“I THINK A GOOD SCRIPT IS COMING OUT OF IT. I AM EXTREMELY PLEASED”: RARE NOVEMBER 4, 1949 AUTOGRAPH LETTER SIGNED BY STEINBECK TO FILM PRODUCER DARRYL ZANUCK, WITH STEINBECK’S OPTIMISTIC UPDATE ON THE SCREENPLAY FOR VIVA ZAPATA!, TOGETHER WITH THE “SHOOTING FINAL” SCREENPLAY OF VIVA ZAPATA! IN ORIGINAL TWENTIETH CENTURY-FOX FILM WRAPPERS CONTAINING “NEW YORK LEGAL DEPARTMENT” INKSTAMP, ALONG WITH RELATED EPHEMERA
(ZANUCK, Daryl) STEINBECK, John. Autograph letter signed. Pacific Grove, California: November 4, 1949. WITH: Viva Zapata! Screenplay. WITH: John Steinbeck and Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation… Legal Department. New York: Twentieth Century-Fox Film, 1949, 1951. Three items. Single original leaf (8-1/2 by 11 inches) of onionskin letterhead in manuscript on the recto. WITH: Quarto (8-1/2 by 11 inches), mimeograph manuscript in typescript on rectos only, original printed yellow wrappers, bound with brads as issued. WITH: Ten leaves of facsimile (8-1/2 by 11 inches) loose. Together housed in a custom folding chemise and slipcase. $8000.
November 4, 1949 autograph letter signed by Steinbeck to film producer Daryl Zanuck, reporting Steinbeck’s optimism at the progress of his original screenplay for the film Viva Zapata!, Steinbeck’s letter in this rare collection with a May 16, 1951 original final shooting screenplay for the film, which premiered in 1952 starring Marlon Brando and directed by Elia Kazan, with Steinbeck’s Oscar-nominated script hailed as a “towering achievement… unquestionably his finest work in the genre,” housed together with ten loose leaves of facsimile documenting Steinbeck’s legal contracts on the film with Twentieth Century-Fox Film, in a handsome custom folding chemise and half morocco slipcase.
"Steinbeck's towering achievement in film is most embodied by Viva Zapata!, a film Robert Morseberger regards as 'unquestionably his finest work in the genre… When Viva Zapata! finally appeared on the screen in 1952, it was the culmination not only of 20 years of study, but also Steinbeck's apprenticeship in writing for Hollywood…Unlike F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway… Steinbeck had great successes on the big screen… Over the course of his career, Steinbeck was three times nominated for the screenwriting Academy Award, while his films, more generally, garnered 25 Academy Award nominations, ultimately winning four… On the film's release, with Marlon Brando in the lead, Viva Zapata! electrified audiences. It earned Steinbeck an Academy Award nomination for best story and screenplay; Marlon Brando earned an Oscar nomination for best actor, while Anthony Quinn actually won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Indeed, Morseberger ranks Viva Zapata! as one of the four 'most memorable films… placing it in the elite company of High Noon, Singin' in the Rain, and The Quiet Man" (Price, "Champion of the Common Man," in Bloom, John Steinbeck, 47-48).
The very scarce autograph letter in this collection, entirely in Steinbeck's hand, is dated three years before the film's 1952 premiere and many years after he began work on the screenplay. The letter—included with the "shooting final" screenplay of Viva Zapata! in the original wrappers of Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation—captures his near elation at this turning point in the project that consumed so many years of his life. Steinbeck, who "had been reading about Emiliano Zapata since the early 1930s," here writes Fox producer Daryl Zanuck with evident relief about his screenplay (Railsback and Meyer, 411). The letter is on a single leaf of onionskin personal letterhead with his Pacific Grove address: "John Steinbeck, 147 Eleventh Street, Pacific Grove, California." It reads: "November 4, 49, Dear Daryl: It was a brilliant thing to send me Jules Buck. He is a hell of a man. We work well together, are going very fast and I think a good script is coming out of it. I am extremely pleased. Just a note, John Steinbeck." Together with Steinbeck's letter and the screenplay are ten loose facsimile leaves, the file copies of legal agreements between Steinbeck and Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation, including a four-page, "Modification Agreement" dated "November 23, 1949" and a six-page "Assignment," with the date of "February 5, 1951."
