Pastures of Heaven, a Film

by James Dourgarian

Nearly everyone interested in John Steinbeck can reel off a string of his books that have been made into films. But The Pastures of Heaven, you ask? There's no reference in Goldstone & Payne about that having been made into a film. However, Steinbeck's second novel, a collection of linked stories, was indeed the source for a film of the same name. And Steinbeck himself appears to introduce the film and its three segments. Yes, the very same Steinbeck who hated to have his picture taken. There is still much more to learn in detail, but through a variety of sources we can now piece together a picture of how this "film" was made.

According to Julie Fallowfield of McIntosh and Otis, Steinbeck's literary agency, two of the principals in the film were Eugene Solow and Brewster Morgan. (In 1939 Solow wrote the screenplay for Of Mice and Men.) Together they formed Solar Productions. Solar created what it called its "Author's Playhouse" series, and as such purchased the rights to three of the stories from The Pastures of Heaven.

Designed primarily for television, each segment was shot as a black and white film on a sound stage. Each appeared first on the old television program "Omnibus," hosted by Alistair Cooke, during its second season. The Shark Wicks story appeared on January 3, 1954 under the title "Nobody's Fool," followed by "Nothing So Monstrous," the Junius Maltby tale, on January 24, and "The House," the Pat Humbert story, on March 7.

According to Ms. Fallowfield, "A few years later the films were put together as a single unit with narration and bridging material, with Mr. Steinbeck himself acting as narrator, and this was released as a film in England and on the Continent under the title The Pastures of Heaven." Actually, Lew Ayers serves as narrator, but Steinbeck introduces each segment.

The opening credits show that the film was adapted by Solow, the screenplay was written by Arnold Schulman, the music was composed by Alexander Laszlo, and the photography was direct by Frederik Gately. Solow and Morgan were the producers, while the film was directed by Harry Horner.

After the opening credits, Steinbeck appears looking extremely pained, holding a cigarette. He sits at an office desk and speaks with his very distinctive cadence for about 90 seconds, during which he introduces the film in very general terms. The three segments then follow, all narrated by Lew Ayers. The order in which the stories appear changes in this "made film" so that the Junius Maltby story appears first, starring Ayers and Tommy Rettig (he of "Lassie" fame). The segment ends with a fade to black. Steinbeck appears again for about 30 seconds to lead into "The House," the Pat Humbert story, starring Buddy Ebsen. At the end there is another fade to black followed again by Steinbeck who speaks for 30 seconds. "Nobody's Fool," the Shark Wicks story, is the last to be presented. It stars Thomas Mitchell as Shark along with Rosemary DeCamp. Interestingly, one of Steinbeck's boyhood friends, Max Wagner, appears as the deputy sheriff, part of the supporting cast.

As Ms. Fallowfield noted, the opening and closing credits, along with the footage of Steinbeck, were shot a few years after these stories appeared on "Omnibus." Although brief references to these TV presentations can be found, I have yet to find a reference to the film itself or to what reception it received when released in England and Europe. It is a subject well worth further study.

This article first appeared in the Fall 1988 issue of The Steinbeck Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 1, Published by The Steinbeck Research Center

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