By Douglas Adams, edited by Kevin Jon Davies

A publishing event: hundreds of artefacts from Douglas Adams' archive, printed for the first time

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

42 Book Update – Ivan Reitman

News broke recently about the death of Ivan Reitman, famous for directing Ghostbusters (1984),Twins (1988), Dave (1993) and Six Days Seven Nights(1998). Born in Czechoslovakia and raised he Canada, he had his first major hit as producer with Animal House (1978), followed by Kindergarten Cop(1990), Beethoven(1992), and Junior(1994), among many others. He died in his sleep at home in Montecito, California, aged 75. 

For a short time in the early 1980s, Reitman entertained the notion of turning The Hitchhiker’s Guideinto a full-blown Hollywood movie. Joe Medjuck and Michael Gross were the two leg-men charged with the job of persuading Douglas Adams to consider selling his rights to Columbia for Reitman to produce. The two creatives personally clicked with the author and they developed the project over much convivial hospitality over long walks along the beach, or poolside in L.A.. Eventually, the author was convinced, a deal was done and Douglas began to write the script, re-cycling his radio/TV/novel material once more. 

In Starlog Issue 85, dated August 1984, with two drafts done, Reitman said: “We’re at an early stage. The problem is trying to fit three books into a film form that won’t cost us $90m to do right.”

In Douglas’ archive is a memo from July 1983 from Reitman, listing his reaction to the first 150 pages of a massively overlong initial draft. Although he was maybe tryingto sound encouraging at times, praising some ideas (e.g. he liked Marvin), it reads as not entirely complimentary and displays a gaping schism between Reitman’s personal taste in screen comedy and everything that makes Douglas’ particular style so beloved by many. Precious one-liners and bits of classic Hitchhiker dialogue were ‘eighty-sixed’ by the Executive Producer, whom it appears, simply didn’t really ‘get’ it.

For example, in note 25 (out of a total of 45), Reitman is incredulous that a race of people who build planets would actually work for mice! This fact, coupled with the notion of a ship powered by improbability tips him over the edge and he reckons the audience will give up caring about the plot or any of the characters’ motivations. 

Note 35 suggests Arthur joking about Slartibartfast’s name is akin to a poor Mel Brooks gag. 

Note 36 shows Reitman’s patience with the story has been exhausted by the concept that dolphins are clever, seen as a step towardsrevealing the how smart the mice are.

Note 41 contains the oft-quoted (by Douglas) cracker of a comment though, when Reitman lays into the reveal that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is merely ‘42’. This iconic joke at the heart of Hitchhiker, he feels, would leave the average cinema audience feeling pretty “jerked off”.  

Years later, on the TV chat show of his friend Clive Anderson, Douglas would ruefully reflect: “Here is a guy who’s just bought two gallons of chocolate chip ice-cream and he’s complaining about all the little black lumps in it.” 

In an interview we filmed at his home in Islington in May 1985, Douglas told me: “They made Ghostbusters actually after we weren’t able to agree about the screenplay of Hitchhiker’s, so it was obviously a beneficial argument for somebody!”

For his excellent 2003 book Hitchhiker, a biography of Douglas Adams, M.J. Simpson spoke with Gross about the debacle: “One of the problems, the reason it never got made by us, is Ivan is a structurally conservative film-maker. He really believes in the three acts, he really believes in motivation, ticking clock, characters that develop. That’s not what The Hitchhiker’s Guide is, period.” 

So, Douglas spent 7 months in the Los Angeles sunshine and returned home with the movie project unfulfilled. Soon afterwards, I had asked him whether the experience had failed to live up to his expectations. “I’m not a fan of Southern California, to be honest,” he grinned, “I’m not superficial enough, I’m sorry Kevin. You know, I try to be.” 

The irony was he eventually emigrated there permanently in 1999 to work on a fresh attempt at the long hoped-for film. Two years later, with the project once again in development hell, Douglas tragically died aged 49, after a workout at his local private gym, coincidentally also in Montecito.

KJD, Feb 2022. 



