A Letter From Ezra Pound to Billy Wilder, 1963.
BY Greg Purcell
Your sect’y makes some faint excuse for your continued incivility and your putrid meanness in not returning my original mss.; i.e., of the screen adaptation I have made of The Aeneid, to be played, as per my suggestion, by Charlton Heston. As everything concerning this project has, in my mind, completely fallen apart, I can ask for nothing but that the screenplay be returned to me post haste, and in its original form.
I suppose it is possible that, in the depth of your alcoholic stupidity, you may have glossed over, or worse, forgotten, the reservations I am having about this project. I elaborate them here again, as I am always doing for the benefit of children such as yourself. They are as follows:
To begin with, your hold on Latin is deplorable. I suppose you’ve found it necessary to peddle this film to an American audience, and to therefore impurify it by rendering it into English. But to have translated it yourself! Wilder, the refrain goes “mirable dictu!,” not “miserabile dictu!”
Though, in your hands, I’m beginning to suspect that Virgil’s tale will indeed be more wretched than wonderful to tell. You have also mangled the first line, obviously confusing “virumque” with “virorum”. The poet is clearly not singing “about the man’s arms.” You are an idiot.
Secondly, I have suggested CHARLTON HESTON for this role, not Jack Lemmon, as you have suggested. To cast Jack Lemmon in the role is patently absurd. Perhaps he may find a place in the screen adaptation of Juvenal’s Satires I am currently rendering for John Ford (who, I might add, is a superior director to you). Now, you see, the Satires—that’s comedy. There is a bit of broad slapstick in the work, at the like of which this Lemmon character seems reductively adept, as when Juvenal is walking down the paved streets of Nero’s Rome, and finds nothing there but litter and human excrement piled up in the alleyways. That, as you might say, is “blue-chip stuff,” or whatever it is that you people call it when you’re jabbering away about nothing at all. Really, you are like a monkey or an ape to me. Monkeys and apes should not be allowed access to works as great as The Aeneid.
Thirdly, I will not, I repeat, WILL NOT introduce the movie dressed in a tweed suit coat, sitting in an oak lined drawing room, with an impossibly large book in my lap. I also dislike the introduction of the “helmeted skeleton army” on page 53.
Elia Kazan says you are supposed to be ill. I hope you are. And what is more I hope you die of it. In the mean time return my mss., crawl out of the thief category, and make peace with whatever diseased deity is provided for such bacilli as yourself.
Damn you again, and may three new lice hatch eggs on your already infected scalp. May you also vomit on cave-treacle.
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