To Bennett Cerf [Letter 505]

Item Reference Code: 100_12A_015_001

Date(s) of creation

July 29, 1963


Bennett Cerf


[Page 1]
36 East 36th Street
New York 16, New York

July 29, 1963

Mr. Bennett Cerf
Random House, Inc.
457 Madison Avenue
New York 22, New York

Dear Bennett:

Here is the synopsis of my screen story, RED PAWN. If you can judge it in so condensed a form, I will be very interested indeed to hear your reaction.

The commercial history of RED PAWN is as follows: I sold it to Universal in 1932, for $1,500.[*] (It was the first thing I ever sold.) About two years later, Paramount bought it from Universal. I heard, at the time, that Paramount got it in exchange for a story they owned which had cost them $20,000. But this was only hearsay, so I cannot be sure whether that was the price.

Paramount bought it for Marlene Dietrich, but her contract expired and she left them, so the story was never made.

As you know, Paramount has now offered (through Mr. Brown of NAL) to pay me a bonus if I would write a novel based on RED PAWN. What I want to offer them instead is as follows:

I will write both a novel and a screenplay of RED PAWN. They will have the right of first submission on the screenplay—that is, the right to buy it, on terms to be agreed upon. If they do not choose to buy it, they will turn over to me all rights to RED PAWN and I will be free to sell the screenplay elsewhere.

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The advantage to them will be that the novel will build RED PAWN into a major screen property and will cost them nothing, if they buy the screenplay. If they do not buy the screenplay, the cost of the gamble, to them, will be a story which has been lying on the shelf for 31 years, which no one else is likely ever to adapt successfully, and which is thus valueless to them for all practical purposes.

My gamble will be that I will write the screenplay “on spec,” since I will have no guarantee that Paramount or anyone else will buy it. But that is a risk I am willing to take. (The minimum I will get out of it will be the novel; the maximum—the novel plus a sensational motion picture.)

This, in rough essence, is the offer I would like to make to them.

Thank you once more for your interest in this project. Your attitude has been truly inspiring to me.

Love and kisses!


*Approximately $28,000 in 2019 dollars.

Although Cerf and Paramount discussed the project, a deal was never made.