Some Writers Have All The Luck

While channel surfing this afternoon, I saw a movie on Lifetime with a suspiciously familiar plot: "A woman has a reversal of fortune when a wealthy family mistakes her for their dead son's wife."

I immediately thought, No Man of Her Own, a classic from 1950 starring Barbara Stanwyck that's already been remade once in 1996, as the dreadful Mrs. Winterbourne with Ricki Lake. I tuned in to the movie. The setup for the pregnancy came early on in the form of a rape, with the rapist knifed to death by the heroine and his brother wounded. He would be the one to come back and blackmail her after she hitched a ride with a newlywed couple on their way to the husband's home, where the bride would meet her in-laws for the first time. (Just before the crash that killed the newlyweds, the heroine was conveniently trying on the bride's rings.)

I was surprised that this movie was made in 2001, just five years after the release of Mrs. Winterbourne. When I checked the Internet Movie Database (, I was further surprised to see that this story, called They Called Me Patrice, from a 1948 book of short stories called I Married A Dead Man by Cornell Woolrich (writing as William Irish), has been filmed a total of five times: The aforementioned theatrical releases in 1950 and 1996, the made-for-TV version I saw on Lifetime, a French film in 1982, and a Brazilian TV series in 1962. So if you ever see a movie in which a woman is traveling on a train, bus, or in a car with a newly married couple, tries on the woman's ring and then BANG!!! - the couple is killed in a crash, think Cornell Woolrich.

Cornell Woolrich, an unhappy man who was alcoholic, homosexual and devoted to his demanding mother, was one helluva writer. In addition to the successful short story that spawned four movies and one TV show, his short story It Had to be Murder was filmed (twice!) as Rear Window, he supplied the story for the classic 1949 film noir The Window, and wrote dozens of episodes for anthology TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock, G.E. Theater and Playhouse 90. He died in 1968.

Which makes me wonder . . . he was an only child, had no children, and so few friends that he once dedicated a novel to his typewriter . . . . who's getting the money for all these remakes?

But that's a column for another day.


Shelia said...

Wow...thanks for the history lesson. Its a sad day too if the only person or thing I have to dedicate a book to is my computer (since I don't use a I wonder if the money from the films go to the state on his behalf or is it just "free for all."

Gwyneth Bolton said...

Interesting. I wish they'd make a movie out of something I wrote. Heck, even a made for TV movie on one of the networks would make me scream with glee. And a cable movie well, I'd probably faint. I wonder how much his estate is making from all these remakes?


bettye griffin said...

Gwyneth, I'm with you! Even one itty bitty movie would thrill me. Hollywood did contact me once about the possibility of filming The People Next Door, but it went nowhere, as these things often do.

Shelia, I did a little research. Woolrich left his estate (valued at $850,000) to Columbia University to provide scholarships for journalism students, so I guess the school gets the cash. Not surprisingly, the scholarship fund is not in Woolrich's name, but that of his mother.

Thanks for posting!

Shelia said...

Cool...well I'm glad someone is benefiting from it.