Page To Screen: Now, Voyager

A little housekeeping: As of today, “Page To Screen” will be appearing here on the first Wednesday of the even-numbered months (as if it’s had much time to be anywhere 🙂 ), while the odd-numbered months will feature a companion series. More details coming later. Onward…

Source: Quill & Brush

Now, Voyager is one of Bette Davis’s best-known films (Read my review of the movie here). It was where Paul Henreid as Jerry Durrance lit two cigarettes before handing one to Charlotte, making women everywhere swoon, and where Bette spoke the iconic line, “Don’t let’s ask for the moon, Jerry. We’ve got the stars.”  The film was based on Olive Higgins Prouty’s 1941 novel of the same name, the third in a series of five novels about the Vale family. The books were solid bestsellers in the late nineteen-thirties, and when Now, Voyager was published, Warner Bros. wasted no time in snapping it up and turning it into a vehicle for their intense and popular leading lady. Supposedly, the film stuck closely to the book, and it basically did. Pretty much.

First of all, the previous two books featured Charlotte’s sister-in-law, Lisa, as the protagonist, who marries into the Vale family and is thus our entrĂ©e into their world. In Now, Voyager, Lisa is newly widowed and moved into the background, except in the novel, as in the movie, she is the catalyst for Charlotte’s transformation. Unlike the movie, however, the book shows us Charlotte getting the makeover after her stay at Cascades. It is mostly an interior monologue, with Charlotte reflecting on how she came to be in a salon chair in New York, waiting to go on a Mediterranean cruise. What we heard Charlotte tell Dr. Jaquith at the beginning of the movie, we see her turning over in her mind in the novel. She reflects on her thwarted romance with Leslie, a ship’s officer, and how she came to be at Cascades.

Charlotte feels extremely uncomfortable in her salon chair, as she has no knowledge of fashion or, as yet, the confidence to carry it off. She has borrowed Lisa’s clothes, as Lisa is currently in mourning and not wearing much of her regular wardrobe. Charlotte is so unsure of herself that she also imitates Lisa’s mannerisms, such as the way she lights a cigarette and then tosses the match away. The Charlotte of the novel is snarkier at the outset than Davis portrayed her, mostly out of defensiveness. Other than that, she is content to let others control what goes on in her life and hasn’t yet mastered taking matters into her own hands.

We find out a few specifics about the mysterious Renee Beauchamp. Unseen in both the film and the book, Renee gives up her spot on the cruise to Charlotte when a friend invites her to his ranch in Arizona. Jerry mentions Renee is famous for her parties, and Charlotte rather testily tells him, “If you knew Renee, you’d know she doesn’t like cruises!” Um, then why did Renee book the cruise in the first place? Oh, well. A target of opportunity is a target of opportunity.

Source: Pinterest

Once Charlotte is safely on the ship to the Mediterranean, things look very familiar, aside from the fact that she’s not going to South America as in the movie. Due to wartime conditions, the producers decided to take advantage of the Good Neighbor Policy and have Charlotte head south instead of east–a gentle hint to audiences that European pleasure cruises were not on the table just then. Charlotte’s initial meeting with Jerry isn’t at all like the one in the movie, either–in fact, we don’t see it. He just shows up, and the two of them are thrown together at a bridge tournament. Charlotte is unnerved by him at first, but then Jerry grows on her.

What’s nice about the novel is that we have time to get to know Jerry a bit more. Onboard ship, he shares a suite with a married fellow, Mr. Littlejohn,  who can’t stay in the same stateroom with his wife and daughters because he snores. Loudly. Fortunately, the air conditioner in the room is louder, so Jerry blasts it while Mr. Littlejohn sleeps and things are dandy. The novel’s Jerry is not nearly so confident as Paul Henreid’s Jerry. In a way, he’s almost as unsure of himself as Charlotte is; he’s hesitant to make jokes or be himself because his wife, Isobel, takes such offense at attempts at humor. Just as Charlotte’s mother expects her to act like a scared rabbit, Jerry is retiring and placidly adoring of his wife because that’s what she expects of him. Away from home, both are able to relax and be who they really are, and once they get acquainted, there’s an unspoken desire to help each other. They aren’t entirely strangers, either, as Jerry moves in some of the same circles and at least knows people only to speak to–he’s familiar enough with the Vale family to recognize that Charlotte borrowed her clothes from Lisa. It’s very likely that the film made the two of them completely unknown to each other so there would be more personal details given in the dialogue.

