Director John Huston, with the help of producer Walter Mirisch, convinced Warner Bros. studios (owner of the cinematic rights to the story) to make the 1956 film version of Moby-Dick. The studio, however, required some financial assurances if the project was to be green-lighted, and Huston managed to mollify their unease by casting one of Hollywood’s highest grossing stars, Gregory Peck, in the starring role. With Peck, signed up, Huston offered novelist Ray Bradbury the opportunity to write the screenplay. Bradbury traveled to Paris to join Huston for the film’s pre-production. On their first creative meeting, at the Hotel St. James, Bradbury, who had just finished reading the novel for the first time on the trip, asked Huston for some guidance “What kind of script do you want? Are you a Freudian? A Jungian? A Melville Society man?” Huston promptly replied: “I want Ray Bradbury’s Moby-Dick” (Grobel 417 ).
What the brief history of the film’s origin and the conversation between Bradbury and Huston illustrate is the myriad of possible versions that awaited both artists at the outset of the film’s production, and how these are necessarily in dialogue with institutional practices. Gregory Peck’s interpretation of “Bradbury’s Ahab” would certainly differ from Walter Huston’s (John Huston’s original choice) or Laurence Olivier (Bradbury’s preferred choice). As a consequence, Hollywood’s star system participates in the revision of Melville’s Moby-Dick as much as Bradbury’s writing or Huston’s cinematic choices. Exactly where Bradbury’s Moby-Dick begins and where it ends; where it touches, combines, staves off Melville’s or Huston’s or Peck’s or Hollywood’s is one of the main concerns of this feature of the fluid-text edition of Moby-Dick. The other is to portray the ideological implications that emerge from the decision-making process of adaptive revisions in filming Moby-Dick.
To view MEL’s sample collation of Bradbury’s screenplay against Melville’s original text, click on the link in the right column.