of Warren Adler’s fiction that mayhem follows.
As in his The War of the Roses, the theme of Private Lies is you only hurt the ones you used to love.
Ken’s wife, Maggie, who is always on the lookout for another couple with whom to be chums, is eager that he meet her new boos, Eliot. Hence the dinner.
As Ken watches Carol approach the table, he feels he is about to be reproached for all he didn’t become.
Carol and Ken were lovers in their youth and unabashed about staking their claim on future greatness.
But the Carol who is introduced as Eliot’s wife plays it as a stranger. And her personal particulars don’t fit the girl he used to know.
Carol Stein’s parents hailed from Brooklyn, while Carol Butterfield’s father was a French aristocrat killed in Vietnam. Several other discrepancies almost convince Ken that his Carol isn’t “his” Carol.
This call comes a week later. Carol says she had grown tired of the life of a failed dancer, and so she invented a personal history that would make her attractive to the wealthy and snobbish Butterfield.
Ken agrees to keep her secret and thereafter suffers through months of “the torture of denial and proximity” inherent in the couples’ dinners. Then, one afternoon, they fall into bed together.
What was, will be. Carol and Ken plan a future together that, because of the terms of Carol’s prenuptial agreement, necessitates a wholly new couple configuration.
If Eliot and Maggie could only be convinced they belong together, Carol and Ken could have each other and her stake in Eliot’s money, too.
The four set off on an African safari, Carol and Ken convinced that in the atmosphere of sensuality that permeates the wild, Maggie and Eliot can’t help but realize their mutual attraction.
As intent as they are on their connivance, and desperate for moments alone in the bush, they don’t realize that Eliot and Maggie have long since recognized, and acted on, their attraction.
To preserve Eliot’s dwindling fortune, he and Maggie have targeted Carol and Ken for an adulterous union and are similarly unaware their plan has come to fruition.
What follows is a blend of farce and foul play as the game of check-on-mate (in hopes of finding him or her in a compromising position) moves between low comedy and malice aforethought.
Though at times the author lets his contrivances show, it can’t be denied that in Private LiesAdler has produced another minor masterpiece of gallows humor.
Daily Variety by Will Tusher
Private Lies’ Tri-Star Buys New Adler Novel
Tri-Star Pictures – Outbidding Warner Bros., Columbia Pictures and Carolco – has landed film rights to Private Lies, the latest novel of Warren Adler, whose book, The War of the Roses, was made into the 20th Century Fox hit of the same name.
The $1.2 million cash pricetag is understood to be the most ever paid by Hollywood for an unpublished manuscript. Private Lies will be auctioned to publishers late this week or early next week.
Film rights were auctioned off Friday, a day after copies of Private Lies were sent to all major studios. Todd Harris, Adler’s agent at Triad Artists, and Adler’s New York publishing agent, Peter Lampack, masterminded the sale, which was handled in Hollywood by Harris.
Adler has been signed as executive producer and will write the first-draft revisions. He will continue as writer subject to his availability and studio satisfaction with his screenplay. Adler wrote the first draft of his The War of the Roses and has scripted other unproduced screenplays.
Disney’s Touchstone and Hollywood Pictures units, along with Paramount, had expressed interest in Private Lies but did not participate in the bidding.
Tri-Star’s interim top man, Alan Riche, and executive production v.p., Steve Randall, will develop the project. Gary Adelson and Craig Baumgarten, fellow alumni of Lorimar Film Entertainment, are attached as producers.
Sources say discussions have been initiated with Barry Levinson and Stephen Frears as possible directors. Adler anticipates the picture will go before the cameras sometime this year.
Success of The War of the Roses sharply escalated interest in the new Adler property. He insists Private Lies is not a sequel to Roses but grants that it is another scathing examination of contemporary marital relationships. Lies – which will offer four strong starring roles – is a novel of infidelity and betrayal in which two couples engaged in criss-crossing affairs.
While The War of the Roses shows how obsession with possessions can have a lethal effect on relationships, Private Lies depicts the role of miscommunication in infidelity and reveals how lies and self-deception spawn such behavior and are invoked to justify it.