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Monica Lumsden
 Monica Lumsden says:

please can we have an update on when we are going to receive the book?

posted 16th February 2022

Michail Drakomathioulakis
 Michail Drakomathioulakis says:

Although these memorial/ info updates are nice, I really liked to read a concrete update on the actual progress of the project I supported; cause I’m already regretting it…

posted 16th February 2022

Don Morris
 Don Morris says:

I would like a real update too. I’m nearly 80, I wonder which will happen first, me leaving my mortal coil or the book being published?

posted 16th February 2022

Tim Hankey
 Tim Hankey says:

Yup, agree that an update of some kind would be much appreciated.

posted 16th February 2022

Daniel Richards
 Daniel Richards says:

Yes, ditto to all the above.

I've found a graphic on the Unbound website for progress with 42 which shows 2 out of 8 circles filled in. Should this be taken as the book being 1/4 of the way there? Next month it will be a year since my pledge.

posted 16th February 2022

John Keess
 John Keess says:

I know Douglas Adams blitzed through deadlines, so it might be part of the processes to take your time. Problem is that Adams blitzed through with BBC and publisher money. You've taken a lot of money from a lot of ordinary people.

Can we please get an update on how writing is going?

posted 16th February 2022

Tom Hawkyard
 Tom Hawkyard says:

I replied to the email we got today asking for an update, thought it might be one that was not monitored and I’ve had a reply to that effect so I will join all of you in asking the question as to when the book is likely to be published and following that when I can expect my copy. Thank you Tom

posted 16th February 2022

William Carleton
 William Carleton says:

If you need a ghostwriter I can wrap this book fast so you can get it out to readers. There's no good enough reason at this point not to have this done and in our hands.

Let me help.



posted 16th February 2022

Leonie Smith
 Leonie Smith says:

I'm guessing none of the other commenters contributed to Robert Ross' Forgotten Heroes of Comedy which took the best part of ten years from pledge to publication! Keep up the good work, Kevin. I always enjoy these snippets when you send them out!

posted 16th February 2022

Laura Frantom
 Laura Frantom says:

If you are worried about passing from this mortal existence expeditely, might I suggest adding 42 to your living will. It would be a wonderful honor for a loved one to receive such an ultimate gift. My apologies if my amusement at curmudgeonry is not amusing.

posted 16th February 2022

Don Morris
 Don Morris says:

Thanks Laura for your admirable suggestion , but if don’t mind i would rather read this book which i was/(am?) looking forward to receiving whilst i am still above ground

posted 16th February 2022

Unbound Support
 Unbound Support says:

Hello, Unbound Support here!

Thank you all for your comments on this latest update, it's great to see so many people engaging with the book. We're delighted to have you on board. We can't schedule a book for publication until we have the final manuscript, which Kevin is working hard on.

As the Douglas Adams Archive was closed during much of the pandemic this has affected Kevin's ability to work on the project. We will continue to update you all with more information as we have it.

posted 16th February 2022

Sean Bradley
 Sean Bradley says:

Thanks for the update. I do have Simpson's biography of Douglas, but I don't recall the specifics of Douglas' struggle with Hollywood. (I suppose that means I should read it again.) I think that part of H2G2s appeal is it bucks the normal 3-stage progression of story telling; it seems more akin to "grandpa's" retelling of an old story where details are added, changed and dropped. You just enjoy the story, and understand it's not always going to be the same with each telling.

These little gems are always nice to read, keep sharing more, as well as how things are coming along. Thanks!

posted 16th February 2022

Daniel Sroka
 Daniel Sroka says:

Thank you for these wonderful stories. I so look forward to them.

posted 16th February 2022

Paul Christodoulou
 Paul Christodoulou says:

Hello there. It’s now a full year since I paid for supporting this book. I am not at all bothered that it has not arrived yet but I would like to have an update on an ETA, even if it’s 2023 or further. I appreciate your updates, really, I do, but can you give me any update on the actual progress of the writing and expected publication work based on your position right now? It’s a mighty task and the pandemic must have slowed you to a crawl, but this way, your backers no longer need to ask, just grab their towels and just enjoy your updates. All the best.

posted 26th February 2022

Paul Christodoulou
 Paul Christodoulou says:

….sorry, nearly a year….

posted 26th February 2022

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