Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

The Curious Case of Faulkner's "The De Gaulle Story"

Academic journal article The Faulkner Journal

The Curious Case of Faulkner's "The De Gaulle Story"

Article excerpt

IN 1942, IN DIRE FINANCIAL NEED and unable to secure a desired military appointment, William Faulkner turned to Hollywood for employment. He began work on July 27 as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers Pictures at a salary of $300 per week. His first assignment was to write a screenplay based on the career of General Charles De Gaulle, the leader of the Free French/Fighting French resistance against Germany's invasion and continuing occupation of France. Over the next five months, under the supervision of producer Robert Buckner, Faulkner wrote, in rapid succession, a story outline, a treatment, a revised treatment, a full-length screenplay, and a revised screenplay of a story first called "Journey to Dawn" or "Journey to Hope," then "Free France," and eventually "The De Gaulle Story."1 Thus began, in Hollywood in the early years of World War II, the curious history of a movie script that would not conclude until nearly fifty years later in Paris.

Faulkner labored diligently on "The De Gaulle Story," initially believing that the film would secure his place as a successful and well-paid scriptwriter (SL 162). However, even though he produced some 1200 pages of manuscript on the several versions, "The De Gaulle Story" never went into production. There were a number of reasons why the script was never filmed, one of the major factors being the conflict that developed between Faulkner and the De Gaulle representatives who served as consultants on the project. Principal among these were Adrien Tixier, a Free French lobbyist in Washington, D.C., and Henri Diamant-Berger, a French film director and producer who was the Gaullist representative in Hollywood. To retrace the exchanges between Faulkner and these French advisors as the project unfolded is to follow a debate on a topic that engaged Faulkner's interest throughout his career-the fundamental conflict between fact and fiction.

In the early stages of his work on "The De Gaulle Story" Faulkner drew heavily upon Philippe Barres's book, Charles De Gaulle (1941), as well as upon various chronologies of events provided by both the Warner Brothers Research Department and the French Research Foundation, a Gaullist front organization located in West Hollywood. Demonstrating his typical disdain for facts, however, Faulkner quickly began to substitute fictional characters and events for the historical details. Given the Free French representatives' loyalty to De Gaulle and their deep commitment to the liberation of France, in addition to their excessive literal-mindedness, the results of Faulkner's alterations were predictable. When Tixier read Faulkner's story treatment, he responded with a long list of "Observations on Inexact Details," challenging Faulkner's accuracy and verisimilitude (DGS 354-59). For example, Tixier noted that the French army had been on alert in May 1940 and would not have been granting furloughs to soldiers as Faulkner had allowed in his narrative. Moreover, Tixier pointed out, Faulkner further erred in assigning a Breton peasant family a cook; in having the French play dominoes in cafes; in claiming the general French public had knowledge of De Gaulle's book on tank warfare; and in characterizing De Gaulle's first followers as desperate crowds of beggars and refugees.

Later, when Diamant-Berger evaluated Faulkner's completed script, he reiterated Tixier's demand for closer adherence to the historical record (DGS 376-95). According to Diamant-Berger, Faulkner had grossly misrepresented De Gaulle's military strategy, and he had placed the general in Syria at a time when he was in France. In addition, noted Diamant-Berger, Faulkner was wrong in characterizing Bretons as more loyal to their region than to their nation; in describing the roles and behavior of French mayors, constables, and maids; in creating a situation involving forced labor when in fact there had been none; and in anachronistically alluding to announcements over loudspeakers in public places. …

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