Private Lies is Adler’s 16th novel, and he is working on his 17th, “The Tumler.” Madeline’s Miracles was optioned by Warner Bros. as a Goldie Hawn vehicle against a final sales tab of $600,000.
Film rights to “Random Hearts,” bought with Dustin Hoffman in mind, went for $650,000. Ray Stark and Dan Melnick are developing the film version for Tri-Star.
PBS/American Playhouse is doing a three-hour miniseries based on an Adler collection of short stories, The Sunset Gang. Shooting starts in the spring, with Linda Lavin starring.
Another Adler novel, Trans-Siberian Express, was acquired more than 10 years ago by Sir Lew Grade, and there is reportedly renewed interest in activating the project.
Harris conducted the Hollywood auction of film rights to the unpublished Private Lies. Lampack will run the auction for selected U.S. and foreign publishers.
Film rights were auctioned prior to selling publishing rights, Harris said, to prevent possible leaks by a publishing house that could result in depressing the price for film rights.
Adler finished Private Lies several months ago. He says the popularity of The War of the Roses has rekindled interest – and sales – on previously published novels.
“I’m an overnight success after 25 years of breaking my backside,” Adler mused. “I’m very happy because it gives my book a better ticket. A lot of people will be reading my books now. That’s the final ticket for a novelist.”
Los Angeles Times, New York Post by Sean Mitchell
Studios bid high for books: Rights often bought before presses run
Hollywood – One Thursday morning in January of this year, the manuscript of a new novel by Warren Adler, Private Lies, was sent out by messenger from the Triad Artists agency in Los Angeles to 15 Hollywood studios and producers so that the movie companies could bid for the rights to turn the novel into a film. The manuscript had not yet been delivered (or even sold) to a publisher, but that mattered not a whit in Hollywood, where a bounty was already being offered by eager producers for purloined copies.
Interest in Private Lies, a story about marital infidelity and betrayal involving two couples, set in Africa and promising four starring roles, was perhaps particularly keen because Adler was also the author of the book The War of the Roses, which was made into a movie at 20th Century Fox in 1989 that grossed $84 million in the United States.
A little more than 24 hours later, Tri-Star Pictures outbid Warner Bros., Columbia and Carolco and purchased the film rights to Private Lies for $1.2 million. It was one of the highest sums yet paid in Hollywood for an unpublished manuscript (the book will be published next February), but it was only the latest bonanza for a novelist in the frantic futures market of the film business where the first drafts of what are thought to be hot books are circulated among producers and auctioned for movie sales before they even see the ink of galley proofs.
This race to acquire new books is part of the current competition in Hollywood that has broken records for spending levels and brought writers – screenwriters, as well as novelists – closer to the big money long enjoyed by stars and directors. The latest sales figures signal a rebound from the comparative literary doldrums of the early 1980s, when even the rights to bestsellers commanded $250,000 or less. Although no writers are approaching the earning power of Tom Cruise or Sylvester Stallone, “Writers are finally coming into their own,” says Todd Harris, the 30-year-old agent who conducted the Private Lies sale and has sold roughly 150 books to the movies in the last three years.
Hollywood has looked to books for stories as least since the arrival of sound in the mid-1920s, as is evident from any list of its most memorable films, from Gone With the Wind to The Graduate, from The Maltese Falcon to Born on the Fourth of July. Yet, its willingness to pay large sums for these literary sources has waxed and waned, fluctuating with the film industry’s jittery pulse, interest rates and slavish pursuit of the next big thing.
No one in the film or publishing businesses can say for sure why Hollywood has plunged into a new bull market for books, but speculation rests on such factors as the renewed search for adult stories fitted to the aging movie-going audience, the inflation of costs (and profits) throughout filmmaking, the number of high-profile books bought by trend-setting producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters while still at Warner Bros. (The Color Purple, Witches of Eastwick, Bonfire of the Vanities) and what some in the industry see as a glut of formulaic “original” screenplays not based on other literary or dramatic material but often written in imitation of other movies.
In addition, many of the studios are now in the hands of “the new old players,” as one agent puts it, executives who, like Guber and Peters, have switched from one company to another and are willing to splurge to get their movies made at their new addresses.
