Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Skin deep

Yesterday's post on anomalous developmental paths prompts me to share a remarkable story.

My wife has always given me a hard time for "judging people by their looks," and she is no doubt right. I have long admired her own ability to see past superficialities to the central core of a person.

I wanted to explore this theme in the novel that became The Dork of Cork. We were living in Cork, Ireland, at the time, and I was casting about for a central character, someone who was not beautiful by Hollywood standards but an exceptional human being. One day in the Irish Times I saw a photograph of a young Irish artist who had opened a show in a Dublin gallery. He was a dwarf. There was something about the artist's face that attracted me. A gentleness and strength. An unconventional beauty. Knowing nothing else about the man, I said to myself: "Here is my hero."

With the artist's face and physique in my mind's eye, I invented my story. Frank Bois is a stargazer and a writer, not an artist, but to me he looked exactly like the artist I had seen in the Irish Times. The first sentence of the book is "Begin with beauty." The last sentence is "Hold me." It is, of course, a love story.

The Irish producer Noel Pearson read the book and decided to make the movie. We knew that casting Frank Bois would not be easy. After some weeks of fruitless searching on the part of the casting director, Noel called me from Ireland. He said, "I think we have found the perfect person to play Frank. He is a young Dublin artist..."

So, yes, Corban Walker played the character his photograph had inspired. He has gone on to establish himself as a sculptor of considerable renown.

(The movie Frankie Starlight should be easy enough to find in VHS format, but not, apparently, on a Region 1 DVD. Tom tells me it can be downloaded to your TIVO from Amazon. The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack by the inimitable composer Elmer Bernstein -- fourteen Oscar nominations -- is available on CD.)