How Philip Roth Finally Embraced the Film Adaptation of 'Goodbye, Columbus'

Philip Roth
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Philip Roth, an influential novelist who won two National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize, died May 22 at the age of 85. The prolific writer died in a New York City hospital of congestive heart failure, his literary agent Andrew Wylie told the Associated Press. Roth was the author of dozens of novels including Portnoy's Complaint, American Pastoral and Goodbye, Columbus. Roth was frequently identified as being a writer interested in Jewish identity, as well as lust, the American Dream and male anxiety. He also was one of the most decorated writers of his generation, having won the Putlizer, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, a Man Booker International Prize and three PEN/Faulkner awards.

Producer Stanley Jaffe recalls how the author, who died May 22 at age 85, was "very unenthusiastic" about the first draft of the script based on his semi-autobiographical novel: "He was worried that if people didn't like the movie, it would be bad for the book."

Of all the Philip Roth novels Hollywood has adapted over the years — and there have been seven, starring the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman and Al Pacino — the author often said his favorite was the first, 1969's Goodbye Columbus. But, according to producer Stanley Jaffe, it took some time before Roth became a fan.

"I gave Philip the first draft of Arnold Schulman's script, and he was very unenthusiastic about it," he recalls. "I think the problem was that it was too close to the novel, and he was worried that if people didn't like the movie, it would be bad for the book."

Even after rewrites, Roth kept an arm's distance from the production. He never met with star Richard Benjamin ("Beats me as to why — we had very, very similar backgrounds," the actor tells THR) and didn't attend the premiere.

"Then he saw the movie on his own — paid three dollars, or whatever it cost then — and called to tell me, 'There are things that are better about the movie and things that aren't as good,'" says Jaffe. "Then he asked me to introduce him to Ali MacGraw." 

This story also appears in the May 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.