Buy now, worry later
That “there are so many powerful producers now is the main reason,” says Esther Newberg, co-director of the huge ICM agency’s literary department in New York, which recently made sales of close to $1 million for the rights to Robert Daley’s not-yet-published A Faint, Cold Fear, a romantic thriller about a cop and a reporter, and an untitled novel by Zev Chafets about organized crime.
“Everything seems to be stepped up and books are included,” says William Morris’ Webb, who sold the rights to Susan Isaacs’ 1988 novel Shining Through, about a female American Jewish spy during World War II, to 20th Century Fox for $500,000.
“If something has a buzz on it, they buy it and then worry about what to do with it,” says Huntington Beach writer Kem Nunn, whose highly regarded 1984 surfing novel Tapping the Source was purchased by producer Martin Bregman and Universal Pictures for a six-figure sum but has never been made.
If there is a pattern to the kind of books Hollywood is buying, that too is hard to detect. Crime and punishment (Rush, Presumed Innocent) are big, but so is social satire (Bonfire of the Vanities) and the celebrity bio (Postcards From the Edge). Sex is for sale, as always: Just last week, agent Irving “Swifty” Lazar resold Lolita, the late Vladimir Nabokov’s 1958 novel about an aging professor’s obsession with a 12-year-old girl, to Carolco for $1 million.
The Indianapolis Star by Sally Falk
Novelist seeking power over films: ‘War of Roses’ author wants more control in Hollywood so good books won’t become bad movies
Writer Warren Adler – who wrote The War of the Roses – wants novelists to have more power in Hollywood.
He’s tired of books being bastardized into bad movies. Thanks to video, movies can outlive the shelf life of books-not his books, of course, Adler said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The result is that a bad movie is remembered instead of a good book. As an example, he cites The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. The movie bombed.
“People will think for generations that lousy movie was Wolfe’s book,” said Adler.
$1.2 million for novel
Adler’s new novel, Private Lies was released this month and already it’s been sold to Hollywood for a record $1.2 million.
“The movies just grabbed at it – they barely let me get it out of my computer,” he says. “They bought the next one, too, Cries of Laughter.'”
When he sells a book, he demands certain rights as the novelist.
“Here’s what a novelist must get out of a movie. He must get the title, because without it, the novel is dead.”
For instance, people know the movie titled Field of Dreams, he says. “The original title was Shoeless Joe Jackson.” People don’t remember it.
“The second thing they must get is the ending. Because if it doesn’t end like the novel, then the motivations of the characters are distorted. A novelist takes them on a journey and the ending has to follow because the characters are motivated toward a particular ending.
“The third thing is the integrity of the characters. Their persona has to appear on the screen.”
“Who knows the characters better than the novelist? The craft of screenwriting ain’t no mystery,” Adler says. “It’s a craft, a device to tell a story stringing together effects and scenes. I’m not saying all novelists can write screenplays nor will all novelists desire to.
“I fight for the ending. I don’t care what the marketing and research people say because, invariably, they’re 50 percent wrong.”
His novel The War of the Roses was made into a movie with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas.
Hit was ‘roasted’
It “went through its marketing process and the ending got the worst possible vibes,” Adler says. “Two of the main characters die at the end. It really got roasted. People said this never, ever will be a hit.”
“But the producer said the ending stays, the movie became a big hit, and 20th Century Fox got rid of all its marketing people. They weren’t worth a hill of beans.”
He hopes for equal success with Private Lies. It’s a novel, he says, “about truthfulness and honesty as the new phase of American life. I think the American people are sick to death of being manipulated by advertising and politicians. Everyone wants to get into our pockets and minds. I think the 90s will cut out all the bull.
“Aren’t you tired? You know they’re all trying to crap on you. Look at the new McLean burger. People are saying, ‘Enough of that crap filling it up with fat.’
“That’s what I think I wrote about: You can’t get away with constant lying and bologna.”
Variety by Claudia Eller
Studios Believe in Adler book, sight unseen
Hollywood: Several studios are reportedly scrambling to get first crack at film rights to Warren Adler’s new unpublished manuscript “Cries of Laughter,” a late 1930s romantic drama that is still being kept under lock and key.
