Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Atuk Curse

"I don''t think it will make a good movie ...."


Atuk (Grandfather) is the name of a screenplay adaptation based on the 1963 novel The Incomparable Atuk by Mordecai Richler. It is basically a Fish out of water comedy of a proud, mighty Eskimo hunter trying to adapt to life in the big city.

There are subtle satirical elements on racism and modern culture and society, which figure much more prominently in the novel than in the script. Another difference between the script and the novel is, in the screenplay Atuk is a native of Alaska who ends up in New York City whereas in the novel he is a Canadian Eskimo poet from Baffin Island who gets transplanted to Toronto. Peter Gzowski's afterword adds some historical context, and elaborates on the satirized real-life counterparts of several of the novel's minor characters, including Pierre Berton.

Atuk is most infamous, however, for supposedly being cursed and, at least partly responsible for the deaths of several major comedic actors in the 1980s and 1990s. The Atuk Curse has become one of the best known urban legends of Hollywood. Its first victim, supposedly, was John Belushi, who had read the script and was reportedly enthusiastic about taking on the role of Atuk. Shortly afterwards, he was found dead of a drug overdose in 1982. The curse's next alleged victim was Sam Kinison, who took on the role in the late 80's and filmed at least one scene for the film before he grew dissatisfied with the script and quit. He ultimately died in an automobile accident in 1992. The curse would strike again in 1994 when John Candy, who had been approached for the role of Atuk, was reading the script when he suddenly died of a heart attack, on March 4 (the day before the 12th anniversary of Belushi's death). Some believe the curse struck twice that year, since in November Michael O'Donoghue died of a cerebral hemorrhage. O'Donoghue was a writer and comedian who was also a friend of Belushi and Kinison and, the story goes, had read the script (in some versions even worked on it) before recommending it to them. The final victim of the Atuk Curse, to date, is said to be Chris Farley, who idolized John Belushi. Like his idol, he was up for the role of Atuk, and was about to accept when, also like his idol, he died of a drug overdose in December 1997. Although according to some versions the curse would strike once more only six months later in May 1998 when Farley's friend and former Saturday Night Live cast-mate, Phil Hartman was murdered by his wife. Farley is said to have shown the Atuk script to Hartman, before his death, and was encouraging him to take a co-starring role.

Atuk has not and, due to its infamy (along with the fact so many involved with it seem to keep dying), in all likelihood never will be made into a film. A copy of the script was purportedly put up for auction on eBay in recent years. The curse has been a featured topic on several TV shows and documentaries. Ironically the author of the novel on which it is based, Richler, and writer of the afterword Gzowski both died peacefully in 2001 and 2002 respectively, after enjoying long lives and successful careers.

The movie was also referenced in the commentary track for 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, in which Adam McKay repeatedly pitches a screenplay called "Eskimo in New York" to Will Ferrell. Will remarks several times that he doesn't think it will make a good movie, and refuses to be a part of it.

1 comment:

Dillon Wetmore said...

I want to dis spell the Atuk Curse. All my comedy idols have died because of this script. I want to reead it and be in the movie.