I recently watched a couple of films that featured real life authors as characters on screen. There was Hammett (Dashiell) about the Pinkerton detective and author of The Maltese Falcon and other crime classics. Not long after, I watched the 1979 movie, Agatha, starring Vanessa Redgrave as the famed author. This got me wondering about other authors whose story made it to the big screen. Quite a few as it turns out. Here are some I came up with. This is not a complete list so feel free to add!
Agatha Christie made it on film three times so far, with a fourth film in the works. Only one film though made it to the big screen. Vanessa Redgrave starred as Ms. Christie in the 1979 film Agatha. The movie is a fictional take on Ms. Christie’s eleven day disappearance which to this day has never been explained. Dustin Hoffman plays a fictional American reporter on her trail. Read more here.
In 2018, our British cousins produced an authorized fictional story called Agatha and the Truth of Murder (now available on Netflix). A second MTM, Agatha and the Curse of Ishtar was made by the same folks in 2019. A third film, Agatha and the Midnight Murders recently completed production.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appeared in quite a few MTM productions and TV shows, too many to list. That said, Actors David Warner played Doyle in Houdini a 1998 MTM, and David Calder portrayed Holmes creator in a 2014 miniseries also called Houdini.
Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed Truman Capote and Catherine Keener played Harper Lee in Capote (2005). One year later came Infamous with Toby Jones as Truman Capote and Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee. Both films focused on the period when Capote, and Lee as his assistant, were researching his non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood.
Elle Fanning portrayed Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley in Mary Shelley (2017)
Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles creator, Dashiell Hammett, made it to the big screen with Frederic Forest in the title role. You can read an article I wrote on the author and film Hammett here.
Poet, novelist and short story writer, the man Time magazine called the “laureate of American lowlife,” Charles Bukowski is portrayed by Mickey Rourke in the 1997 film, Barfly. In the film, written by Bukowski, the author is given the alter-ego named of Hank Chinaski.
In 2018, Keira Knightly portrayed French author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, known more simply as Colette.
James Franco starred as Beat Poet Allan Ginsberg in the 2010 film Howl. Also portrayed in the film are Jack Kerouac (Todd Rotondi), Neal Cassady (Jon Prescott), Peter Orlovsky (Peter Tveit), Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Andrew Rogers)
Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady were back in the 1980 film Heart Beat. John Heard and Nick Nolte starred as the authors with Sissy Spacek as Carolyn Cassady.
8 thoughts on “Real Life Authors as Characters on Screen”
That’s a cool post, John. I’ve seen most of the films you mentioned. Did you see “Genius” about Thomas Wolfe starring Jude Law? I also liked Depp as J.M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland”.
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Cindy! I have not seen either of the two films you mention, Will have to check them out.
Very interesting idea for a post, John. I racked my brain, but I couldn’t come up with one without googling. I really liked the film Barfly. I saw it in the theater when it came out. I had never heard of Charles Bukowski before I watched the film. Sad story. Complex story. It’s one of Rourke’s and Dunaway’s best performances, I think. Both could be very, very good and both could be equally bad.
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Thanks, Pam! I saw Barfly too when it first came out. Both actors can overact at times.
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I remember Jason Robards, Jr. as Hammett and Jane Fonda as his longtime lover Lillian Hellman in the ’70s film Julia, also Meryl Streep’s debut film.
A favorite is Impromtu with Judy Davis as George Sand. Then there’s Jack Nicholson as Eugene O’Neill in Reds.
It seems like I’ve seen Charles Dickens portrayed in something but can’t remember who/what/when.
Wow! I can’t believe I forgot about JULIA. I saw it when it first came out. This reminds me that there was a TV movie called DASH AND LILLY with Sam Shepard as Hammett, Judy Davis as Lillian Hellman and Bebe Neuwirth as Dorothy Parker. Completely forgot about Nicholson in REDS. Have not seen IMPROMPTU.
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You know, John, I remember Sam Shepard as Hammett and, barely, Judy Davis as Lillian H. Wish I could remember Bebe N. as Dorothy Parker, though. I’ll have to see if I can find Dash and Lilly streaming somewhere, would love to see it again. Impromptu is a fun romp – along with Judy Davis, Hugh Grant as Chopin and Julian Sands as Franz Liszt.
I need to watch Dash and Lilly myself. Impromptu sounds interesting. Will have to hunt for that also.