In January, Adler’s novel Private Lies sold to Tri Star Pictures for $1.2 million, one of the highest prices ever paid at that time for an unpublished manuscript. The author’s earlier book,War of the Roses, was transformed into a big screen hit for 20th Century Fox last year.
Adler’s literary agent, Todd Harris, of Triad Artists, who handled the auction for Private Lies, is said to have already fielded dozens of phone calls and received an attempted seven-figure preemptive bid for “Cries of Laughter” from one of the majors.
Sources close to Harris, who refuse to comment on the matter last week, said the agent is reportedly not accepting any offers until the manuscript is circulated this week.
There is reportedly a lot of interest in the publishing community for “Cries” (set in a gangster populated Catskills resort in 1937) as Private Lies is scheduled for publication this fall by William Morrow & Co.
Publisher’s Weekly by Robert Dahlin
Morrow Aims Adler at Bestseller List
Just about everybody has heard of the 1989 movie The War of the Roses, in which Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas smacked each other around – and along the way, reshaped the contours of black comedy. Directed by Danny DeVito, the battling couple sold enough tickets to gross a reported $84 million for 20th Century Fox. Fewer among us, though, know that the film sprang from a novel by Warren Adler.
All right – so here’s the challenge. Take Private Lies, Adler’s upcoming fiction offering, and make both novel and novelist as well known – and as enticing – as anything hot off the press. That’s exactly what William Morrow hopes to pull off with a barrage of ideas and strategies to trust its newly acquired author into the limelight.
In truth, Private Lies already has a leg up. Tri Star Pictures outbid its competition and latched onto the movie rights last January for what’s said to be $1.2 million, a tidy sum right there among the top amounts ever paid for an unpublished manuscript. It won’t remain unpublished for long, however.
On April 1, Morrow is hoping to usher the novel into the nation’s bookstores with great fanfare, and one of its initial ploys is a pricing policy that is rarely attempted with trade fiction. “We’re going to price Private Lies at $14.95 for one month, offering a terrific read at a great value,” enthuses Morrow ad/promo director Susan Halligan. On May 1, the price will rise to a more usual $19.95.
The embossed dust jacket will be printed in two complementary versions – brown and peach- to maximize the opportunity for face-out displays. Halligan adds, “We’re doing a run of the special galleys for all the chain buyers. We also have a huge print advertising campaign. Tri-Star is chipping in, and we’re delighted because that enables us to do so much more.”
The full amount that’s being ‘chipped in’ has not been divulged, although Halligan describes it as “significant and substantial.” Morrow president Al Marchioni adds, “It’s not so often we have a budget like this. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.” Further support will be mustered by way of co-op advertising, an author tour and a billboard on Sunset Boulevard that is designed to turn Hollywood glances in Adler’s direction. Marchioni reports that the book is advancing nicely, although the “big first printing” in the works has not yet been quantified.
One of the reasons Private Lies found a welcoming home at Morrow is that Howard Kaminsky was at Warner Books when Roses was published there in 1981. “Yes, our paths have crossed some years ago,” says Kaminsky, now president and CEO of the Hearst Book Group, which includes both Morrow and Avon, hard/soft partners on this project. “I think Warren’s a terrific storyteller.”
But the story this time around is not about a contentious couple. Instead, it tracks what happens when a pair of married twosomes – the best of friends – become secretly involved in affairs with each other’s spouse. When the four set out on an African safari, well… as they frequently say in cases like this, passion boils over.
“The book says a lot about relationships,” notes Kaminsky, who when pressed says that Morrow and Avon got the book rights for something over $200,000 – “in real dollars.” He adds, :This novel is a trenchant comment about the many screens in a relationship and Warren is able to raise and lower those screens well. He takes what he did in The War of the Roses to the next step. There he wrote about destruction and bitterness in love.”
Kaminsky’s expectations are high despite the fact that the most vigorous of promotions do not always achieve their stated goals. “As a publisher and an author, I’ve always seen the bestseller list as a list of former bestsellers,” he says. “The trick is to take a book and make people aware of it.”
