Tuesday, December 16, 2014

When Young Frankenstein Flew

The movie Young Frankenstein has been in the public consciousness for most of my life, a classic comedy inspired by a classic piece of literature. When a musical was produced for the stage, it previewed here in Seattle before heading to Broadway. The creators of the film, Mel Brooks and Michael Gruskoff, came to town for that premiere. They asked their hotel concierge what they might do in town during the day, and the concierge made a list, including visiting Elliott Bay Books in Pioneer Square.

Later that week, I would be doing a reading there for my new book at the time, When She Flew. It would be the final reading at the Pioneer Square location. In the store, a stack of my books were on display in front.

You see where this is heading.

Michael Gruskoff (producer not only of Young Frankenstein, but of many perennial favorites including Quest for Fire, My Favorite Year, Silent Running) was attracted to the cover image and title of When She Flew. He picked it up, turned it over and read the description of the book on the back cover. Again, it intrigued him. I'd like to think he looked in the pages and felt some excitement at the words there, but that's just my wild imagining.

He bought the book. He took it home and read it and started trying to contact me to obtain the rights. It would take him over a year to track me down, but he kept trying. I'd changed agents, and my former agent was no longer interested in my work or me. But Michael found me.

He explained why he loved the story, why he had to try to make it a film. He could already see it, and he described scenes to me that broke my heart afresh, the thought of my characters so beautifully visually represented. That was several years ago, and he's still trying.

It's not easy to get films made. In fact, a low percentage of proposed movies make it to any screen, even your television set. He sent the book to everyone he knew in Hollywood. There were no takers, even though others also loved the story. "It's not what Hollywood is making right now," he was told
over and over.

Screenwriters are working on a screenplay for a small independent film; we hope to read it over the holidays. Even if it never gets made, though, I've found through this experience that the richest things in life are those that sneak in while you're envisioning something much grander. It's been such a delight over the years, talking with Michael about the characters, the story, the possibilities. He's old-guard Hollywood, and his experiences are vast. He's generous with stories and with his time on this project. As his pal Barry Levinson told him, When She Flew is his "heart" project. (In Barry's context, this meant it would probably never get made. But we all know heart projects that win over adversity, right?)

So I thank my lucky stars for Young Frankenstein, for Seattle's thriving theatre scene, for Elliott Bay Books, and especially for Michael, who believes so strongly in the story.


  1. Jennie,
    Great story, fascinating story, and I'm sure how many relationships are forged. It's worth following up on that comment that "It's not what Hollywood is making right now." Does that mean it doesn't get made? I don't think so. There are lots of options out there. All roads do not lead to H'wood.

  2. So true, and the plans are to go the indie route, where quieter films get made. Thanks for your comment!