So I've already bragged about the fact that I own this book—
FIRST TIME IN PAPERBACK!
—but I decided it would be nice to share some of it with y'all (since it's out of print and going for $70 on Amazon.com). I'm going to try not to be too judgmental—trying real hard, Ringo—because God knows I'd whip off a crappy novelization in a week if there were a steady paycheck in it; let's just say that Richard Mueller's novelization is not a must-read—and leave it at that. No other negative comments. A positive outlook! Hooray for novelizations!
1. Prolegomenously, how I came to own this book
I saw Ghostbusters* at a drive-in theater the summer it came out. Correction: I saw the first half of Ghostbusters at a drive-in theater. We had to leave—which because we were at a drive-in theater meant we had to drive away—because I got too scared by the terror dogs: I remember watching through the rear windshield as Rick Moranis cowered with his back to the glass wall of the Tavern on the Green. Anyway, sometime later (I guess it would have had to have been a year later, which may mean I'm misremembering, but we'll plow on), I found the Ghostbusters novelization on a rack at Shakespeare & Co. on West 81st Street, and when I tried to get my mother to buy it for me, I remember she said, "Well, I don't know if you're ready for it, [Shorty]: you got so scared by Pee-Wee's Big Adventure."
But I convinced her that reading the thing would not only be less scary than watching it but would also help me face and conquer my fears—baby steps, sorta—and so she bought it for me, and I am still excited! Yet another reason to be super positive about this extremely good book! [Painfully forced frozen smile.]
I think the people who write novelizations are usually—maybe always—basing what they write on the screenplay rather than the finished film, which means that there are often important differences between the book and the movie. Here's an excerpt from a scene that, by the time Ghostbusters hit theaters, had been transformed into a dream sequence in a montage (explains a lot, actually):
Stantz awoke to find himself face to face with the ghostly apparition [he and Zeddemore] had come to remove, his body paralyzed with fear. And yet, she was beautiful. It seemed impossible that anything so beautiful would harm him. Then why am I so afraid?
The apparition smiled and drifted slowly toward the end of the bed. If I hold still, Stantz thought, it'll go away and I can follow it. I was a fool to let down my guard. That won't happen again. He opened his eyes. The phantom woman had vanished. Well, that's the end of that, he decided, and started to rise...
His belt suddenly came undone.
The buttons on his pants began to open one by one.
He felt an electric sensation between his legs.
You know, he thought, maybe we've been going about this all wrong. Maybe some of these spirits are friendly...
He closed his eyes. I don't think we're going to find this one, he thought.
Winston had come up empty. If there was a ghost at Fort Detmerring, it was a real quiet one. I wonder how Ray's doing. He came around the end of a corridor and suddenly heard voices from behind a wooden door. And light inside, through the cracks. Ray?
"Hey, Stantz. You okay in there?"
Zeddemore shrugged. He's the boss. He must know what he's doing. He ambled off in search of a cigarette.
Busting makes me feel good.
Hey, sexy and hilarious! There's also a lot of stuff about the hilarious homeless duo Harlan Bojay and Robert Learned Coombs, who I gather were in the original screenplay (clip here, via this), and either way provide an invaluable added dimension:
"You would have to wonder why anyone would dump a marshmallow of that size right in the middle of the street."
Robert Learned Coombs scratched his chin shrewdly. "I wonder if there might not be a very large cup of hot chocolate somewhere in the area."
Harlan Bojay looked at his friend in admiration. "Robert, that's very good. That would definitely explain it."
Taking a closer look
One thing that's great about reading a novel when you're already familiar with the movie is that you get such a richer understanding of the characters. Although it doesn't go into the question of how much money the characters are making, Ghostbusters the novelization does quench our thirst for back story and depth by giving us a paragraph—sometimes a few pages!—about each of our favorite characters. For example, Harlan Bojay "had once been a jockey, until, at the age of twenty-four, he had inexplicably gained forty-five pounds and four inches in height, which finished forever his dreams of winning the Triple Crown," and Robert Learned Coombs, "a taciturn Oklahoma Indian" who had dreams of being a singer, "had drive, ambition, daring, pizazz; everything in fact but a voice" (these facts may be best appreciated if you watch the clip). We also learn more about Ray Stantz—
"Of the three, he was the product of the most normal childhood, having been raised in Long Island by his doctor father and housewife mother. He had an older brother (Air Force officer in the Middle East) and a younger sister (journalist in California). Brother Carl was married, sister Jean was divorced. Carl was a Republican, Jean a Democrat. Carl had two sons in the Boy Scouts, Jean a daughter in ballet school. Carl drank heavily and was a Sustaining Member of the National Rifle Association, Jean was a feminist with two lovers, one of each sex. Carl and Jean did not speak to each other. And neither spoke to Ray..."
"Talk had been the major recreation in the Barrett household. Her father had been a railroad worker for the Boston and Maine, invalided off on a pension, which had to make do for his wife and three children. But somehow they always got by... There was seldom money for the movies, but Dana had new clothes each fall—not flashy but well made... Now Doug was a reporter for The Boston Globe and little Davey was playing center field for the San Diego Padres..."
"Hizzoner had had an extremely successful term as mayor, and he was determined not to let it be spoiled by a few ghosts. Ghosts, fer crissake! I get along with Italians and blacks, with Poles and Irish, with Puerto Ricans and Chinese. My credibility is solid with big business and environmentalists, with Jews, Catholics, and Muslims, with liberals and conservatives. My visibility extends with impeccable clarity to the Carson show, the Letterman show, to Donahue and Griffin and Good Morning America. I've published a book, done cameos on Kate and Ali and Ryan's Hope. They're doing a play about my life. I've done a good job. So, what do I get? Ghosts."
