STEPHEN KING: The desk
Think about this: Stephen King has been releasing one, sometimes two books a year pretty much every year since his first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974. That’s 43 freakin’ years of consistent output! He’s become such a mainstay of our culture that it’s easy to take his genius for granted.
King’s been writing since he was 7 years-old, when he would copy and rearrange the stories out of his favourite comic books. Impressed by her son’s talent, King’s mother urged him to write an original story. He began submitting short stories to horror and sci-fi magazines at age 12 and would use a nail hammered into the wall above his typewriter to hold all his rejection letters. By the time he was 14, the nail wouldn’t hold the weight of the letters anymore and King had to replace it with a larger spike. By the time he was 16, King was still getting rejection letters, although at least now there were hand-written notes of encouragement from editors scribbled on them. By his mid 20s, King was selling the occasional short story to pulp and mens magazines but not nearly enough to make a living. He was working in an industrial laundry, cleaning maggot-infested restaurant and hospital sheets, while his wife Tabitha, also a writer, worked at Dunkin’ Donuts. They had two young children, were living in a trailer and although King managed to find better work as an English teacher, he was starting to despair that his writing career would never take off.
“Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.”
King chanced upon the idea for Carrie when he recalled working as a high school janitor. While he was cleaning the female locker room he paid special attention to the shower curtains since he knew the boys lockers didn’t have them. He imagined an opening scene (NSFW) in which a girls locker room didn’t have the curtains and students were forced to shower in front of each other. What if a girl had her period in the shower but didn’t know what it was, and all the other girls laughed and threw tampons at her? How would that girl retaliate? Then King remembered reading an article about telekenisis and how there was evidence that it was prevalent in young girls, especially around the time of their first period. Boom, that’s when two unrelated ideas came together to create something new. King knew he had found an idea for a book and wrote three pages of a first draft while working his teaching job. He hated it and threw it in the trash. It was King’s wife Tabitha who found the pages while emptying the bin and encouraged her husband to finish it. Carrie was published in 1974 and was King’s breakthrough novel. King finished off the decade with a string of bestsellers including ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining.
By the ’80s King and his family were living in a beautiful house in Bangor, Maine, and King was writing at his dream, massive oak desk. However, he was also an alcoholic and a drug addict. He would write all hours of the day strung out on cocaine and medicate at night with a whole case of 16-ounce beers. In 1985 and at risk of losing his family, Tabitha held an intervention and gave King an ultimatum: get help or get out of the house. Thankfully, King managed to get clean and put his family life back together. And thankfully for us, through it all, he never stopped writing.
I tried to find a picture of the actual massive oak desk King mentions. The best I could do was this brief glimpse into King’s office in an interview from the mid ’80s. You can see it at the 2.40min mark. The newer, smaller desk I’m guessing is this one. I could be wrong about both.
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Stanley Kubrick’s personal copy of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.
This well-worn book, normally housed in the Stanley Kubrick Archive in London but currently on tour in a traveling exhibition, is filled with Kubrick’s notes and comments. Many passages are highlighted, and Kubrick has filled the margins with hand-written notes that run the gamut from notating passages that inspired him, to crossing out sections he found silly.
Stephen King’s 1977 psychological horror novel The Shining has inspired several other works, most notably Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation, a movie widely considered to have elevated King’s story of the possessed Overlook Hotel and its luckless winter caretakers, the Torrance family, to a higher artistic plane. But King himself never really approved of Kubrick’s interpretation: “Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror,” he said, “but others fall flat. A visceral skeptic such as Kubrick just couldn’t grasp the sheer inhuman evil of the Overlook Hotel.”
Presumably King had a better time playing the board game of The Shining, which won the first Microgame Design Contest in 1998, and about which you can read more at Board Game Geek. King helped with its development by offering consultation as the creator of the world in which the original story takes place. He also offered his services as an early play-tester too. You can tell that the game’s faith lies with King’s novel rather than Kubrick’s film by its use of things that never made it from page to screen as gameplay elements, such as the hotel grounds’ hedge-sculpture animals that come to vicious life.
You can play The Shining board game as the Torrance family, in which case you’ll have to fight those hedge animals. Or you can play it as the Overlook Hotel itself, in which case you’ll control them. Each player has a host of implements at their disposal — ghosts, decoys, the famous axe and snowmobile — all meant to help them accomplish the task of driving the other side away. Think of it as a simplified wargame set in a haunted hotel.
If you’d like to see how you fare, whether in the shoes of the Torrances or the Indian-burial-ground foundation of the Overlook, you’ll find all the game’s materials freely available on the Micrograme Design Contest’s site. Print them out, set them up, and prepare to feel some sheer inhuman evil for yourself.
