Ken Kesey and 6 Other Authors Who Hated the Films of their Books

Ken Kesey famously hated classic 1975 film version of his book, ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Kesey had wanted to cast Gene Hackman in the lead.  Instead it went to Jack Nicholson, who took home the Academy Award that year for best actor for his portrayal of McMurphy, a convict who faked mental illness in order to finish out his sentence in what he thought would be the relative comfort of a psychiatric ward. Kesey was also disappointed with the director’s decision not to have the film narrated – as the book was – from the point of view of Chief Bromden, a native American character thought to be deaf and mute. Although the film ultimately went on to win the ‘big five’ at the Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Actress in a Lead Role – Kesey claimed until his death never to have seen it.

Kesey isn’t the only author to have taken umbrage with a studio’s treatment of his book. Here are six more authors who weren’t so pleased to see their book translated to the big screen.

Ernest Hemingway – A Farewell to Arms (1932)

Ernest Hemingway doesn’t sound like the most pleasant fellow. He bullied F. Scott Fitzgerald, alienated writers like William Faulkner and Gertrude Stein, and was famously unfaithful to his wives. Apparently, despite his friendship with leading man Gary Cooper, he was so unhappy with the screen adaptation of the book that established him on the writing scene, ‘A Farewell to Arms’ that he tried to have its release blocked in the town of Piggott, Arkansas where he lived with his second wife. Critics didn’t agree with his assessment – the film took home two Academy Awards.

Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

British audiences would no doubt have welcomed Dahl’s original choice to play the eccentric candy-maker in the film version, renamed ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. Spike Milligan was beloved over the pond for his off-the-wall comedy as a member of the radio program, The Goon Show. Dahl was unhappy with the studio’s decision to cast Gene Wilder as well as such additions to the plot as a rival manufacturer spying on the Wonka factory and the fact that there was more emphasis placed on Wonka and less on Charlie. But what may ultimately have turned Dahl off was the studio’s break with him when he failed to meet script deadlines. Sorry, Roald. You snooze, you lose.

Stephen King – The Shining (1980)

Jack Nicholson, what did you do to piss writers off anyway? It was actually partly due to Nicholson’s role as McMurphy in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ that put Stephen King off his casting in ‘The Shining’. Apparently Nicholson does crazy so well, King thought it would give viewers a clue that the character Jack Torrence was mentally unbalanced. King also felt that director Stanley Kubrick’s decision to downplay Torrence’s alcoholism and the supernatural aspects of the story, made the character less sympathetic. I’ll give him that – if there is one word I would NOT use to describe Nicholson’s role in The Shining, it would be sympathetic.

Winston Groom – Forrest Gump (1994)

Although ‘Forrest Gump’ soared at the box office and cemented Tom Hanks’ status as one of the greatest actors of our time, the author of the book it was adapted from was not a fan. Winston Groom was unhappy that much of the sex and profanity from the book was downplayed, and had originally imagined John Goodman in the role. To add insult to injury, Groom didn’t receive any royalties from the film. In a classic case of Hollywood accounting, the studio stated that ‘Forrest Gump’ didn’t make any money. I don’t think even the title character of the book-to-film would fall for that dubious claim.

Anne Rice – Interview With the Vampire (1994)

Fans were as outraged as the author at the announcement that Tom Cruise would play her iconic anti-hero, Lestat, in the film version of her book ‘Interview With the Vampire’. Rice’s outspokenness over the selection of Cruise led to the studio cutting off all contact with the author during production of the film. Despite her initial misgivings though, Rice is one author who came around in the end. When shown the final cut, Rice did a 180, declaring that Cruise WAS her Lestat, and even applauding the screenwriters’ additions to her story. One of her only complaints? Brad Pitt didn’t look beautiful enough. Um… okay.


Clive Cussler – Sahara (2005)

Clive Cussler hated what was to be the first in a series of films based on his Dirk Pittman books so much that he sued the studio. Cussler claimed that he was promised absolute control over the script and that he was deceived by the studio, leading to the failure of this big budget film. The studio counter-sued, claiming that Cussler’s bad-mouthing helped to torpedo the project. Cussler lost the case, but has taken it to appeals court. However, he needn’t worry about more Dirk Pittman films tarnishing his franchise – the movie was so poorly received no sequels have gone ahead.

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