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Frank Capra remains a singular American voice for optimism, for the innate goodness of people, and an Americanism almost forgotten in the wake of recent events. In It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and numerous other films, director Frank Capra portrayed us as we want ourselves to be, as most of us aspire to be, in fact.


I wanted to write a modern Frank Capra tale, more reality based, but undeniably an American Capraesque story. I wrote the piece for an actress who never read it (see the Introduction, below) and while I might have submitted it to others, truth was, I was on my way out of Hollywood when the script was written and Country Life, Inc. was a casualty of circumstance.


It remains a favorite of mine, however, and I think you might enjoy it.

INTRODUCTION


It seems as if greed has overpowered American life. Since the 1960s, when idealism reigned, America has gradually drifted toward the right, toward Laissez Faire capitalism, toward riches before anything else. Morality continues to decline as the people who claim to champion it (or allege that they do, anyway) find every reason to lie, cheat and steal to get what they want, and what they want is wealth. How many times have you heard some buzz-cut, twenty-six year old MBA from Yale say about one social problem or another, “Let the free market regulate it. It’s what the free market does best.”


What the free market does best occurred in 1929.


We have to relearn what experience taught our grandfathers.


Back then, back in our grandfathers’ (and grandmothers’) day, there was a genre of movie made almost exclusively by a single filmmaker. The genre was called ‘Capra-corn’ and the filmmaker was director Frank Capra, whose name always went before the title. ‘Capra-corn’ was about hope. It was about character. It was about standing up for what you believe, giving the ‘little guy’ — read anyone without money, power or position — a chance. You may remember these films, arguably the most American films ever produced. The most memorable of them was called, It’s a Wonderful Life.


And it is.


Other films of the genre were Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Meet John Doe. I was not alone in loving these films, but they are almost forgotten now. A young writing partner of mine, a film school graduate, never saw them because they were in black and white. Black and white films are to his generation, apparently, what silent films are to mine. Too bad. There is so much wisdom, and joy, contained in films that were made before color film became ubiquitous.


I have said before that I try not to do the same thing twice. Every one of my screenplays — and this is true of my novels, too — is very different from the last. This screenplay, Country Life, Inc., is my attempt to write ‘Capra-corn’. Its heroine, Maggie Dunbar, was written for Sandra Bullock whose public persona is very Frank Capra-esque, though she may not know that. She reminds me of Capra’s best leading ladies, Barbara Stanwyck and in particular Jean Arthur, the stage and camera-frightened actress whose performances are unequaled, even today.


My agent told me that he had an ‘in’ with Bullock’s company, and did I have anything to submit to her? This was serendipity of the first order, synchronicity in action. I had been thinking of Country Life for years, and with Bullock in mind for the lead, too. My agent expected me to concoct a pitch; instead, I wrote this script. I finished the screenplay, my agent read it, loved it (he said — agents are tone deaf, you know, as a class of human beings), and called Bullock’s production company... only to get the cold shoulder. His ‘in’ was suddenly ‘out’, his ‘on’ was now very definitely ‘off’ and my script was never, ever read by Bullock’s people.


This began a period of agent hell. I eventually fired my agent because, well, why the hell not? Life isn’t fair, writers aren’t fair, agents most definitely are not fair. My new agent handled books only, so she could do nothing with my spec scripts. I just didn’t have the heart or the push to go out and yet again find another script agent. Add to this the age issue — I wasn’t thirty, inexperienced or stupid, thus not considered prime meat for the screenplay selling or writing market. I put all of my scripts on the shelf, several of them never submitted anywhere, Country Life, Inc, prominent among them.


Late last year I realized that I was done with screenplays for good. I decided to throw them into the ‘cloud’ of human consciousness by publishing them as stand-alone books through Amazon’s POD (print on demand) publishing system. While they were never intended to be commercial, still they will be available for sale on-line long after I have reincarnated as a young, inexperienced and stupid script writer working in 2050 Hollywood.


I had the joy of writing a tale well told. I saw this movie in my mind, and Sandra, you were a knock-out! Jean Arthur couldn’t have done it better. So you see, it wasn’t all bad. Not at all.


You know, It’s A Wonderful Life.






   — Richard Taylor

   Cambria, California

   July 23, 2008

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