Nine Famous Authors Who Only Wrote One Screenplay

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, written by Dr. Seuss

The recently-released Gone Girl, as you may know, has a screenplay written by Gillian Flynn, author of the novel on which the film is based. It is Flynn's first produced screenplay; time will tell if it is her last. If so, she will join the illustrious ranks of these other great writers who each wrote exactly one script that became a movie:

  1. DASHIELL HAMMETT, Watch on the Rhine (1943). The great noir writer Hammett has had several of his novels turned into classic movies, namely The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. (His work, in particular Red Harvest, has also inspired later films like Miller's Crossing and Brick.) But he is only credited with one screenplay, based on the play by his longtime lover Lillian Hellman and starring Bette Davis.
  2. DR. SEUSS, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953). The children's writer, née Theodor Geisel, adapted many of his stories for TV specials in the '70s and '80s, and he also wrote a number of WWII propaganda shorts before he became famous. But Dr. T is the one true Dr. Seuss live action film. This surreal kiddy musical flopped upon its release, and Geisel himself disowned it. Yet it endures as a wonderfully weird cult classic.
  3. SHEL SILVERSTEIN, Things Change (1988). Another author best known for his children's books (The Giving Tree, The Missing Piece, etc.), Silverstein was also a prolific songwriter (Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue" is his best-known tune), playwright, and poet. But Things Change is his sole feature script, cowritten with David Mamet, who directed the film. It's a sweet little mob comedy starring Don Ameche and Joe Mantegna. But it's not really for kids.
  4. CHARLES BUKOWSKI, Barfly (1987). According to the IMDb, the great Los Angeles writer/drunk also wrote two obscure short films (1984's The Killers and 1994's The Blanket), but so little is known about these that it's hard to say what his involvement was. There is no such doubt about Barfly, however. Bukowski wrote it specifically for the big screen (Mickey Rourke played the author's alter ego Henry Chinaski), and he received sole credit for the work.
  5. F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, Three Comrades (1938). Like many big writers of his day – William Faulkner comes to mind – Fitzgerald was lured to Hollywood to work in the pictures. His experiences informed his unfinished novel The Last Tycoon and he allegedly provided uncredited work on The Women and Marie Antoinette. But he was credited only for this post-WWI love story, cowritten by a fellow named Edward E. Paramore Jr.
  6. HARLAN ELLISON, The Oscar (1966). When I was a young man, Chevrolet produced a series of commercials for the Geo Metro, featuring "noted futurist" Ellison. The sci fi writer's own relationship with Hollywood is complicated. He had sporadically written for TV since the 1960s – his most famous contribution is the "City on the Edge of Forever" episode of Star Trek. While he is acknowledged as an inspiration for The Terminator, Ellison's sole produced feature screenplay was for the terrible Hollywood soaper The Oscar.
  7. MARTIN AMIS, Saturn 3 (1980). Amis is a national treasure in his native Britain. His 1973 novel The Rachel Papers was made into a film in 1989; his most famous novel, London Fields, was published that same year, and there's a forthcoming film based on that. So where does the campy sci fi flick Saturn 3, starring the unlikely trio of Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett, and Harvey Keitel, fit into all this? Beats me. But Amis wrote the screenplay for it.
  8. MAYA ANGELOU, Georgia, Georgia (1972). I did look for more female authors, dear reader. And you can find a couple mentioned below. But Angelou is the only one I could find who wrote exactly one screenplay. And that is for the barely-seen Georgia, Georgia, shot in Sweden and starring Dirk Benedict from The A-Team. Angelou also wrote the film's song score, sung by star Diana Sands, who died of cancer the following year. A curio, to be sure.
  9. ...AND THE REST. For this ninth slot, I'm going to squeeze in all those writers who, like Gillian Flynn, received their sole screenwriting credit for adapting their own novels. That includes Vladimir Nabokov for Lolita, Amy Tan for The Joy Luck Club, John Irving for The Cider House Rules (for which he won an Oscar), Pearl S. Buck for The Big Wave, Salman Rushdie for Midnight's Children, and, um, William Gibson for Johnny Mnemonic. Extra credit: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. who adapted his play Happy Birthday, Wanda June for the little-known movie of the same title.