The other morning Mr. Winslow — who now divides his time between Solana Beach, Calif., and a ranch near the old mining town of Julian — took a walking tour of his old turf, marveling at how much it has changed. No prostitutes, no porn palaces, no crack vials underfoot. “They used to crunch under your shoes like clamshells,” he recalled.
An especially startling development was a nearly block-long sign at 49th and Broadway advertising “Savages,” the new Oliver Stone movie (for which Mr. Winslow helped write the screenplay) based on his 2010 novel of the same name. But except for the 42nd Street megaplexes, he pointed out, there were no Times Square movie theaters anymore, and they were where he used to ply his trade. He was hired by the owners to keep an eye on the help.
“Everyone was ripping off everyone else,” he said, explaining that in those days theaters were an all-cash business. “Managers weren’t reporting the real box-office figures. Ushers were palming tickets and then selling them back to the cashier. I knew ushers who came to work in BMWs.”
Another of his jobs was looking out for pickpockets. “Everyone knew who they were,” he said, “but you couldn’t kick them out until they did something. I used to tip a big cup of soda in a guy’s lap. Either he’d get up and leave or he’d start a fight and then we could kick him out.” He was also hired to look for runaways and missing businessmen. “I guess you could say I was in the scandal-killing business,” he said.
Mr. Winslow does not look like a private investigator, which may be why he was successful. He’s small, slight and soft-spoken: the kind of person who in most books hires the P.I.
Over lunch at Big Nick’s Burger and Pizza Joint, an Upper West Side hole in the wall that used to be one of his hangouts, he said he grew up in the working-class town of Matunuck, R.I., listening to his father, a career Navy man, tell stories. (His sister, Kristine Rolofson, is a romance novelist.) Like so many young people back then, he came to New York with the notion of becoming a writer, perhaps a playwright, and fell into the private investigation business by accident, after being fired from a job as an assistant manager of a movie theater. His mistake, he says now, was that he turned in a completely honest set of books.
He didn’t publish his first novel until 1991, after a series of unlikely detours that included getting a master’s degree in African history from the University of Nebraska, a stint running safari tours in Kenya and more private investigation work, that time for high-end corporate clients. He did some industrial espionage, investigated drug use among a company’s employees and then moved on from what he calls dark work to becoming an arson expert. For three years he and his wife lived in California hotels on an expense account. “I was an overpaid migrant worker,” he said.
That first novel, “A Cool Breeze on the Underground,” written five pages a day over a couple of years, was about a graduate student who also works for a detective agency, and it was followed by four others about the same character. “I thought that was what you did, you had a series,” he said. Mr. Winslow became better known with novels like “California Fire and Life” and “The Dawn Patrol,” about a detective who is also a surfer. His breakout novel was his 13th, “Savages,” published when he was 56.
The book, about three very hip Laguna Beach dope dealers who run afoul of a Mexican drug cartel, is full of attitude: lean, almost abstract at times, with very short sentences sometimes skittering down mostly white pages like modern poetry. Janet Maslin, writing in The New York Times, praised it for fusing “the grave and the playful, the body blow and the joke, the nightmare and the pipe dream.”
“I guess I rolled a grenade down the aisle with that one,” Mr. Winslow said. When he began the book, he was feeling fed up with the way thrillers lately have been overly defined into subgenres, each with its own requirements.
“I was a little tired of people telling me how to write, what’s going to sell and what isn’t,” he said. “I felt like throwing some elbows.”
He added: “Without sounding too presumptuous, I thought I was hearing a new language out there on the West Coast and wanted to see what happened if I put it in a book. I also wanted to play with the fractured way we get our information now.”
Mr. Stone said it was precisely this elliptical style that drew him to direct the movie, which opens on July 6 and stars Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively and John Travolta. “Someone gave the book to me and said, ‘Pay attention to this, this is different,’ ” Mr. Stone said. “It’s a very original story: youth versus age, the younger generation coming to grips with the older.” About working with Mr. Winslow, he said, “I can’t say there weren’t moments of difficulty,” adding: “Don’s a strange one, a bit hermetic. But he knows this material.”
She smiled and, just like a character in a crime thriller, said, “You’re still a kid, darling.”
Mr. Winslow laughed and pointed out that readers often assume from his books that he must be the brooding type. “I’m actually pretty positive,” he said. “But I guess it is a pretty dark vision sometimes. I don’t know that I’d want to visit my brain except with a gun and a flashlight.”
Richard Attenborough: He is an actor (Jurassic Park) and a director. I cut out this article “A giant of British Cinema” because he passed away. What stood out to me was this part:
Gandhi (1982), an epic but intimate biographical film, was his greatest triumph.
With the little-known Ben Kingsley in the title role, the film traces Mohandas K. Gandhi’s life as an Indian lawyer who forsakes his job and possessions and takes up a walking staff to lead his oppressed country’s fight for independence from Britain through a campaign of passive resistance, ending in his assassination.
Among the film’s critics were historians, who said it contributed to myth making, portraying Gandhi as a humble man who brought down an empire without acknowledging that the British, exhausted by the Second World War, were eager to unload their Indian possessions. Nevertheless, Gandhi was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and won eight, including best picture, best director, best cinematography, best original screenplay and best actor.
Mr. Attenborough brought the film to fruition after a 20-year battle to raise money and interest from often-reluctant Hollywood producers, one of whom predicted that there would be no audience for “a little brown man in a sheet carrying a beanstalk.” (Mr. Attenborough ended up producing it himself.)
My opinion: Attenborough put 20 yrs of time to get this movie produced. He must be really passionate about it if he stayed with this project for so long.