Oh, and Jerry’s bit about lighting two cigarettes? Paul Henreid took credit for it after Now,Voyager came out, but the idea was Prouty’s, as her Jerry did it when he was saying goodbye to Charlotte in Europe.

Source: Vale Tales

It was pretty common to clean up content for movies to keep the Hays Office happy, but films of that era still managed to drop hints, veiled or otherwise, of less-than-family-friendly goings-on. Like the movie, the book very subtly hints that Jerry and Charlotte consummate their relationship. Or not–neither the film or the movie say for sure one way or the other: “No one observed at what hour {Jerry} returned to his own room via the balcony. To all appearances, they were merely a couple of travelers whom an unfortunate accident had thrown together temporarily.” The book is definitely not smuttier than the movie, though, unlike some books that have been turned into movies have been (*cough* The Postman Always Rings Twice *cough*), and Charlotte nurses guilt about having carried on a clandestine relationship with a married man. The only thing that makes her feel better is knowing that it’s temporary. It’s still an affair, though, temporary or not, but we will press on.

When Charlotte returns home, she’s met by Lisa and Lisa’s daughter, June, and just as in the film, the two of them are gobsmacked at Charlotte’s transformation. June and Charlotte, especially, find themselves getting along like a house on fire, and in the novel June later moves into the Vale mansion. Likewise, as in the film, Charlotte’s brothers and sisters-in-law are equally shocked at the new Charlotte, but they take to her very quickly, especially after Charlotte defies Mother’s orders and starts a fire in a fireplace that has never been lit before.

Ah yes, Mother. There was absolutely nothing changed between the film and the book as far as the exchange between Charlotte and Madame Vale goes. She’s like a bull in a china shop when it comes to her tact and consideration of her daughter, but when she finds she can’t rattle her, Mother secretly enjoys Charlotte’s newfound confidence. The fact that it means Charlotte has friends over and makes the Vale abode more lively doesn’t hurt, either.

Source: Barnes and Noble

Another divergence between the book and the film is that some characters who have quite sizeable roles in the latter are now in the background while others with bit parts in the movie are more visible. Dr. Jaquith’s presence is the biggest difference. Charlotte mulls over his advice and quotes him, but he’s unseen until almost the end of the novel. The part was obviously fleshed out in the film to give the formidable Claude Raines more screen time.

Meanwhile, the nurse, Dora, who was played by the inimitable Mary Wickes for ten sparky minutes in the film, is a fixture in the house after Charlotte’s return and Mother injures her ankle. Dora is, quite frankly, the funniest character in the book. She calls Mrs. Vale’s injury “the baby,” and goes around making quips such as “Mother and baby are doing well,” horrifying Mrs. Vale’s very staid children. Dora is also a stabilizing figure for Charlotte, able to bring some reality when Charlotte shows unhealthy fear or guilt, such as when her mother dies.

In the novel, as in the movie, Charlotte quickly learns that her temporary affair wasn’t so temporary after all, and she has to reconcile herself and her actions before she’s allowed to move forward as a person. She sees Jerry with his family once in New York, unbeknownst to them, and takes it as a reminder of her outsider status in Jerry’s life. However, things aren’t quite that simple, and after her mother dies, Charlotte has to figure out where to go from there. Those who have seen the movie already know where that takes Charlotte, and the book is no different.

Prouty’s novel was semi-autobiographical, which brought a lot of authenticity to Charlotte. She herself was a psychiatric patient at a sanitarium for a period of time, and was told by her doctor to resume her writing for, among other things, therapeutic purposes. In all, the adaptation of Prouty’s novel for the film was very sound, even with its slight changes–the characters are well done in both places. I enjoyed seeing some new dimensions of a familiar story, and discovering an author who deserves to be more known today than she is. Prouty’s novel is well-worth a read.

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed, and see you tomorrow for the big Judy Garland Blogathon! Have a good one, all…

This book is available on Amazon.

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