Sir Tom Stoppard is often hailed as Britain’s greatest living playwright, collecting countless awards for works exploring the philosophical thematics of life. He is, however, less well known for his contributions to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Bourne Ultimatum and 102 Dalmatians.
A new authorized biography reveals Stoppard to be one of the world’s most prolific and well-paid — if discreet — film scriptwriters.
The author of intellectual plays, including Arcadia and The Coast of Utopia, was responsible for parts of scripts ranging from Star Wars to Schindler’s List, from My Mom’s a Werewolf to Beethoven, starring a lovable St. Bernard.
His work on 102 Dalmatians includes dialogue for Glenn Close, such as the memorable line: “You may have won the battle but I’m about to win the wardrobe.”
Hermione Lee writes in Tom Stoppard: A Life, released this week, that because of changes in his personal life “he needed the money”. He was “pragmatic about his film work and idealistic about his plays”, according to his agents, while Stoppard found the work “frustrating, burdensome and time-wasting, especially if it cut across playwriting”.
But, as one agent said, being paid $100,000 a week to “dialogue polish” did pay the bills.
His uncredited role on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in the late 1980s earned him close to $2 million, the biography reveals, and also notes how Stoppard asked the studio financing Billy Bathgate to increase his $1,000-a-day expenses.
Stoppard’s uncredited role on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in the late 1980s earned him close to $2 million.
The biography of the 83-year-old writer explores his relationships with his three wives, Jose Ingle, Miriam Stoppard and Sabrina Guinness as well as his affairs with the actresses Felicity Kendal and Sinéad Cusack, the wife of Jeremy Irons. To conduct his affair with Cusack discreetly, in 1998 Stoppard bought a house in Provence which would be a “retreat and a refuge for him and Cusack” after they had both traveled to France on separate planes.
The relationship ended around 2007 after Cusack tracked down the son she had given up for adoption when she was 19 and decided to spend time with him in Ireland rather than with Stoppard in France.
The biography also explores his Jewish roots and reveals that the playwright thought his stepfather, Kenneth Stoppard, who married his mother, Marta, later known as Bobby, after his father died during the Second World War, was “bigoted, xenophobic and antisemitic”.
Stoppard only discovered in the 1990s that his mother’s side of the family were also Jewish. Within hours of her death in 1996 his stepfather told him he should now stop using the Stoppard surname. His stepfather soon repeated this in a letter, which the biography says is “probably the only antisemitic letter [Stoppard] had ever received”.
The biography reveals that after reading a novel sometime around 2012 by the Croatian writer Dasa Drndic in which she “lacerates” Stoppard for being a “blind observer” to the fate of so many Jews during the 20th century, he “felt regret and guilt”. He subsequently embarked on Leopoldstadt, a play which opened earlier this year in London and explores the fate of a family of Viennese Jews.
The biography explores his relationships with his three wives as well as his affairs with actresses Felicity Kendal and Sinéad Cusack, the wife of Jeremy Irons.
In between the plays for which he is globally renowned — starting with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1966 and through Travesties, Arcadia and Rock ’n’ Roll in 2006, with two parts created for Cusack, Sir Tom also worked in the film and television world.
He won an Oscar with his screenplay for 1998’s Shakespeare in Love and was also known to have written the scripts for Brazil, Empire of the Sun and The Russia House, based on the John le Carré novel and starring Sean Connery.
Other films he worked on anonymously were Chaplin, Richard Attenborough’s biopic of the British-born entertainer, A Dangerous Woman starring Debra Winger, Sir Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, and The Golden Compass, an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights novel.
He advised George Lucas on his Star Wars films and was involved with The Bourne Ultimatum, starring Matt Damon as an amnesiac CIA assassin.
The biography records that Stoppard “spent months working out elaborate plot twists and, because Matt Damon had said he wasn’t going to do any more in the series, he killed off Bourne”.
Ms. Lee writes: “The studio couldn’t believe he had done this, and, as he [Sir Tom] put it drily, ‘it completely disqualified me from further consideration as their film writer’.”