Lot 95 of 196:
Movie Script and Letter from John Steinbeck to co-author  

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Lot closed - Sold For (Includes Buyers Premium):$1,200
$2,000 - $3,000

A Medal for Benny. Release Dialogue Script. With a Typed Letter, signed, from Steinbeck to Wagner regarding the joint copyright and division of any proceeds

Steinbeck, John & Jackson Wagner





Typed Letter, signed. 11x8½". Dated February, 1943. Signed by Steinbeck and twice by Jack Wagner (as both Jack and Jackson). Accompanied by a mimeograph typescript of the Paramount Pictures "Release Dialogue Script" for the 1945 film. Script approximately 75 leaves, 14x8½", staple bound. Several stamps on title leaf from Paramount Pictures, Story Department.

Typed letter of understanding to Jackson 'Jack' Wagner, probably drafted by Steinbeck's attorney, regarding the division of copyright and proceeds. "As 'Benny's Medal' has now become a live property and the question of authorship and ownership of the rights in that story may some day be called into questions, I write this letter to you to confirm our understanding...You and I are the co-authors of the story which we called ' Benny's Medal...All rights...of every kind and nature...are our equal property...and all sums that may be received for the sale, lease, or license of rights...shall be divided equally...Naturally, no deal will be closed without your approval." Signed by both Steinbeck and Wagner. 

As World War II drew to a close, Jack Wagner had a story rattling around in his head that he thought would make an excellent film. It was the story of a young, unseen Latino, Benny Martin, living in a small town and largely ignored by his neighbors. But the city leaders deem Benny a war hero following his death in combat during the war. The town fathers scheme to exploit the tragedy to put their community on the map. They convince Benny’s father to move from his shack to a nice home while they stage a publicity campaign claiming that Benny had come from proud Spanish lineage. The town leaders’ hypocrisy is exposed when a military entourage arrives in town to present a medal to the father and concludes with an emotional speech from the father about his son. 

Years of slapstick comedy writing failed to prepare Wagner for the discipline required to write a full script. Every studio in town rejected his pitch. He finally sought the help of John Steinbeck, Jack’s boyhood friend who grew up listening to Jack and Max’s mother, Edith, tell stories about her experiences in Mexico. Edith also had been Steinbeck’s early writing coach and sounding board for Steinbeck’s story ideas while living in Salinas. Wagner had served as a member of the Army's first motion picture unit in World War I and later as a gag man for Mack Sennett and Harry Langdon. Steinbeck and Wagner never collaborated on a project, but Jack was desperate to get the film, “A Medal for Benny,” off the ground. The Steinbeck name was box-office magic and Paramount agreed to produce the film on the condition that Steinbeck co-write the script. 

The film was released in 1945, starring Dorothy Lamour. Both Steinbeck and Wagner were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Story for "A Medal for Benny'" losing to Charles G. Booth for “The House on 92nd Street”

Lot Amendments

Letter creased from mailing, lightly edge worn; script a bit worn to the edges of a few leaves at front and rear; very good.

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