Tuesday 22 December 2015

Aldous Huxley, Samuel Beckett and Lady Chatterley

More than a year ago, in September 2014, I blogged  as follows:

Ian Hamilton, in Writers in Hollywood 1915-1951 (Heinemann, 1990), describes Aldous Huxley‘s time as a   scriptwriter, his collaboration with Christopher Isherwood on an unmade film about faith-healing, his rejected adaptation of Alice in Wonderland for Walt Disney and his involvement in "a saga of negotiations about a possible movie of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (with Isherwood, Auden, and even Samuel Beckett somehow involved as possible co-writers)."

This seems unlikely, although Beckett was at the time published by Grove Press, which also published Lawrence, so perhaps a rumour was spread that Hamilton mischievously perpetuated. As for the Auden connection, I can find nothing linking him to this project.

There were no responses at the time, and there the matter rested until a recent exchange of emails with Professor Jonathan Foltz from the University of Boston, who is researching a study of Huxley's California novels (think Ape and Essence). He recently contributed to an excellent collection of essays called Auden at Work and this prompted me to get in touch. hHe tells me that the Chatterley project was 'largely defunct at all but the earliest stages' and goes on to say:

As I recall from the letters he exchanged with Frieda Lawrence, she had commissioned someone to write a quick stage version (actually I don't think it was a film project), and Huxley (who had edited Lawrence's letters and whom Frieda trusted) did not like how the dialogue had been treated.  He suggested that Isherwood, who was new to Hollywood, be contracted to retouch the dialogue, and to do so in collaboration with Auden (citing their previous stage experience).  But it seems Auden didn't have a stable address and could not be located, and Isherwood was tied up in a studio contract that would not permit any outside work.  Frieda then suggested maybe bringing in Beckett, whom she thought had some experience in film (but what could she have been thinking of, in 1940?), and Huxley tried to nix the idea of Beckett's participation, saying that film experience won't be of any use in a theatrical context.  What foolish irony there.  That's as far into the project as I ever traced it.

I'd tentatively suggest that the link between Beckett and Frieda Lawrence was Peggy Guggenheim, who was briefly Beckett's lover in late 1939 (having ditched the artists and documentary film-maker Humphrey Jennings to take on the man she nicknamed 'Oblomov'). Beckett had no experience at all in film, although he had written some years before to Serge Eisenstein seeking some kind of employment, suggesting an informed interest in the medium (and a degree of self-delusion).

Auden did, by the way, get to work on a Lawrence project in a 1941 radio adaptation of Lawrence's short story The Rocking-horse Winner.

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