April 1998

To the tune of Travolta

By Anonymous Anonymous
By Jonathan Harr
Review by
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When it was first published, the anonymously-authored Primary Colors–an obvious roman a clef about the Clintons–triggered a national guessing-game about the author's true identity. Appropriately, the Washington Post wound up outing Newsweek columnist Joe Klein (following Klein's blanket denials, to his comrades in print, that he was the author). The controversy didn't end there. When the bestseller went into production as a movie, there were raised eyebrows and barbed comments from pundits. After all, a mutual love-fest exists between the Clintons and Hollywood. Thus, the latest chapter in the Primary Colors saga concerns the book's "softening," so as not to offend the First Couple. Little wonder, since director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Elaine May are known as Clinton supporters. Even Joe Klein whose book sold to Hollywood for $1.5 million has been downplaying parallels between print and real life, saying his book isn't really about the Clintons. Never mind that the deftly-written political satire, about a Southern governor running for president in 1992 amid scandalous headlines of marital infidelities is clearly based on the travails of you-know-who.

Actually, not everyone is balking about the obvious similarities. John Travolta, who stars as the book's womanizing (and idealistic) candidate, readily admits he went for a "Clinton-esque illusion," with mimicked speech patterns, hair color and style, and physicality. Not that the popular, likable icon is going to play a bad boy. As he puts it in a George magazine interview, "You'd have to be dead not to see the script favors Clinton."

One thing is certain: the release of the movie adaptation couldn't be more timely, what with the ongoing headlines regarding the latest sex scandal to plague the presidency. Still, for an unbridled "take" on the political scene, it's near-impossible to top the original source material, Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics still credited to "Anonymous", narrated by actor Blair Underwood. What, you were expecting Travolta to do the honors?

The ubiquitous John Travolta will topline yet another adaptation of a best seller Jonathan Harr's A Civil Action. Due later this year from Touchstone Pictures, it's based on the real life account of attorney Jan Schlichtmann, who in the early eighties initiated a civil suit against two of the country's largest corporations on behalf of the families of young leukemia victims. (Over a period of years, the companies W.R. Grace and Beatrice Foods had disposed of a cancer-causing industrial solvent by dumping it into the water supply of Woburn, Massachusetts.) A riveting page-turner, Harr's book gives readers a front-row seat to courtroom theatrics and infighting providing a meticulous look at the intricacies of our legal system, and all its flaws. As for the film version: no word, yet, on how it will differ from what's in print but expect the usual PR blitz, as befits Travolta's leading man status.

For a look back at the early Travolta when he was in his singing, dancing prime there's Frenchy's Grease Scrapbook, a behind-the-scenes look at the making, and the after-life, of the 1978 hit film Grease. A tie-in to the movie's 20th anniversary reissue, it's an innocuous reminder of the Eisenhower era, when everything including politics seemed so innocent.

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