Wednesday, September 07, 2016

JEWEL OF THE NILE and why I will be forever haunted by it

Here is a Friday Question that became an entire post. It’s very hard for me to write this (as you will see). There is no humor in today’s post. If anything it is heartbreaking and I cannot even think of this story without tearing up.

Do You Have Any Wings? Asked this question about a film that David Isaacs and I rewrote, JEWEL OF THE NILE.

Kathleen Turner recently did a Q&A which featured this comment; "The only sequel I ever made was Jewel of the Nile. I'd made a contractual commitment when we did Romancing. And that almost destroyed my friendship with Michael. At first I refused to do the first script that they sent me of jewel. It simply wasn't the same quality in terms of the writing.  But we worked it out, but not before they sued me for $25m dollars. Michael agreed to get the original writer back so we could continue."

Was that why you were brought in?

Diane Thomas wrote ROMANCING THE STONE and did a spectacular job. Practically everything you saw up on the screen – the humor, suspense, warmth, vivid imagination, that was all Diane.

She of course was approached to write the sequel but was tied up writing a movie for Steven Spielberg. So Michael hired the team of Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner to do the screenplay of JEWEL OF THE NILE.

That was the draft Kathleen Turner had trouble with, as did Michael Douglas.

At this point David and I were brought on to do a rewrite. We did a rather extensive one, primarily trying to make sense of the story.

We also had a time crunch. In order to start filming in Morocco, their government had to approve the script. And the script needed to be translated into French, which would take a few more days. Additionally, there was the threat of a Writers Guild strike so we were pushed pretty hard to finish the rewrite quickly.

The hardest part of the script was the first act. In ROMANCING THE STONE, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) learns right away that her sister has been kidnapped and she has to go rescue her. The story is off and running.

Remember the end of ROMANCING THE STONE? Jack (Michael Douglas) buys a boat and as a grand gesture presents it to her in Manhattan and the take-away is that they’re going to sail around the world together and live happily ever after.

So now we pick them up in the sequel. They’re tan, they’re sipping champagne, they’re livin’ the life. No more adventures for these two. They’ve got it made.

Except we need an adventure. And a reason for them to abandon the good life and once again throw themselves in harm’s way. Not an easy task.

We could say that they’re just bored, but that’s a tough sell to an audience that would give anything to trade places with them.

Anyway, we did the best we could in the time frame allotted and turned it in. Michael loved our rewrite but still had trouble with act one. Don’t blame him. So did we.

He called me at home from Paris on a Friday night to say he did something not entirely kosher (but producers do what they have to do to get movies made). He had called Diane Thomas and asked if she’d work with us on the first act. Were we okay with that? We were thrilled. These were Diane’s characters. Who knew them better than she did?

She was only available that weekend, which meant working Saturday and Sunday. We didn’t care.

Diane was an absolute delight. So smart, so inventive, so kind. We meshed instantly. It was a wonderful weekend and I was proud of the results. So was Michael and off the script went to be translated.

The Moroccan government approved it and plans were made to start filming in the late spring.

We moved on and accepted an offer to create a new sitcom for Mary Tyler Moore.

Michael called and asked if we could be on the set during production. Normally we would have said “sure.” Morocco wasn’t a picnic, but there was also the South of France. Plus, what a cool experience. But we were locked in to the MTM project and had to pass.

So Michael did what I thought was a strange thing. He hired the original writers, Rosenthal & Konner to be there for production. So what did they do? They tossed out most of our script and put their original material back in. I defy anyone to explain the plot of JEWEL OF THE NILE.

Okay, here comes the truly horrible part. For helping Michael out that weekend he bought Diane a Porsche. A few months later, with her boyfriend driving that Porsche at 80 mph on rain-slicked Pacific Coast Highway, the car lost control and crashed. Diane Thomas and another friend were killed. Diane was 39.

That was 31 years ago and I will be forever haunted by it. I can’t drive PCH without thinking about her, I can’t see a Porsche without thinking about her, I can’t see a Michael Douglas or Kathleen Turner movie without thinking about her. I certainly can’t watch ROMANCING THE STONE or JEWEL OF THE NILE without thinking about her. And maybe now, if you do any of those things you’ll think about her too.

As a proud faculty member of UCLA I’m happy to say that the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program created the Diane Thomas Screenwriting Award in her honor.

You can understand now why I can't tell that story without tears in my eyes.  And why I'm going to end it here. 


Johnny Walker said...

What a sad story! :( Thanks for sharing it Ken. And also very frustrating about the script! Do you still have a copy of the Thomas, Levine and Isaacs draft?

Roger Owen Green said...

That is heartbreaking.

Nick Alexander said...

First of all, deep sorrow over your loss, even 31 years too late. I'd no idea.

That said... you really got me curious now. If your script was that good, is there a possibility of taking your efforts and rewriting it for a standalone movie? In much the same way another draft of "Beverly Hills Cop" was morphed into the Stallone vehicle "Cobra"? Just using different characters?

Glenn said...

Sad story, Ken. Very sorry to hear it. You need to do a blog post about this weird thing about actors or producer suing other actors to force them to appear in movies. An actor appearing in a movie totally against their will must make for the most tension-filled set ever.

Carson said...

I had no idea of the story behind Jewel of the Nile nor about the very sad end to such a talent writer. The fact that you spent only a little time with her and all these years later still get emotional is a testament to both who she was, just as a person - and who you are as a person as well.

MikeN said...

Did she manage to improve the first act to your satisfaction?

Pete Grossman said...

What Carson said.

Julian Brown said...

thanks, Ken.

Eric J said...

Very rarely have I enjoyed a sequel half as much as the original. My wife and I loved "Romancing". We chalked "Jewel" up to being the typical sequel curse. Interesting to hear the real story.

Jeff Maxwell said...

Not only did Ken share a behind-the-scenes showbiz story that never fails to be captivating, revealing and educational, but he generously shared his humanity.

I was enjoying the "Romancing" saga and didn't see that end coming. He certainly didn't either, which is why it's so damn powerful.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

If i recall my hollywood stories from Entertainment Tonight, Diane Thomas worked at a restaurant was waiting on Michael Douglas when she presented him with Romancing the Stone. He read it and bought it within hours.

anyone know if that's true?

Breadbaker said...

What a sad story.

One thing I love about you in this blog, Ken, is how generous you are with your praise and with your sense of your own good fortune in being able to work with people who are so talented. But you exceed yourself with this story.

And what proof of the randomness of life. Michael Douglas must wonder why he didn't just buy her a Chagall or something. But sometimes your number is just up. Nice that she's not forgotten.

Brian said...

Ken, thank you for your willingness to share that with us.

Paul Duca said...

What happened with her screenplay for Spielberg?

Todd Everett said...

What happened with her screenplay for Spielberg?

Someone else did it (Google and IMDB are your friends)

Shipwreck Stu said...

Truly a sad story, and thank you for sharing.

One memory I have of both Romancing the Stone & Jewel of the Nile is both of those movies had special footage of Danny Devito talking to some guy in an old fashioned phone booth in the middle of nowhere in the trailers. Ending with a fourth-wall "and you're coming with me." Or like that. I should look them up but it's late. Did you have anything to do with that kind of writing for either promo, or for other movies beyond these two?

Brian O. said...

A punch to the gut. That was a wonderful story but with an turn no one saw coming. God, I'm glad you shared it with us but so sorry the loss.