Faulkner in a Haystack: The Search for William Faulkner's Television Adaptations of "The Brooch" and "Shall Not Perish"

By Furry, William | The Faulkner Journal, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Faulkner in a Haystack: The Search for William Faulkner's Television Adaptations of "The Brooch" and "Shall Not Perish"


Furry, William, The Faulkner Journal


IN THE FALL OF 1993 I was enrolled in a graduate seminar on William Faulkner with Dr. Judith Everson at Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois at Springfield) and searching for a research topic. I had always been interested in film adaptations of novels and short stories, and since Faulkner had spent several years in Hollywood working on screenplays, I had an inkling as to what I wanted to write about, but not much of an angle. A thousand pages into Joseph Blotner's massive, two-volume Faulkner: A Biography, I found the nugget for which I had been searching. Writing about Faulkner's onagain, off-again career as a Hollywood screenwriter, Blotner makes passing reference to a "fifty page treatment" Faulkner was writing in the summer of 1945 based on his short story "Barn Burning."

I was intrigued. I had recently viewed a 1980 adaptation of "Barn Burning" by Horton Foote, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and dramatist who had adapted the Faulkner story for the PBS series The American Short Story. I was also familiar with Gore Vidal's 1954 teleplay of the short story, which had been produced for the CBS television series Suspense and later published in Visit to a Small Planet and Other Television Plays. The two versions, although based on the same short story, were completely different. Here in Blotner's biography was mention of a possible third "Barn Burning" adaptation, one that Faulkner had not only authorized but written.

But if Faulkner had indeed written a treatment (a rough outline of a story for a film or teleplay with key scenes, characters, and plot development described) of "Barn Burning," where was it, and why hadn't anyone tracked it down? With these questions my questing began in earnest. I wrote letters to the curators of Faulkner collections around the country, in some cases following up my letters with phone calls. When those inquiries failed to produce a manuscript, I went to the source: I looked up Joseph Blotner's telephone number in an Ann Arbor directory (Blotner was professor emeritus at the University of Michigan) and wasted no time calling him at home. Blotner was helpful, suggesting that I try to track down his primary source, the Hollywood screenwriter Albert "Buzz" Bezzerides, with whom Faulkner had bunked in California at the time he was writing his treatment for "Barn Burning." Indeed, Blotner had asserted that Bezzerides collaborated on the project (Faulkner 2: 1185).

I sent a letter to Bezzerides, who I was told was still living in California, but to expedite the work at hand, I wrote my research paper on Horton Foote's adaptation of "Barn Burning." With the help of Phil Funkenbusch, a friend in theater who had worked closely with Foote in an off-Broadway production, I arranged a telephone interview with the then-seventy-eight-year-old playwright. After our interview, Horton Foote put me in touch with the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University in Houston, Texas, where his papers are archived, including his early and final drafts of "Barn Burning." At about the same time, I wrote to Gore Vidal in Rome, asking questions about the genesis of his teleplay. Vidal responded to my informal questionnaire within a month.

But I had been unable to track down Mr. Bezzerides, the only person who, besides Faulkner, knew firsthand about the "Barn Burning" treatment and how he had planned to dramatize it. The letter I had sent was never answered or returned. I finished my research paper in the fall of 1994, but the missing Faulkner manuscript still haunted me. In the fall of 1995, I visited the Center for Faulkner Studies at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, in whose library is housed the Louis Daniel Brodsky Collection, the largest collection of Faulkner manuscripts relating to the author's years as a scriptwriter in Hollywood. There I met Dr. Robert Hamblin, director of the Center and coeditor of several important Faulkner manuscripts, among them several previously unpublished screenplays.

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Faulkner in a Haystack: The Search for William Faulkner's Television Adaptations of "The Brooch" and "Shall Not Perish"
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