Arts » Visual Arts

Booth Tarkington in the movies

A look at Booth Tarkington's writing that turned to film



Long before Pittsburgh substituted for Indianapolis in the 2014 film adaptation of John Green's young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars, Orson Welles directed an adaptation of Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). The novel, published in 1918, documents the decline of an old money family due, in part, to the advent of the automobile. While the story of Tarkington's novel was set in turn of the century Indianapolis, the film was shot in various locales in and around Los Angeles. Against Welles' wishes, the movie's length was cut considerably by the film studio and given an upbeat ending. Despite these changes the movie was nominated for 4 Academy Awards. 

RELATED: Portraits from the Gentleman's Collection at the IMA

In 2002, the A&E Network shot The Magnificent Ambersons as an original film for television using Welles' original script and production notes. (Seeing the long, hard slog of the A&E version, you may get some idea why the studio decided to cut the movie down to a viewable length.)

Tarkington's novel Alice Adams also got the film treatment. In this 1935 feature, Katharine Hepburn playing the role of Alice, a woman from a lower middle class who tries to conceal her family's poverty in order to woo the man with whom she falls in love. This man who just so happens to be engaged to a debutante from the richest family in their small Midwestern town. The film has an engaging love story, but also contains some unfortunate historical aspects, such as the Adams' character referring to African-Americans as "darkies." The movie's also interesting from a sociological/linguistic perspective because of the cultivated Transatlantic accent employed by Hepburn. This accent, which sorta sounds like a mishmash of British English and Brooklynese, was the Hollywood standard at the time, a state of affairs wryly noted in a 2013 article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled "The Rise and Fall of Katharine Hepburn's Fake Accent." (This article provides a great explanation about why all the actors in the movies from the '30s and '40s sound so funny.) The funny thing is that Hepburn's accent actually works in Alice Adams because her character is all about putting on airs — and so is the accent.


This Week's Flyers

Around the Web