This book is a bit of a sleeper. Edited by John Gasser and Dudley Nichols, it was published in 1946 by Crown and shows that 1945 was a pretty good year for films. The book includes the screenplays for The Lost Weekend, Spellbound, Double Indemnity, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the Story of G. I. Joe, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, and others. Writers include the likes of Billy Wilder, Ben Hecht, Raymond Chandler, Clifford Odets, Guy Endore, and Dalton Trumbo. Good company, eh?
It also includes the screenplay for an obscure film connected to John Steinbeck. You don’t normally think of A Medal for Benny as a prize winner of a film, but it surely made this list, and a good list it is. Although Frank Butler wrote the actual screenplay, the film is based on a story developed by Steinbeck and his boyhood friend, Jack Wagner.
Jack and Max Wagner were the sons of Edith Wagner, nee McGillcuddy. Steinbeck aficionados will remember her as the title character in his story titled How Edith McGillcuddy Met Robert Louis Stevenson. That story was first published in the August 1941 issue of “Harper’s.” It was issued as a limited edition of 152 hardcover books by the famed Rowfant Club in 1943. That book is today a very valuable book.
Benny is a character never seen in the film. Considered something of a low-life character, the “proper” citizens of his Southern California town throw him out. He is then drafted into the Army only to be killed in action. Now that A Congressional Medal of Honor ceremony is in the offing, the town “celebrates” his heroism. Steinbeck came from such a small town (Salinas), but it is situated near the coast of Central California.
The film version starred Dorothy Lamour, Arturo de Cordova, and J. Carroll Naish. You may remember Lamour as a continuing star of Bob Hope’s “Road” movies. As a young boy and as a young man who had seen many of these films, I never fancied her much, but as a bit older man who became a bookseller, I fell I love with the giant image of her used in the posters for this film. The word smoldering comes to mind.