Francis Ford Coppola Remembers Saving 'The Great Gatsby'

Deauville Film Festival | Deauville, France, Sept. 2-11
AP/Michel Spingler

"I'm a very shy person. I don't feel comfortable feeling too important," said Francis Ford Coppola.

Before he was an Oscar winner for "The Godfather," the not-yet-legendary director did a re-write on the 1974, Robert Redford-starring version of Fitzgerald's classic.

In what surely cannot be a simple coincidence, the enormity of Jay Gatsby's wealth -- and magnitude of his implosion -- has long vexed filmmakers working to bring his story to screen.

The third motion picture adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel will debut next month, a massive 3D exercise in opulence and period drama from Baz Luhrmann that stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton and Isla Fisher. The film was pushed back from a winter release to a May debut, so that Luhrmann could perfect the effects and sound. That long delay, however, is a breeze compared with trouble that plagued the last film version of Gatsby, a Paramount release that starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.

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The initial script for the film -- by none other than Truman Capote -- had been rejected, and director Jack Clayton turned to a then-unproven Francis Ford Coppola for an entire last minute rewrite. In a new essay for Town & Country magazine, Coppola recalls the weeks he spent locked in a Paris hotel room -- an ocean away from the stunning opening success of his career-making first Godfather film.

The key to cracking the script, Coppola says, was simply using Fitzgerald as a guide -- even if it meant looking in at his other works to aid the effort.

"I was shocked to find that there was almost no dialogue between Daisy and Gatsby in the book, and was terrified that I’d have to make it all up," the Oscar winner remembers. "So I did a quick review of Fitzgerald’s short stories and, as many of
them were similar in that they were about a poor boy and a rich girl, I helped myself to much of the authentic Fitzgerald dialogue from them."

The rest -- including an all-night chat scene between the forbidden lovers -- is history.

Click over to Town & Country for more on Coppola's memories.