by Winston Groom
Doubleday & Company, Inc. (1986)
Now here’s a novel idea, one that Hollywood’s “idiots” might consider.
Why not take Forrest Gump, a little novel about an idiot savant and turn it into one of the greatest feature films in the industry’s history? Hell, all they’d have to do is feature Gump, the big bozo protagonist, a mentally challenged young man who somehow manages to find himself the centerpiece (from the ‘50s through the early ‘70s) of every event that impacted America—Alabama football, Vietnam, Watergate, US./China relations, NASA’s Space program, professional Wrastlin’, Hollywood, drugs and Rock ‘N Roll.
Using the latest film technology they might just lay in footage of the time (TV and movie news coverage), then drop Forrest into these actual historical moments. Why not score it with the music of the day—-Hound Dog, Blowin’ in the Wind, Walk Right In, and California Dreamin’ etc.,—–and oh, to pull this off, recruit a cast of geniuses—scriptwriters, directors, shooters, editors, actors.
Suddenly Paramount Pictures’ “idiots” are geniuses and the little novel, well it’s the basis and inspiration for Forrest Gump, an epic romantic-comedy and six-time, 1994, Oscar winning film—Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Actor, (Tom Hanks), Best Adapted Screenplay, (Erick Roth), Best Visual Effects, and Best Film Editing.
Okay, as Forrest might say, “Theys done been there and theys done that!
That said, how many times have we forked over our cash (theaters and DVDs) to see their $677 million (1990’s money) grossing box office smash hit—five, ten, fifteen, twenty times?
Well, here’s an economical suggestion, read the novel that (following the movie’s success) became a bestseller. Then, just for fun, re-watch your DVD of the Gump movie. Hell, do it with friends or with your book club.
All done, okay, how about a little Gump Jeopardy!
Contestant: “Gump for 500, Alex!”
Trebek: “This novelist produced the book that inspired the 1994 academy award winning romantic-comedy film starring Tom Hanks and Sally Fields!
Contestant: “Ah, who is Winston Groom?”
Sadly, although he’s written excellent books—fiction and non-fiction—the name recognition of the man who created Forrest Gump is Jeopardy worthy. But if you’ve read the Gump novel you don’t have to be a TV show whiz kid to know that the genius that led to that epic movie came from Groom’s page turner . . . as evidenced here in the opening of his gift to Hollywood and, in fact, his wonderful offering to those of us who’ve had the laugh-out-loud pleasure of reading Forrest Gump, the novel.
“Let me say this: bein a idiot is no box of chocolates. People laugh, lose patience, treat you shabby. Now they says folks sposed to be kind to the afflicted, but let me tell you—it ain’t always that way. Even so, I got no complaints, cause I reckon I done live a pretty interestin life, so to speak.
I been an idiot since I was born. My IQ is near 70, which qualifies me, so they say. Probly, tho, I’m closer to bein a imbecile or maybe even a moron, but personally, I’d rather think of myself as like a halfwit, or something—an not no idiot—cause when people think of a idiot, more’n likely they be thinkin of one of them Mongolian idiots—the ones with they eyes too close together what look like Chinamen an drool a lot an play with theyselfs.”
So, how does one recommend reading the book when every swinging idiot’s just going to say, “Don’t need to read it, saw the movie!”
Well these Forrestisms from the novel won’t hurt my case!
Forrest on his departure after flunking out of the University of Alabama, having just taken the team—on his talents—to the Orange Bowl: “I look up then, an they is little tears in Coach’s (Bear Bryant’s) eyes, too, and he’s lookin at me real hard. “Forrest,’ he say, ‘there has never been nobody like you ever played ball at this school, an there won’t be never again. You was very fine!’ Then coach go over an stand lookin out the winder, an he say, ‘Good luck, boy—-now git your big dumb ass outta here.”
Forrest in outer space discusses his fellow “Astronauts,” a woman and an ape. “Major Finch be catchin a wink or two of sleep whenever she can, but when she ain’t sleepin, she is bitchin. Crabbin bout the ape, crabbin bout what kind of jackoffs they is down at groun control, crabbin bout she got no place to put on her makeup, crabbin bout me eatin food when it ain’t supper or lunchtime. Hell, all we got to eat is Granola bars anyway. I don’t want to complain too much, but it seems like they might of picked a good-lookin woman or at least one that don’t bitch all the time.
“An furthermore, let me say this: that ape ain’t no dreamboat either.”
Preparing to kick-off his career as a professional “Rassler,” Forrest, wearing diapers and a dunce cap, shows off his costume to Jenny.
“He looks like a fool,” says Jenny (to Forrest’s friend Lt. Dan). “I can’t believe it! You’d let them dress him up like that an go out in public?”
