How pleased I recently was to receive an email with the subject “Screenplay” and addressed to “Illustrious Sir”. The correspondent introduced himself with news he’d been reading my biographical novel Hitler Here and thought it was “great” and “what an ordeal (I) must have gone through to produce it.” Since the book took twenty years to research and write, and I was unable to exhume any agent or publisher in this country interested in my unique presentation of numerous historical characters telling their own stories, and I had to self-publish the book here before selling it to major publishers in India and the Czech Republic, and since a number of professional reviewers as well as reader reviewers on Amazon.com essentially agree with the emailer, he delighted me by asking permission to write a screenplay “using…Hitler Here under (my) supervision and (my) complete approval…And perhaps with (my) assistance.”
This guy’s probably an exotic cat, I thought, sipping wine from the balcony of his mansion overlooking Hollywood. If he’s as shrewd as he sounds, I’ll probably let him write the whole thing, then take a percentage of the movie profits, unless the studio offers me a seven-figure sum. Or, perhaps, he’ll need my help. I know I could add a lot. In fact, I’m sure I could do the whole damn thing. Why hadn’t I? That didn’t matter now. I had an ace on my team.
Cagily, I replied I was “willing to discuss (his) proposition,” and “if we decide to proceed, then of course we would need a written agreement that protects and enhances both our interests.” I added the next step would be to discuss this by phone and proffered my number, and doubtless impressed him with my literary firepower by forwarding a Cc of this communication to “my webmaster, editorial advisor, accountant, and attorney”, three people and one phantom, who were likely less sanguine than I.
By email the following morning he agreed to call at two that afternoon. I wasn’t unduly alarmed he noted he was sixty-eight years old and lived in a state in the South we needn’t name here. I have no age or regional biases I’ll admit to, and, besides, this gentleman emphasized he’s a “World War II historian.”
The phone rang promptly at two p.m., and I enthusiastically answered. We talked about my book a bit before he began giving me some biographical information. He’d been a railroad clerk and usher for a quarter century in an esteemed Northeastern state, then retired from that job at the barely-pubescent age of fifty and moved to the South where he read books and other materials about the Nazis and World War II, and had time to hone his perceptions on the open roads as a long-distance truck driver. Many talents are possessed by truck drivers approaching age seventy, but writing screenplays has probably never been part of the repertoire. I ceased fantasizing about a burgeoning bank account.
At this dreary juncture, the gentleman gave me the address of his website, which I called up and looked with displeasure at some of his home page links: “David Duke, Jewwatch, jew high command, hispanicos los blinkos…” and other clever material.
David Duke, for our younger readers, used to be grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan and has spent his life harrumphing that blacks and Jews are evil and fundamentally different.
“David Duke’s a Holocaust denier,” I said.
“So am I,” said the aspiring screenwriter.
We exchanged cannonades reminiscent of a frosty day on the Eastern Front, and to buttress my point the Holocaust is fact I read passages from my book with self-incriminating diatribes by Adolf Hitler, with whom you are familiar, and Rudolf Hoess, whom you should know about. He was Commandant of Auschwitz and the enterprising bureaucrat who followed Heinrich Himmler’s orders to build gas chambers appropriate for the mass extermination of Jews and other undesirables. Hoess detailed this in his autobiography and at his trial, and standing on the gallows he apologized to the Polish people. The truck-driving screenwriter tried, feebly, to dismiss this evidence. I listened a little longer before stating there was no possibility of our collaborating, then, for documentation, wrote him that “I am of course baffled why you believed that I, who’d so strongly denounced such murderous policies in my book, would ever be a candidate to disingenuously rewrite history in a screenplay.”
As I review this email to him, and the passages I read over the phone, I’m pleased the only other time I jousted with Holocaust deniers I quoted the same powerful material, and more, and ended with a rebuke I couldn’t top now, so I hereby refer you to the rhetorical lashing – “Letter to Holocaust Deniers” – published on this website in February 2005.