Influenced by the Movies

by Shirley Hailstock

I loved my high school. And while my chemistry teacher was the most important influence in my life, it’s my English teachers that I have the most stories about. This blog is not about teachers, but about influences that some of my teachers instilled in me – mainly it was a need to read and learn, to research the people, places, and things that interested me.

Recently, I watched a movie about J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye. I never read this book. Like most people, my high school had plenty of classics for us to read and I read all of them (being an avid reader, this is no surprise). I also exhausted the summer reading list every year. However, there were books that never made the lists I was given. Catcher in the Rye being one of them.

Anyway, the movie (Rebel in the Rye) is a biography of J.D. (Jerome David) Salinger’s life and specifically the writing of his only published novel. I watched the movie twice and then wanted to read the book. I read some reviews that don’t really tell me why this book became a classic. So hearing my Sophomore English teacher’s voice in my head telling me (before the age of the Internet) to “go look it up,” I got the book and I’m reading it. At the moment, I’m finding it hard to separate this first-person point of view from the man I envision. J.D. Salinger has said he and Holden Caulfield, his main character, are not the same. The book is a work of fiction. However, we writers and readers know there is a certain amount of the author in every story.

This is not the first time I’ve been intrigued by a version of Hollywood that had me rushing out to find the truth. Years ago, I watched Amadeus, the biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life. After seeing that, I read three or four books on his life, and he’s not even my favorite composure (that would be Chopin & Rachmaninoff).

Since reading The Great Gatsby in high school (it made the list), I’ve been fascinated by both the story and the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.



One year for Spring Break, I convinced my children to go north instead of to the place we went every year. We visited Newport, RI. I wanted to see the mansions built during the Gilded Age, but mainly I was interested in the house where they filmed the Robert Redford version of The Great Gatsby. Then I watched Beloved Infidel, the story of Fitzgerald and columnist Sheliah Graham.


Of course, I had to know more about Fitzgerald. First I re-read The Great Gatsby. I wanted to know if the book would hold up in today’s world. It’s always on the bestseller list when a new school year begins. My opinion, yes it works, even today. After that, I scoured bookstores and the library for stories about Fitzgerald.

This is a short list of movies that have influenced me enough to send me in search of sources to see what I could learn about a character or an author.  I could go on for several more pages.


For my own book, Promises to Keep, the idea also came from a television program, Route 66.  Since there were so many stories that the characters brought to the screen, I was always in the library looking for books to support those stories.

Am I alone in this? Have any of you ever gone in search of a book after seeing a movie? Tell me about it.

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