He helped craft some of America’s most respected literary works, and now — thanks to Colin Firth, Michael Fassbender and FilmNation Entertainment — the spotlight is back on Scribner’s editor extraordinaire Maxwell Perkins.
FilmNation announced Thursday that it’s shopping the film “Genius” to AFM buyers as a Firth/Fassbender vehicle helmed by theater director Michael Grandage. With a screenplay by “Hugo” scribe John Logan, “Genius” has been in the works since at least 2010, when Sean Penn was in talks to play Perkins.
Based on A. Scott Berg’s biography “Max Perkins: Editor of Genius,” the project explores the working and personal relationships between “Look Homeward, Angel” and “Of Time and the River” novelist Thomas Wolfe and his longtime editor. Besides Wolfe’s efforts, Perkins had a hand in novels such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender is the Night”; Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell to Arms”; James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity”; Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Yearling”; and Alan Paton’s “Cry, the Beloved Country.”
The work of Perkins’ writers has spawned numerous Hollywood productions over the years, while the writers themselves have also become characters on the big screen. That trend comes full circle with “Genius,” as Michael Fassbender joins the ranks of actors who have portrayed these American men and women of letters:
“Big Papa” attracts some big names when it comes to his big-screen persona. Clive Owens tackled him in HBO’s “Hemingway & Gelhorn,” Anthony Hopkins starts shooting “Hemingway & Fuentes” opposite Andy Garcia in January and Albert Finney was “Hemingway, The Hunter of Death” in 2001. Even Sandra Bullock tried her hand at Hemingway lore opposite Chris O’Donnell in 1996’s “In Love and War,” Richard Attenborough’s portrait of the writer during his stint as a WWI ambulance driver (and hospital patient). Most recently, Corey Stoll took on the tough-talking role in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
The influential Jazz Age author — who died at 44 years of age — has been portrayed by Gregory Peck (“Beloved Infidel”), Jeremy Irons (“Last Call”) and Richard Chamberlain (TV’s “F. Scott Fitzgerald and ‘The Last of the Belles'”). Fitzgerald received the social butterfly treatment in 1994’s “Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle,” with Malcolm Gets in the role, and he showed up with Hemingway in “Midnight in Paris,” in which Tom Hiddleston oozed just enough charm to make him seem like a decent enough fellow.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
Mary Steenburgen starred as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author in “Cross Creek,” a film directed by Martin Ritt (“Sounder,” “Norma Rae”). It premiered at the 1983 Cannes Film Festival, where a pregnant Steenburgen described the challenge of acting in writing scenes to Roger Ebert. “We actors like to chew up the scenery,” she said, “and Marjorie wanted to sit and watch life unfolding. I had to make a writer external, and it’s not, it’s an internal experience.”
Malcolm McDowell had a brief role in “Cross Creek” as Perkins himself, who visits Rawlings in Florida after a fishing trip with Hemingway in Key West. McDowell was married to Steenburgen at the time.
Perkins is credited with having tremendous faith in Lardner, a sportswriter, playwright and novelist whose “How to Write Short Stories (With Samples)” put him on the literary map in 1924. Lardner the sportswriter made an appearance in the 1988 baseball drama “Eight Men Out” via John Sayles, who did triple duty on the film as writer, director and actor. Sayles’ Lardner and Studs Terkel’s Hugh Fullerton spend their time on screen commenting on the action unfolding both on and off the baseball field.