In the final shots of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the audience sees the corpse of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) frozen to death in the hedge maze where he tried to kill his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Then the camera moves to a vintage photograph on the wall of The Overlook Hotel, which inexplicably includes Jack among the 1920s revelers. It’s an indelible set of images – but it wasn’t the ending that director Kubrick first envisioned. When The Shining premiered in theaters in 1980, those two iconic shots bookended an additional scene, of Wendy and Danny recuperating in the hospital. This week, on a Reddit thread titled “Frames from the hospital scene from the original ending of The Shining,” a fan unearthed three continuity Polaroids that show scenes from the film’s deleted epilogue. Read on to find out what happened in The Shining’s original ending, and why Kubrick made the last-minute decision to axe it.
The two-minute hospital scene, according to co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, was Kubrick’s way of reassuring the audience that Jack’s wife and son were okay after his murderous rampage. “He had a soft spot for Wendy and Danny,” Johnson explained in an interview in Kubrick: The Definitive Edition. However, the scene – as it reads on paper, anyhow – isn’t exactly a reassuring hug. The script pages from the deleted epilogue were published two years ago on The Overlook Hotel, an exhaustive fan site run by Pixar director Lee Unkrich (who peppered his film Toy Story 3 with subtle Shining references).
A Polaroid of Shelley Duvall recuperating in the hospital in a deleted scene from ‘The Shining.’
The scene opens with Stuart Ullman, the manager of the Overlook Hotel (played by Barry Nelson), arriving at the hospital with flowers for Wendy. On his way in, he greets a nurse, who is playing a game with Danny. When Ullman enters Wendy’s room, he tells her that the police have completed an investigation of the hotel, and “they didn’t find the slightest evidence of anything at all out of the ordinary.” He adds that “it’s perfectly understandable for someone to imagine such things when they’ve been through something like you have.” Then Ullman offers to put the Torrances up in his beach house while they recuperate. On his way out, Ullman tosses Danny a yellow ball – a reference to the tennis ball that mysteriously rolls up to Danny earlier in the film, leading him to the hotel’s haunted Room 237.
In short, the epilogue suggests that Ullman is a participant in the hotel’s supernatural evil, and that he is a conspirator in keeping its deadly secrets. Shelley Duvall said in Kubrick: The Definitive Edition that she believed the cut scene was crucial in explaining “some things that are obscure for the public, like the importance of the yellow ball and the role of the hotel manager in the plot.”
Barry Nelson re-appeared as hotel manager Stuart Ullman in the deleted ending. Here he’s seen with child actor Danny Lloyd and actress Robin Pappas.
There was one more element to the deleted ending. After the camera zoomed in on the photograph of Jack, a title card was to appear, reading: “The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.” Once again, this reinforces that the hotel itself is evil. But what are those “many other” tragedies? At the beginning of the film, Ullman informs Jack that a previous caretaker went stir crazy and killed his family and himself. That’s one. But In the original script, Jack also discovers a large scrapbook in the boiler room with news clippings of all the murders and suicides throughout the Overlook Hotel’s history. Kubrick shot scenes with the scrapbook, but didn’t include them in the final cut. (You can read one of them here.)
When The Shining premiered in limited release in May 1980, the hospital scene was still there. Just days after the film opened, however, Kubrick decided the epilogue needed to be excised. He explained his rationale to the press in a telephone statement, saying, “when I was able to see for the first time the fantastic pitch of excitement which the audience reached during the climax of the film, I decided the scene was unnecessary.” Since the movie was already playing in New York and Los Angeles, Kubrick issued an unusual order: He instructed projectionists to cut the scene from the film by hand, and mail the deleted film strips back to Warner Bros.
Robin Pappas (who played the nurse) and Danny Lloyd (who played Danny Torrance) shoot the deleted hospital scene. Though Pappas was ultimately cut from the film, her name appears in the credits.
Whether the deleted ending made the film better or worse is a matter of debate among the few who have seen it. New York Times critic Janet Maslin advocated for the hospital scene, saying that it “helped maintain the film’s languid, eerie rhythm” and saved the ending from being too “abrupt.” Roger Ebert wrote in his Great Movies review of The Shining that the excised epilogue “pulled one rug too many out from under the story,” though it’s unclear whether Ebert himself saw the original cut. (He’s under the impression that the deleted scene revealed that police never found Jack’s body. In the script pages – which, in fairness, Kubrick might have changed while filming – the body is not explicitly mentioned.) More discussion on the scene can be found in this archived page from the alt.movies.kubrick newsgroup, where fans who saw the original cut have shared their recollections.
The million-dollar question is whether the deleted ending from The Shining will ever see the light of day again. There’s a good chance that it still exists somewhere; Unkrich indicates on his website that the Stanley Kubrick Archive in London has “35mm film trims.” However, Kubrick obviously didn’t want anyone to see the footage, or he wouldn’t have been so adamant about cutting it before the film went into wider release. As long as film historians respect his wishes, the alternate ending of The Shining – like the epic deleted pie fight from Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove – will exist only in photos and memories.