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Columns

WRITE TEAM: Turning books into movies can be risky

Since I was a kid, I have always equated summertime with reading a book. I can’t remember a specific age, but shortly after school was dismissed in early summer, usually about a week, my mother would announce that I was not going to sit around and watch TV all day, every day. Instead, she told me, I was going to read books. She didn’t try to censor what I read, just insisted on no smut – her word not mine.

I don’t think I ever thanked her while she was still alive for giving me that nugget of joy that only comes from reading a book. Thanks, mom.

My friend and someone known to all of you, Lonny Cain, has started a great trek of posting on Facebook. He is sharing some of the most influential books he has read. There is a great list of books Lonny has posted from a beautifully wide spectrum of titles.

Lonny’s posting triggered a memory that took me back to 1974. Early on in my reading days, I would choose a book when they announced they were going to make a movie out of it. So, if the book was good, I would go see the movie. If the book was not good, well you get the drift. I can’t remember, did they ever make a movie from Jonathan Livingston Seagal? It was hard to be a Jonathan in that era.

In 1974, I remember watching “The Mike Douglas Show.” Peter Benchley, the guy who wrote “Jaws,” was going to be a guest and talk about the new book, that it was quickly rising in book club reads, radio talk shows and, most importantly, sales. The hardback stayed on the New York Times’ best seller list for 44 weeks.

Before the book was published, two film producers bought the movie rights to the book and hired Steven Spielberg to direct.

Anytime a book is trying to be converted (for lack of a better term) to a movie, there can be bad consequences if the movie is a bomb.

“Jaws” was not a bomb.

I realize anyone else who remembers those days probably is reading the large-print edition of my column, but that movie owned the summer of 1975. The girl from the beginning scene was doing morning radio shows in St. Louis. Shark sightings at the nation’s beaches, including Chicago’s lakefront, were steadily on the rise. It was the highest-grossing film in history, until it was unseated by “Star Wars” in 1977.

But the book was better. That was the summer I realized I liked to read books more than I like to watch movies.

I want to give you an assignment. Go online and buy or rent a copy of Robert Ludlum’s book, “The Hunt for Red October.” Then, buy or rent the movie.

Ludlum’s detailed description of a stealth submarine were so spot on that he was debriefed by several federal agencies.

The movie stars Sean Connery, Alec Baldwin, Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Tim Curry and Sam Neill. Connery plays Captain Marko Ramius, a Soviet submarine captain, charged with taking the new Soviet stealth submarine out for maneuvers, but turns into a very expensive submersed joyride.

The point of this assignment is that these both were incredibly good versions of themselves. Did you like one more than the other and why? Tell me.

• Jonathan Freeburg is an Ottawa transplant for the last 25 years. Jonathan also is a regular contributor to 1430 WCMY Radio. His real job is insurance as a cover-holder for Lloyd’s of London.

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