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Last Man Standing

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For years people have been asking me how studios, producers, film executives and actors make their decisions on picking books to adapt to theatrical movies and television.

Like most things in life, there is never one answer. Above all, there is market precedent. Which films have made the most money? Will a genre copycat film idea garner the same box office? What popular stars are available? How do they react to the material? What will it cost to make? Who is presenting the material to the people who make the "go" decisions? What are the demographics to be served? Who will put up the money? Who will go to the mat for the project? Is the book a runaway best seller?

Indeed, there is a grab bag of answers, motives and choices. Some will be based on passionate emotional involvement in the material. Some will be purely business decisions based on history, assumptions and market conditions. Most will be presented by savvy agents who have the connections to make their pitches.

While I have sold or optioned more than a dozen of my books to film companies, I can provide no definitive answer as to why they make their buys, but the closest I can come to a remotely conclusive answer is my experience with The War of the Roses.

As many are aware, this is fundamentally a book about an awful divorce battle. The global impact of both the book and the movie introduced the phrase "The War of the Roses" into accepted legal jargon describing extreme hatred or cruelty engendered in divorce proceedings. As with most of my novels and stories, I know exactly how and when the idea came to me, but that is another subject for another time.

The book was optioned originally by the late Dick Zanuck and David Brown, both savvy producers on the Twentieth Century lot at the time. Both had gone through contentious divorces, which was the principal motivating factor for their option. From my conversations with them, I intuited that they felt compelled to involve themselves in the project because of the lingering impact of their divorces. They held the movie rights for two years, and for a variety of reasons were unable get a "go" from the studio.

The rights came back to me and nothing happened for another two years. But producers are always searching for material, and my then-lawyer was casually asked by a client, producer Arnon Milchan, if there were any scripts or books around that might be likely movies. My lawyer asked my agent to send him the script I had written for Zanuck and Brown. Milchan, too, I soon learned, had himself gone through a contentious divorce.

Apparently, he too became emotionally attached to the material and gave the script and my book to James L. Brooks, another enormously successful producer. The script and book was read first by the late Polly Platt, who worked for Brooks, and who had suffered a horrendous divorce from director-producer Peter Bogdonavich.

Polly, too, became passionately involved with the book and showed it to Brooks who had also been involved in a contentious divorce. I suspect he felt the same instinctive emotional tug after reading it.

Thus, the five principal motivators who brought The War of the Roses to the big screen had reacted to the material based on their own personal experiences. Of course, I am making assumptions that might be seen as speculative or coincidental but as a practicing novelist I am pretty well tuned in to motivation and the power of traumatic past events.

In assembling the elements of the film, the producers attracted Michael Douglas who was then in the process of getting a divorce. Kathleen Turner, his co-star, was married at the time, and consented to play in the film as well.

At this point, nearly nine years had elapsed since the book was published. The movie was made and went on to iconic fame beyond my wildest dreams and the aspirations of those who were part of the making of the film. They got it right, which is not the usual fate of an adaptation of book to film.

I am told that The War of the Roses film appears every few days on television all over the world. The book, too, has been translated in over 25 different languages and published in most countries, and although I have published more than thirty novels since then, The War of the Roses continues to be enormously popular.

It is interesting to note that a number of people, even those I meet casually, believe that I "stole" their divorce for my story or made some secret foray into their private legal records to get my material. Actually, the only research I did was to briefly consult a judge about some technical domestic law details and ask some experts in cooking for recipes of dishes that appear in the book.

It astonishes me when people who are going through the divorce experience come up to me upon learning that I am the author of this story, and thank me for convincing them that a battle over mere possessions was too debilitating and stressful to pursue any further. An author prays for having the good fortune to provide his readers with such insight.

I have written a sequel to that story entitled The Children of the Roses, which deals with the consequences of the divorce trauma of Mr. and Mrs. Rose on their children and grandchildren, and even now, years after the movie, I am suddenly getting interest in it as a film adaptation.

Obviously, there was something in the The War of the Roses, some powerful ingredient in the story that hit the universal gong, especially with people who went through the devastating experience of divorce and its consequences. Indeed, there is no way an author can predict such an outcome.

The story does not end there. Kathleen Turner has since been divorced and Danny DeVito is now officially separated. Thus, all of the principles responsible for bringing The War of the Roses to the silver screen, the movie about a terrible divorce, are now divorced or separated.

Except me.

People have often asked if this book was autobiographical. No way. It is, as are all my novels and stories, works of the imagination.

I suppose one might say that I am the last man standing. I am not divorced and such an act is not remotely within my radar range.

Warren Adler has just released his 33rd book "The Serpent's Bite." Best known for "The War of the Roses," his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the dark comedy box office hit starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, Warren Adler quickly became the fountainhead of Hollywood screenplay adaptations, fueling an unprecedented bidding war in a Hollywood commission for his unpublished book "Private Lies".

For more information visit www.warrenadler.com