Dan say, “They got one guy called ‘The Vegetable’ that wears turnip greens for a jock-strap an puts a hollowed-out watermelon over his head with little eyes cut out for him to see thru. Another guy calls hisself “the Fairy,’ an has wings on his back an carries a wand. Sumbitch probly weights three hundred pounds—you oughta see him.’
“I don’t care what the rest of them do,” Jenny says, “I don’t like this one bit. Forrest, you go get out of that outfit.”
I gone back to the bathroom and took off the costume. Maybe Jenny is right, I’m thinkin—but a feller’s got to make a livin. Anyhow, it ain’t near as bad as the guy I got to rassle tomorrow night in Muncie. He calls hisself “The Turd,” an dresses in a big ole body stockin that is painted to look like a piece of s#@t. Lord knows what he gonna smell like.”
After more “life” experiences/adventures than are humanly possible Forrest returns home to find his poor old mama jilted by the “Protestant” she’d married and working for slave wages in a dry cleaning “bidness.”
“That low-down polecat,” Mama say. “I should of knowed better than to ever run off with a Protestant. Wadn’t a month went by before he chucked me for a sixteen year-ole girl—an him bein near sixty. Let me tell you, Forrest, Protestants ain’t got no morals.”
Just then a loud voice come from inside the dry cleanin stow, say, “Gladys, have you done lef the steam press on somebody’s pants?”
“Oh my God!” Mama shout, an run back inside. All of a sudden a big column of black smoke blowed out thru the winder an people inside is bawlin an hollerin an cussin an nex thing I knowed, Mama is bein hauled out of the stow by a big old ugly bald-headed guy that is shoutin an manhandling her. “Git out! Git out!” He holler. “This is the last straw! You done burnt up your last pair of pants!”
Mama be cryin and weepin an I stepped up to the feller an say, “I think you better be takin your hans off my mama.”
“Who the hell is you?” he axed.
“Forrest Gump,” I says back, an he say, “Well you git your ass outta here too and take your mama with you, cause she don’t work here no more1”
“You best not be talkin that way arown my mama,” I says. And he say back, “Yeah? What you gonna do about it?”
So I showed him.
First, I grabbed him an picked him up in the air. Then I carried him into where they was washin all those clothes in a big ole oversize laundry machine they use for quilts and rugs, an I open the top and stuff him in an close the lid shut an turned the dial to “Spin.” Last I seen of him, his ass were headed for the “Rinse” cycle.”
When the odyssey winds down Forrest is living his life’s desire—playing drums, harmonica and keyboard for tips in a New Orleans park. “A guy from the local newspaper come by one day an say he want to do a story on me, cause I am the “best one-man band” he ever heard. The feller begun axin me a lot of questions bout my life, an so I begun to tell him the whole story. But even before I got haf thru, he done walked off; say he can’t print nothing like that cause nobody would ever believe it.”
Finally, in a last ditch effort to get those pages from the past turning:
“Top 10 Forrest Facts You Won’t Find In The Movie!”
1. Played harmonica with a rock band called The Cracked Eggs.
2. Played tournament chess and defeated Masters for big bucks.
3. Spent almost four years living with Cannibals (and dodging their cook pots) with his best friend, a male orangutan named Sue.
4. Got hooked on weed and got his “big ass” tossed in jail at least five times.
5. Set a Harvard University theater set on fire while playing the role of Earl of Gloucester, in Shakespeare’s King Lear.
6. Co-starred as the creature in the remake of the movie, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon,” with (a naked) Rachael Welsh.
7. Saved a drowning Mao Zedong, chairman of the Communist party, setting-back U.S. Chinese relations for years.
8. Made petty cash to keep afloat by arm wrestling.
9. About to blast off into outer space read the following newspaper headlines, “Woman, Ape and Idiot in Next U.S. Space Effort,” and “Girl, Goon and Gorilla to Lift Off Today.”
10. On KP, cooked up a stew to feed 200 troops by throwing anything he could find into a kitchen boiler, one that when it exploded landed Forrest on a plane to Vietnam!
Perhaps the best way to wrap this recommendation is to simply state the obvious. It is rare when a great book becomes a great film. Never (to my recollection) has there been a comedic novel enhanced as seamlessly and with the brilliance of Gump the novel to Gump the film.
So why not go ahead and read the book and then re-watch the movie. Later—it might strike at any time—there will be a moment when you suddenly find yourself fighting latent laughter. Simply stop and offer up a little prayer of thanks. . . to God, Gump and Winston Groom.
You can ask for Forrest Gump at your local library, purchase it through your independent bookseller or pick it up on Amazon used, in paperback or hardback, for less than a good day of tips for Forrest’s one-man band. . . Just click on the book’s cover.