—and, of course, Peter Venkman, and his past as a "carny barker":
Peter Venkman had been born on the lot of King City Attractions, in a tent, on a field, in Sedalia, Missouri. It was the last night of the week-long run and his birth had been exceptionally easy. His mother had been taking tickets. When the show had started she'd closed the booth, gone back to the dressing tent, and had Peter. His birth had been unattended, but his baptism had been a cause for celebration by everyone from his impresario father to the lowliest rigger.
The carny wintered in Iowa City, and Peter had attended the schools there, touring summers with the show throughout the Corn Belt states. He worked as a candy butcher, as a roustabout, as a painter and carpenter, but it was at the games of chance that he really excelled. Whatever Peter was running always pulled in the nightly top take and he became adept at judging people, knowing who would bite and who wouldn't, knowing who wouldn't squawk at a good-natured skinning and who came, with dreams in their eyes, expecting to lose but hoping to win. And somewhere along the way he learned the lesson that his father had been teaching him. You can take a sucker but don't break a dream. He watched nightly as the people played his games, and he saw those dreams. And when he could, he rewarded them. And one day he realized what the dreams were that had been growing in him.
"Dad, I wanna go to college."
His father had smiled. "Why, Peter? What do you want to do?"
And he confessed that he didn't know. His father had smiled again, then laughed softly. "You'll tell me when you find out? If you find out?"
It was a strange question, but Peter Venkman was used to strange questions on the carny. "I guess you'll be the first to know."
He watched the upper Sixties slide by outside the cab window. Well, I just may finally be finding out. I wish the old man had lived to see it.
That is just...positive thoughts, positive thoughts... It's just so right.
Every chapter begins with an epigraph. Yep. The opening scene in the library is introduced by a John Burroughs quotation: "How much there is in books that one does not want to know." The scene in which they examine the librarian gets one from Laurence Sterne: "There are worse occupations in this world than feeling a woman's pulse."
What Sterne had in mind.
Here—a gift from me to you—are all the epigraphs:
The business idea, and kicked out of Columbia: "Some people are so fond of ill luck that they run halfway to meet it." –Douglas Jerrold
Setting up the business: "The usual trade and commerce is cheating all round by consent." –Thomas Fuller
Zuul in the fridge: "God may still be in his heaven, but there is more than sufficient evidence that all is not right with the world." –Irwin Edman
Taking Ms. Barrett back to her apartment and checking her out: "Ghosts remind me of men's smart crack about women, you can't live with them and you can't live without them." –Eugene O'Neill
The hotel job: "It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them." –Emerson
Success: "Put a rogue in the spotlight and he will act like an honest man." –Napoleon I†
Hiring Winston, arguing with Peck: "Beware of the man of one book." –Thomas Aquinas
Terror dogs: "If a sane dog fights a mad dog, it's the sane dog's ear that is bitten off." –Burmese proverb
Meet the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper: "The course of true love never did run smooth." –William Shakespeare‡
Peck shuts down the grid: "I hate all bungling like sin, but most of all bungling in state affairs, which produces nothing but mischief to thousands and millions." –Goethe
Ghosts overrun New York: "We learn geology the morning after the earthquake." –Emerson
Convincing the mayor: "That government is not best which best secures mere life and property—there is a more valuable thing—manhood." –Mark Twain
Busting a god: "Have the courage to face a difficulty lest it kick you harder than you bargained for." –Stanislaus I of Poland
3. Cleanin' up the town
As discussed earlier, Richard Mueller works to protect his readers from the profanity that moviegoers were unable to escape. Another good example is the way he handled a funny bit that I didn't get until rewatching the movie (for the 50th time or so) a couple of years ago:
It is funny in the movie, but of course totally inappropriate and toxic, when Winston Zeddemore (who is black) says to the mayor (who is white), "I have seen shit that would turn you white." In the novel, the line goes like this: "I have seen jazz that would boggle your mind!" Nicely done.
Let it not be said, though, that Mueller was indiscriminate in his efforts to correct the screenplay's vulgarity. Although he is careful to remove all foul language, he is not otherwise prudish about the content. For example, he leaves in the joke about getting the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man laid. In fact, he sort of sexes the thing up a bit—take a look:
- Alice, the librarian, "had discovered a book of woodcuts depicting sexual positions and concepts she'd not dreamed existed. They were crude in comparison to better works of both the period and the subject, but they touched a chord deep in Alice Melvin."
- As Dana Barrett approaches her building, "Robert Learned Coombs made an off-color remark about her legs," and "An old duffer out walking his schnauzer gazed at Dana and remembered how long it had been since it had been long."
- Venkman "stood behind [Dana] in the elevator, gazing at the soft wisps of hair curling down over her neck, wondering what she'd be like" (emphasis mine).
- Dana, thinking about the guy she's with when she runs into Venkman in Lincoln Center: "Dana suspected that his interest was not entirely musical. She did not entirely object. Though thin and ascetic, Wallance was a brilliant musician, and if he wished to take her to dinner and to try in his shy, otherworldly way to get her into bed, she had every intention of letting him make the attempt. She might even let him succeed. He was not precisely her type, but then no one was, and the experience might be refreshing. Woman cannot live by cello alone.
It takes a subtle and perceptive mind to see why adding these things is acceptable while the words shit and dickless must not be allowed, and that's only part of what makes Ghostbusters: The Supernatural Spectacular such a supernaturally spectacular novel.
One thing I will say about this book: I got it more than 20 years ago, and it smells TERRIFIC. God bless old paperbacks—and God bless the United States of America.
I love this town!
* Not Ghost Busters, no matter what goons & loons on the Internet say. That baloney comes from the fact that the title is split into two lines of text in the opening credits, without a hyphen, but it's written as one word everywhere else. Give it a rest already.
† I know you know who this is—I just want to emphasize it.
‡ I like this one.