The Unused Novelization
So, looking at Ebay one day I came across this listing:
LISTED IS WHAT I THINK IS A VERY RARE FIND
UNCORRECTED PAGE PROOFS
BY WARNER BOOKS
WARNER BOOKS EDITION
COPYRIGHT 1982 BY AMBLIN ENTERPRICES, INC.
FIRST PRINTING: MAY, 1982
301 NUMBERED PAGES
SOFTCOVER BLANK SPINE
HAS A STICKER OVER INSIDE CREDITS AND LOOKS TO HAVE HAD A STICKER OVER THE OUTSIDE COVER CREDITS.
THEY READS A NOVEL BY JOE HALDEMAN
BASED ON A STORY BY STEVEN SPIELBERG
WITH A SCREENPLAY BY STEVEN SPEILBERG,
MARK VICTOR & MICHAEL GRAIS
BUT THE INSIDE COVER STICKER READS A NOVEL BY JAMES KAHN THEN THE SAME INFO.
IT SEEMS THESE UNCORRECTED PROOFS ARE REALLY RARE SO MY PRICE MAY BE WAY OUT OF LINE OR WAY TO CHEAP. IF IT IS TOO CHEAP THEN BY THIS ITEM AND DO NOT COMPLAIN. IF IT IS TOO HIGH SUBMIT A FAIR OFFER. I WILL GET BACK WITH YOU ON IT. I COULD NOT FIND ANY COMPARABLE ITEM TO SET A FAIR PRICE SO PLEASE UNDERSTAND MY SIDE OF THE PRICE. THANKS
BOOK SIZE IS 6 3/4" X 4 1/4" x 11/16TH THICK.
CONDITION: VERY GOOD +
ITEM HAS GLUE RESIDUE FROM THE PAPER STICK ON LABELS THE PRINTER OR OTHERS PUT ON( REMEMBER ON OF THOSE IS GONE REVEALING THE FIRST ERROR) OTHERWISE I WOULD CONSIDER THIS ITEM LIKE NEW.
Joe Haldeman? I did some research online and eventually found his site. Turns out he's a sci-fi writer and professor at MIT. On his web site, he outlined how he got the job.
My previous agent, Kirby McCauley, was a good friend, too, but like a lot of us he's impressed by famous people. Steven Spielberg called him up and asked for me to write the novelization of Poltergeist. Kirby called me at Michigan State University, where I was doing a week of teaching in the Clarion Writers' Workshop, and told me to get my ass to Los Angeles. I did wait two days to finish my week, but then, since I'm also impressed by famous people, paid an arm and a leg to get an instant flight to LA.
It was odd from the beginning. I'm hard of hearing, like most ex-demolition engineers, and when I was introduced to Spielberg I didn't catch his name. I didn't know what he looked like, so I thought some flunky was leading me around, explaining the various sets. He seemed well informed, but was reasonably modest in demeanor, and I thought he was some kind of unit director or continuity person. When we went back to his office, I realized I'd spent an hour with the great man himself.
I gave them a tentative okay and they gave me the script. It was absolutely appalling. Spielberg had cobbled it together with a couple of friends during a Writers' Guild strike. [*David's note: This is incorrect; see my note below].But it was good money for the time, and I agreed to their conditions: send them a chapter a week, along with an outline of the next chapter. Spielberg's assistants Kathy Kennedy and Frank Marshall would handle the project, which pleased me. They were both super people, Hollywood energy and East Coast manners.
What eventually happened was a funny-in- retrospect disaster. I'd been up-front with Frank and Kathy about my lack of regard for the script, and so my notes that went along with each week's chapter were not exactly reverent. About halfway through the movie there's an awful scene where the young boy Robbie wakes up in the middle of the night and there's a terrible storm, actually a tornado. He walks hypnotized down the hall toward a shattered window. Outside the window is a huge old tree that has a slippery red mouth full of teeth, a vagina dentata that for some reason he seeks. His dad saves him from the mean old thing and nobody else in the nieghborhood notices that there has been a tornado. What was going on here was that Spielberg had constructed a $1.5 million special-effects tree, and by god it was going to be used in the movie no matter what. But I wrote to Kathy that there was no way I could shoehorn that kind of silliness into a novel. "I'm sure it will work in the movie," I told her diplomatically, "but in cold black type it sucks eggs."
She evidently agreed -- or more likely, didn't care one way or the other -- but the week after I finished the book, Spielberg got around to sorting through the memoes and, of course, took offense. I got a panicky message on my answering machine from my agent: "You told Steven Spielberg he sucks eggs?" -- and Spielberg kicked me off the project and hired another, faster, writer. I've never read that book, either.
(My version of Poltergeist did get printed into bound galleys before Spielberg killed it; I've signed two or three of them for collectors. My most rare book, by a couple of orders of magnitude. Possibly not my worst.)
I suspect that Spielberg had heard of my name through his film-school buddy George Lucas. I'd worked with George a year or two before, both of us advisors to Walt Disney's Imagineering outfit, while they were planning the Epcot theme park, or themeless park, in Orlando.
David's Note: After doing a bit of research into the timing of the 1981 Writer's Guild Strike, I think Mr. Haldeman may have actually misremembered slightly the sequence of events. The WGA strike did not begin until April 11, 1981, but the first draft of the script was dated February, 1981, with some revisions (the last five pages) dated March 4, 1981. It's more likely that the "cobbling together" of the script that Haldeman mentions was actually in anticipation of the WGA strike, since most of Hollywood knew the strike would be coming sometime that spring. Many production companies were trying to stockpile scripts in case the strike actually happened (it ended up lasting for just over three months-13 weeks- ending in July of 1981).
"Poltergeist" began shooting on Monday, May 11, 1981.
It is possible that slight page revisions were made "on the fly" during shooting, while the strike was still going on. Michael Grais and Mark Victor, in the E! True Hollywood Story documentary, do mention picketing outside MGM with the union while the movie they had co-written was shooting inside. They say that at one point Spielberg was able to sneak them inside so they could watch some of the filming, and then they came back out and re-joined the picket line.
Finally, check out this excerpt from a June 15, 1981 "Newsweek" article about Spielberg:
He has written and will be executive producer of the horror film "Poltergeist," which Tobe Hooper ("The Texas Chain Saw Massacre") is directing. It is a script written in seven days under the pressure of the imminent Writers Guild strike ("and on the eighth day I rested," he laughs). And he will finally make the "little film" he has threatened for years, an independently financed $9 million movie cast entirely with children under 14 which will start shooting in August, called "ET" ("but don't think that stands for extraterrestrial"). He is also hoping to do an updated remake of the '40s love story "A Guy Named Joe." called "Always," and he may very well direct the fourth "Star Wars" episode. "The future 'Star Wars' will be much more experimental and intellectually interesting," he predicts.