"The idea for a screenplay on the life of the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata came to Steinbeck in the midst of writing the shooting script of The Pearl." He went to Mexico in June 1948 to begin research on the figure he revered as "'one of the greatest men who ever lived… Steinbeck continued to return to Mexico for short periods, especially between July and November 1948, and later in January 1949. He prided himself with interviewing every eyewitness he could find" (Railsback & Meyer, 4110. Despite a journalistic diligence that surpassed the reportage behind his novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Steinbeck struggled with the screenplay, and "the more false starts he made, the more frightened he became." On returning to Mexico in 1949, he optimistically "reported 'I think this script must be excellent… He had the old excitement again and he was 'writing like a fiend." Yet that same fall he was back "in Pacific Grove, still struggling with Zapata… Nearly all his writing time over the past few years had been spent on Zapata" (Benson, 626, 630, 650).
The film did not become a reality until Steinbeck's friend, director Elia Kazan, "obtained a development deal with [producer] Daryl Zanuck… At Zanuck's request, Steinbeck sent what material he had, and then Zanuck handed it over to his assistant, producer and scenarist Jules Buck… [who] was taken aback when he was given a stack of paper some three or four inches thick. 'It was,' Buck remembers, 'a very definitive breakdown of the revolution, the causes— it was magnificent— and of Zapata, the history. A master's degree is what he had, together with a Ph.D. Except it wasn't a screenplay… Zanuck asked Buck if he could get a script out of Steinbeck in about four weeks … John, who had been 'in hiding' somewhere in Hollywood, and Jules met and liked each other immediately." Soon Jules traveled to Pacific Grove and settled in as the two began to work through the material. In a later interview Buck recalled one morning when he said, "'Okay, John, today's the day.' I typed 'Zapata,' and then I said, 'Give me the words,' and by God, he gave me the words… Jules sat at John's battered old IBM typewriter, while John alternately sat, paced the room, or returned to a corner to think and work something out… He and Jules worked well together, and their progress was very rapid… In fact they finished a first draft in eleven days" (Benson, 653-4). The result was "a draft both Zanuck and Kazan thought could be shaped into a shooting script. It was this manuscript that Kazan, Steinbeck and Zanuck discussed at length during a long weekend… at Zanuck's Palm Springs home in spring 1950… Kazan and Steinbeck returned to New York, where they put in an intense two months on the script, Kazan sitting at the typewriter, asking Steinbeck for new or revised dialogue" (Schickel, Elia Kazan, 237-8). Viva Zapata! premiered in early February 1952. Critics continue to praise Viva Zapata! as "the best film produced from a screenplay by John Steinbeck" (Railsback & Meyer, 414).
Also included here is the first English edition, published the same year as the American first, of Zapata: The Little Tiger (1991), which includes the previously unpublished introduction, commentary, and script for the film Viva Zapata! (the screenplay was published in 1975, but the important introduction and commentary render this a new edition). Screenplay containing several blue revision leaves with heading, "Revised—'Viva Zapata!'—6/2/51"; front wrapper with inkstamp at lower right corner, "Received New York Legal Dept. Feb 5"; number "71 at lower right corner, "255" at upper left corner. Date of "May 16, 1951 on front wrapper, and on initial leaf with intact coupon, "Received from Stenographic Dept," and on title page. Letter with small penciled letter in an unidentified hand; two small file holes at upper margin not affecting text. Screenplay with "Env. 1762" and "2480.27" in unidentified hand on upper right corner of front wrapper. Small penciled initials to rear blank.
An exceptional collection in fine condition.