NABOKV-L post 0010465, Sat, 30 Oct 2004 11:15:37 -0700

Subject
Dmitri Nabokov on The Albee LOLITA Saga
Date
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From Dmitri Nabokov

I note that Sandy has posted a collection of links to reviews etc. of Albee's theatrical adaptation of LOLITA. For more reasons than I can name here, but that those reviews abundantly confirm, that adventure was an utter abomination. Many of us make mistakes that we live to regret. Here is the genesis of that Albee LOLITA travesty. My mother and I were talked by a persuasive lady friend of mine into entering into a tripartite agreement with a couple of gentlemen named Jerry Shirlock and Al Cooperman. The agreement, for a modest advance, provided for 1) a theatrical adaptation, to be written by Edward Albee; 2) a film remake, to be based upon that adaptation; and 3) an opera, to be composed by Leonard Bernstein -- at first blush, a fairly promising mix . However, our principal attorneys turned out to be as improvident as they were expensive, and permitted a "Dramatists' Guild merger agreement" to be slipped into the complex language of the contract, with no safety net. What that meant, in essence, was that, no matter how bad the play, if it succeeded in running for fourteen performances, all earnings from ANY film or theatrical adaptations of LOLITA would be subject to a 50/50 split with Albee via William Morris. Unfortunately neither Mother nor I was familiar with the intricacies of this concept, and we accepted our long-time lawyer's word, or rather that of her entertainment associates from a masthead longer than their letters. From the day we received the play script with "Enjoy!" scrawled on the cover by Shirlock, my mother and I were astounded by how grotesquely bad it was. Notwithstanding the presence of Donald Sutherland, the play was a collossal flop both during outof-town tryouts and rewritings and a handful of performances in New York that the producers, more by crook than by hook (freebies etc.), managed to stretch to the fourteen required for "merger." Bernstein, of course, gave a wide berth to an opera project with such a libretto, and no movie developed from the deal either. When a film remake was finally done -- by the excellent Adrian Lyne -- half of the advance was due to Albee, who of course had nothing to do with it. When accounting time came for the play's pitiful proceeds, Shirlock and Cooperman confirmed their colors by deducting a sum of $10.75 (or something like that) which, they claimed, MY MOTHER had physically withdrawn at the box office (while she was bedridden with a serious illness in Montreux, unable to walk even a few steps). In the years that followed, the play has been performed under the Nabokov flag here and there (less here than there, e.g., in remote corners of the former Soviet Union,and I keep getting buttonholed by peripheral Russians "who have seen my father's play." Meanwhile, in Milano, Luigi Ronconi presented a truly fine theatrical adaptation, not of LOLITA the novel but of LOLITA the screenplay. Let Albee & co. try to sue me, but they're not getting a cent from that.

I take full responsibility for this mess, and wanted to clarify it in case someone cared.

Warm greetings,

Dmitri