ABSTRACT

John Huston’s 1975 film version of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King” provides an important window into the process of adaptation. Huston directed this film and co-wrote the screenplay, building on previous drafts, written over two decades, by three screenwriters: Peter Viertel, Aeneas MacKenzie, and Tony Veiller. Revealed across these draft scripts are the creative choices, narrative inventions, and studio pressures that drive the adaptation process. Like Kipling’s story, Huston’s film ends with Peachey Carnehan displaying the decayed and crowned head of Daniel Dravot, the fallen king of Kafiristan. While the film’s closing shots might suggest a conventional fidelity to its source text, screenplay drafts and production notes disclose the prolonged struggles between director, screenwriters, and producers to shape an ending and especially this final image. The screenwriters’ transitional conceptions highlight the fluid creative process of adaptation - a closer examination of screenplay drafts and a consideration of them as a significant record of the screenwriters’ developmental stages enrich our understanding of both the process of adaptation and the resulting product.