An excerpt from the upcoming book by Armando Nieto, Mary Conrad, and Matt Pallamary: The Santa Barbara Writers Conference Scrapbook — Words of Wisdom from Thirty Years of Literary Excellence 1973 – 2003
In 1987 the country was transfixed by the Iran-Contra hearings playing out on television sets across the country, providing more reason to escape to the SBWC. If Nicholas Meyer‘s words from the previous year rang true and “all good fiction” is escapist, what better place to do so than the blue skies and blue roofs of the Santa Barbara Miramar Hotel for the 15th Annual Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference.
New and returning speakers included William F. Buckley, Jr., Nearer My God: An Autobiography of Faith, Overdrive: A personal Documentary, and See You Later Alligator, Jackie Collins, Hollywood Husbands, Hollywood Wives, etc., Dominic Dunne, Fatal Charms and other Tales, and The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, Elizabeth Gilchrist, Your Cheating Heart and Second Chances, A. Scott Berg, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, Gerry Spence, Gunning for Justice: My Life and Times, Trial by Fire: The True Story of a Woman's Ordeal at the Hands of the Law, Dr. J. Pursch, Dear Doc, rescheduled from the prior year, Stirling Silliphant Pearl, Steel Tiger, Maracaibo, and Silver Star, and Valerie Kelley, the first SBWC speaker on erotic fiction.
Ray Bradbury opened the conference for the 15th year in a row, and seeded the attendees with visions of metaphors and lists of verbs and nouns on Friday night. Saturday afternoon acclaimed screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, The Towering Inferno, Poseidon Adventure, In the Heat of the Night, Charly, etc., also author of several novels, was introduced by movie director Ralph Nelson, Charly, Lilies of the Field, Requiem For A Heavyweight, etc.
Paul Lazarus introduced Ralph Nelson because of their past association, among a group of Hollywood friends who included many of the profession’s greats. Nelson told the story of making the film Charly, when he met daily with Cliff Robertson and Silliphant to carefully craft the movie’s screenplay. Nelson said Silliphant had an uncanny ability to “see” how the script came together—saying, “that scene will require four eights of a page; that scene will take two full pages.”
Because Cliff Robertson was in high demand at the time he formed a partnership with director Nelson to craft and complete the picture. Silliphant would then take the fruits of their efforts and perform the seemingly impossible, especially as the character Charly progressed and regressed through the arc of his intelligence. From his efforts, actor Robertson and director Nelson followed Silliphant’s direction resulting in the classic film Charly.
Silliphant said, “If you don’t stay with the film it will end up not being the movie you wrote.” He added, “I’ve been very fortunate to be with director’s who worked with me, especially with all the juggling they have to do to make a film.
“When you write a script you must, with your choice of words, inspire the people who will read it.”
“I find reviewers to be very funny and interesting people,” she said. “People Magazine ran a positively insulting review of my last book, and that sort of upset me, because the
Sunday night Clifton Fadiman was honored for his lifetime devotion to writers and literature. His credentials include book editor for The New Yorker, critic, essayist, Book-of-the-Month Club judge and author of a dozen books.
Charles Champlin introduced Fadiman displaying a passion not only for Champlin’s reverence of The New Yorker, but also his personal affection for the Santa Barbara resident.
“He influenced the fate of many writers and the tastes of the reading public,” according to Champlin.
Workshop leader Ted Berkman introduced A. Scott Berg, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius the following day. His topic, “Writing A Biography,” built off of his epic biography of Perkins.
Berg started off his remarks telling about a grade school experience where he was required to write a report on an Author. His mother led to his discovery of F. Scott Fitzgerald, for whom he had been named, and by the time he graduated high school he was certified as a legitimate “Fitzgerald nut,” which is why he convinced the Princeton admissions office that he would come anyway if they refused to admit him, and thus he matriculated to Fitzgerald’s alma mater.
At Princeton he found mounds of original documents of Fitzgerald’s tenure at Princeton, including early drafts of the Great Gatsby, and a manuscript of This Side of Paradise annotated by Max Perkins, then working at Scribner’s publishing house. Perkins suggested several corrections, which Fitzgerald accepted. Perkins continued to champion the book with the Scribner’s board including old Mr. Scribner, who eventually agreed to publication.
“Before Max Perkins, an editor was a particular kind of guy,” said Berg, and described a limited relationship between a writer and an editor. “Max Perkins redefined that relationship.”
The relationship between Fitzgerald and Perkins is documented with letters back and forth over a period of twenty years. Editor to Author is a selection of some of those letters published in one book.
To hear Berg speak about the relationship brought up images of a beloved mentorship, with Perkins the mentor and Fitzgerald the privileged mentee. It also evoked memories of a time past, when the economics of the industry and the country allowed for such special relationships, or maybe it was just a time when editors had more courage?