“I think Howard’s a great promoter,” says Adler, who estimated that Private Lies is perhaps his 15th book (The War of the Roses was number six or seven and another Adler offering – a mystery – Immaculate Deception – is coming from Donald I Fine in February). Others have been sold to the movies, but only Roses made it to the screen – eight years after publication.
Having seen his name in print over many titles and in many languages, Adler reflects, “As you get older, the thrill is not the same. But now I’m very, very pleased. This is the first of all my books that will have been well published. The feeling is that you’ve been on the road and are finally getting to some destination. It’s a major breakthrough.”
Adler admits that he writes frequently about the relationship between the sexes, but asserts, “I don’t write the same book twice.” His vision of the ways in which men and women scramble together may be fiercely superheated in his fiction, but Adler’s private life seems to rest on an enviable stability – he’s been married for 38 years.
by Mario Szichman
Adler focuses on bad marriages
“All happy families are alike,” wrote Tolstoy in “Anna Karenina,” but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.”
Novelist Warren Adler has been able to compare his happy family with the unhappy ones, and the result has been two of the most terrifying conjugal tales of the last decade: The War of the Roses and the recently published Private Lies (Morrow).
From where did Adler, who has been solidly married for 38 years, draw the experiences that animate his ferocious characters – usually people who destroy their lives in order to exact revenge and money once the marriages go awry?
“I have an antenna,” he says, “and it is always up. Besides, I don’t talk too much. I listen. And I’ve trained myself to listen very carefully, like a journalist. And that is where I get a lot of my ideas.”
One day, in 1979, Adler went to a party in Washington, “and a guy who was dating a girl I knew looks at his watch and says, ‘I have to go home to my wife.’ And I say, ‘You’re dating this girl and you’re going home to your wife?’ And he says, ‘Well, we’re living together, in the same house, while we get the divorce.’ And I asked him, ‘Do you talk to each other?’ and he answers, ‘Talk to each other? We hate each other. But I have to protect my property.’ And that is the way I got the idea for The War of the Roses.”
Inspiration for Private Lies – came in 1989, while Adler was on safari in Kenya. It “was set up like an old Victorian English safari,” he recalls. “Each one of us had his tent. Under the fly of the tent, the servants brought to us, every morning, water to wash with. And while I was shaving my face, a woman in the tent next door to us washed her face and her hair out there, and I said to myself, ‘There is a book here somewhere.’
“And I began to think, ‘Why do we have affairs?’ From then on, other things started to appear in the creation and concoction of the story. I began to look at a broader picture. I recalled marriages that were destroyed by lust, sexuality, lack of self-control, money and greed. So I started to create the scenario for ‘Private Lies.’ But it was triggered, and I am positive now, by the woman washing her face in the morning.”
The novel tells the story of Ken Kramer, a man who “had thought of himself as Hemingway incarnate: but who had to settle on becoming an advertising executive, and his passion for Carol Butterfield, a former ballet dancer he desperately loved when he was young and full of illusions. As they rekindle their affair, they plan, during a trip to Africa, to encourage a romance between their respective spouses in order to start a new life. But the consequences are deadly.
Although Adler tries to put himself outside the plight of his characters – and he has succeeded in the vast majority of his 17 novels – this time, one of them, Ken Kramer, seems a bit autobiographical. Like Kramer, Adler worked first as a copyboy for the New York Daily News, and later became an advertising executive.
Is Kramer Adler’s alter ego?
“No,” says Adler emphatically. “And this is not my autobiography. But a writer uses his experiences and creates his characters out of the things he knows. Ken Kramer is not me, but I borrowed a few things out of my own life for him. I mean, I happened to be a great fan of Hemingway, and I always thought that nothing is worse than having an adolescent compulsion or dream, and finding yourself at 48 years of age fearful that this is the end of your dream.
“That I know a lot about because I was able to rip my life up and pursue my dream. I did not want money, I did not want any of these things any more. I never wanted to do anything but write books, and I am writing books.”
Adler’s fame and big money came later in life, through Hollywood, when the movie version ofThe War of the Roses became a big hit. He is currently writing the screenplay for Private Lies.