Having your book made into a movie has to be every writer’s dream, right? Not in the case of the authors below who went on record saying how much they hated various movie adaptations of their work.
P.L. Travers and Mary Poppins (1964) – a whole film was made about how unhappy she was
At the top of the list of dissatisfied authors is P.L. Travers (pictured), who was so upset with Walt Disney’s adaption of her most famous character that the incident was turned into a whole extra movie: Saving Mr. Banks (2013).
Travers’s main objections were the amount of animation and the fact that Julie Andrews’s character was nowhere near as strict as the Mary Poppins in her eight-book series. She suggested many edits to the script; most of them were ignored.
At the premiere, everyone else gave the film a standing ovation while Travers wept. After that, she refused to let Disney or any other movie studio get the rights to the remaining books.
Roald Dahl and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) – he tolerated it
Another children’s book adaptation that depressed the author was the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971), based on Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Despite being credited as screenwriter, Dahl disliked this film, complaining that screenwriter David Seltzer made changes to his script that diluted the original bite. He also criticized the focus being on Wonka rather than Charlie and problems with Gene Wilder’s interpretation of Wonka himself.
According to Dahl’s biographer, Donald Sturrock, he eventually came to tolerate the film but never liked it.
Check out our article on Roald Dahl and how a tantrum over pencils nearly cost him a publishing contract.
E.B. White and Charlotte’s Web (1952) – no jolly songs, please
Rounding off our trio of unhappy children’s authors is E.B. White, who considered the 1973 cartoon of Charlotte’s Web to be “a travesty.”
Before the Hanna-Barbera deal, another set of filmmakers had tried to get the rights to the book. White insisted that he have absolute control over anything to be taken out or added in, stating that any “songs, jokes, capers, [or] episodes” would be a “violation.”
That first deal fell through and then Hanna-Barbera stepped in. Despite keeping in Charlotte’s death (which had been a key issue for White), he wrote to a friend, saying: “The movie of Charlotte’s Web is about what I expected it to be. The story is interrupted every few minutes so that somebody can sing a jolly song. I don’t care much for jolly songs.”
Stephen King and The Shining (1977) – the mini-series was better
Horror movies are another area where there seems to be great dissatisfaction with movie adaptations.
There have been about 50 adaptations of Stephen King books, and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 version of The Shining is considered by some to be a cinematic classic. King, however, was unimpressed, even saying that he was “deeply disappointed in the end result” in a Playboy interview.
He felt that Jack Torrance’s story arc was badly handled, and he told the BBC that Shelly Duvall’s character was “basically there to scream and be stupid, and that’s not the woman that I wrote about.” Luckily, the screenplay that King wrote and Kubrick ignored was later used for a 1997 mini-series.
Unlike the authors listed above, King’s bad experience with movies hasn’t put him off movie adaptations in the slightest. In fact, King is famous for allowing film students the chance to adapt one of his stories (so long as it’s not already under contract) for a mere $1 US payment.
Clive Barker and Hellraiser: Revelations – film number nine was a film too far
The original Hellraiser movie was based on Barker’s 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart. The e-book of this novella lists it as being only 56 pages long, yet this slim volume has spawned a wealth of movies.
Barker was closely involved with the first movie, acting as both writer and director. But by the time it got around to the ninth movie, he was eager to distance himself from it as much as possible.
Taking to Twitter in August 2011, he wrote, “If they claim it’s from the mind of Clive Barker, it’s a lie.” The scathing tweet also included some language that can’t be repeated here, but makes quite clear that Barker’s not a fan of the film.
Lois Duncan and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1973) – definitely not a slasher
Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel I Know What You Did Last Summer mixed melodrama with suspense. But the 1997 film turned the book into a slasher movie. Duncan’s disgust with this change of direction was not due to vanity or issues over creativity – her objections ran much deeper.
In 1989, Duncan’s own teenage daughter, Kaitlyn, was chased down in her car and shot to death. “As the mother of a murdered child, I don’t find violent death something to squeal and giggle about,” Duncan is quoted as saying.
Donn Pearce and Cool Hand Luke (1965) – too cute to be realistic
Even when the world considers something a classic, it’s still possible for the original author to see the movie as a failure.
The 1965 book Cool Hand Luke was based on the author’s own experiences of spending two years in a Florida chain gang. He felt that the adored Paul Newman was “so cute looking” and “too scrawny” that he wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in reality.
“What we got here is a failure to communicate” was ranked the 11th greatest movie quote of all time by the American Film Institute. However, not only was this line not in the original novel, but Pearce thought it was ridiculous. He claimed that a prison guard would be too uneducated to use a word such as “communicate.”
Bret Easton Ellis and American Psycho (1991) – not women’s work
After Ellis’s classic novel was made into a film, he was less than enthusiastic. He has gone on record as saying that the “book is unadaptable because it’s about consciousness, and you can’t really shoot that sensibility.” He added that the book leaves it ambiguous as to whether the murders are wholly in Patrick Bateman’s head or not, whereas “the medium of film demands answers.”
While it might seem that this is a case of artistic differences, Ellis has also been quoted as saying: “There’s something about the medium of film itself that I think requires a male gaze.” Given that the 2000 film starring Christian Bale was directed by Mary Harron, many have speculated whether Ellis’s criticisms might have a different motivation behind them.
Anthony Burgess and A Clockwork Orange (1962) – beware trombones
Stanley Kubrick is once again responsible for both producing a cinematic classic and annoying the original author.
It seems that, initially, Burgess was reasonably pleased by Kubrick’s adaptation – even though his wife allegedly asked to be excused from the screening after ten minutes. But when the film began to attract criticism, Burgess’s opinion changed.
He felt that the movie glorified violence in a way that the book didn’t. Burgess is quoted as saying: “The film made it easy for readers of the book to misunderstand what it was about.”
However, he took his revenge in a unique and creative way. When he adapted the book for stage in 1987, his stage directions indicated that a man bearded like Stanley Kubrick should enter, playing a trombone, and be kicked off the stage.
Richard Matheson and I Am Legend (1954) and The Omega Man (1974)
Matheson’s novel I Am Legend has been adapted three times to date, and the author has approved of none of them.
First up was the Hammer production in 1964, entitled The Last Man on Earth. Matheson took issue with the casting of Vincent Price, even though he was a fan of the actor’s work. “I think Vincent Price, whom I love in every one of his pictures that I wrote, was miscast.”
Next came The Omega Man in 1971 starring Charlton Heston. Matheson’s explanation of his apathy was quite damning: “The Omega Man was so removed from my book that it didn’t even bother me.”
Finally, in 2007, came I Am Legend starring Will Smith. When Matheson’s ending didn’t do well with test audiences, it was changed. By this point, it seemed that Matheson had developed a rather ironic opinion about the whole thing. “I don’t know why Hollywood is fascinated by my book when they never care to film it as I wrote it.”
He has gone on record as admitting that a faithful adaptation of his book might be possible, but that he doubts it’ll ever see the light of day.