When I was writing the three novels which constitute my first trilogy, "Studs Lonigan," I had no idea that they would one day be adapted into a miniseries for television. There was no television at the time, but some people were talking about the possibility of being able to see "through" telephone wires. But no one to my knowledge envisioned an invention that would one day become as powerful as television has: or that it would draw upon novels for material. And I certainly didn't think that "Studs Lonigan" would appear in any from but the novel. I was not interested in the possibility that the books would be adapted for any other media, be it stage or motion pictures.
I hoped then as I do now that the novels would last beyond the immediate period in which they were written. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, if one can write so that those who are yet unborn will laugh and weep over one's writing, that is worthy of an artist's last ounce of energy. This, I conceive to be one of the primary aims of the literary artist, and it has been mine over a career that spans more than a half century.
"Studs Lonigan" was one of the works of my youth. The first, third and fifth books of mine that were published were the novels of this trilogy. Later the three novels were issued in a one-volume edition. That was in the fall of 1935.
I was apprehensive about what would happen to my trilogy on television. At first, I decided not to watch it. The trilogy already has suffered from misinterpretation by book reviewers, critics, professors, scholars, publishers and sundry others. I was not interested in seeing one more misinterpretation of a work I had finished in 1935. I had, after all, published my 52nd book last year. But I changed my mind. After watching the first segment on March 7, I was relieved. I did not think that "Studs Lonigan" had been cheapened. The television series was done with care and attention. However, there was a difference between my book and the work that was shown.
The realism of "Studs Lonigan" is far more harsh than the realism of television. To me, plot is secondary. I concentrate on creating the strongest possible sense of reality in my characters, and the background and general atmosphere of their lives. If a writer can achieve such reality, he can ignore the prescriptions and most of the other roles that are declared essential for good and sound writing.
The conditions for writing a television scrip, and in this case, one based on "Studs Lonigan," are far different from those prevailing when I was writing the original. The problems that I encountered are different from the problems that Reginald Ross had to face in writing the television script. In writing the television script, there must be, I am sure, much literary carpentering. Novel writing is a far freer form. In fact, novel writing is the freest form of creative writing that there is, or even can be.
There are also limits of length and time that apply to a television script. A show can only run for a scheduled period of time. This span of time must be measured exactly. Furthermore, a television writer is not solely involved in the sense that the novelist is.
The talents and services of many others -- actors, directors, producer, cameramen, designers, etc. -- are bound up in the television production. Added to this is the factor of all that is riding on a television series. There is a great investment in money as well as in the telents and the skills of various professional and vocational persons. And there is the overpowering concern with ratings. A novelist doesn't need to concern himself about any of this. In fact, he need not care about the reaction of any other persons in the world, if he is willing to taken the risk that I believe a serious artist must take.
There were changes made in "Studs Lonigan." I recognize that some of these were done for treatric effect.To do this a writer must be very cautious about ready-made devices. There are some dramatic licenses which, in my estimation, only a dramatist of the stature of a Eugene O'Neill could get away with without some kind of sacrific.
There were scenes that noved me, especially in the first segment of March 7, and that of the final death sequence of Studs. In the first installment, the boy Studs sits in a tree in Washington Park, Chicago, with the girl Lucy Scanlan. It is a scene that I wrote and rewrote many times. There is scarcely any dialogue in this scene. I thought it was handled well and found it moving. Admittedly, I was more likely to be moved by this scene than another viewer, even though I am capable of taking an objective view of this scene. I also found the final death scene moving. It served a redeeming purpose in the presentation. The last rites of the Catholic Church are administered to Studs on his death bed. And the account of this gives a dignity to Studs, and to his death, that is most important in the trilogy.
I felt that as a television series on a commercial network, "Studs Lonigan" had much to be said for it. But the standards that I imposed on myself as a novelist are far more rigorous than those I apply when considering a television film. This is not because of any feeling of superiority but rather it is due to the differences of problems in the two kinds of writing. In fact, I have become acutely interested in these differences and want to study them as well as the effects on literature which may in the future become as important as the effect on television. But I cannot write of this until I have thought more about it. CAPTION: Picturel, Harry Hamlin, TV's Studs Lonigan, top.; Picture 2, James Farrell, bottom, Copyright (c) 1979, by Jill Krementz.; Picture 3, From the television production