'Forrest Gump' remains popular after 2 decades

By Mark Hughes Cobb

The Tuscaloosa News

Published: Saturday, July 12 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Yet Groom didn't really grasp how massive his 241-page story had grown until he saw a trailer on the old "Today" show.

"I said 'Now, my word; this is going to be big.' I knew how much that airtime cost," he said.

Bigger than big: It is still the fastest-grossing Paramount movie to break the $100 million, $200 million and $250 million marks, standing today at No. 31 on the list of all-time highest-grossing domestic films.

"It touched a nerve. They did an excellent job. I would have probably preferred my version of it, but that thing never would have opened," Groom said, laughing.

Hits that huge spawn other successes, including "Gump & Co.," the wit-and-wisdom collection "Gumpisms" and the 40-restaurant chain Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. with locations around the world. On Sept. 5, "Forrest Gump" will be re-released to IMAX theaters, in celebration of its 20th anniversary.

"They don't do that much anymore; I think the last one I saw was the 'Gone With the Wind' 50th anniversary," Groom said.

When Groom was honored at UA's Clarence Cason awards in 2006, Don Noble, UA English professor emeritus and host of Alabama Public Television's "Bookmark," spoke about Groom's impact.

"One of the ways that you mark the kind of immortality, or possibility of immortality of a writer, is how many characters they put into the popular culture," Noble said.

Shakespeare wins, naturally: a "Hamlet" is a ditherer; Lady Macbeth a manipulative schemer; Romeo a fatally romantic youth; Beatrice a sharp-tongued wit; and so forth. Dickens comes second, Noble said: Everyone knows what is meant by "a Scrooge." Then there's Tiny Tim, Fagin, Miss Havisham and so on.

Most writers never put a character into the popular imagination ... but Winston did," Noble said. "Gump entered the language. When you say someone is a Forrest Gump, that is a known subject. He may not be terribly smart, but he is kind and honest and compassionate. Things may go badly for a while, but he's got perseverance.

"So you've got King Lear, and David Copperfield, and you've got Gump. That's immortality."

"Forrest Gump" isn't the first book-to-movie success for an Alabama writer. There's Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and more contemporary works such as Fannie Flagg's "Fried Green Tomatoes" and Mark Childress's "Crazy in Alabama." ''The Hunger Games'" Suzanne Collins graduated from Birmingham's Alabama School of Fine Arts in 1980, but because her military family moved around, the state connection isn't well-known.

Born in Notasulga, Zora Neale Hurston was best known as a novelist, short story writer, playwright and essayist, but her 1937 novel "Their Eyes Were Watching God" was adapted for a popular TV movie by Oprah Winfrey in 2005. Hartselle's William Bradford Huie saw several of his books adapted for films, including "The Revolt of Mamie Stover," ''Wild River," ''The Outsider," ''The Execution of Private Slovik" (an acclaimed TV film starring the young Martin Sheen) and most notably the 1964 "The Americanization of Emily," starring Julie Andrews and James Garner, directed by Arthur Hiller with a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky. Garner once named it his favorite of all his movies; it came out the same year Andrews became a star for "Mary Poppins."

"But even among all the Alabama novels that have gone over to the big screen and became big successes, there's still nothing like 'Gump.' It's on television in Alabama at least once a week. It's insane," Noble said.

Especially in early years after the movie came out, the Paul W. Bryant Museum got regular calls from people wanting to see Gump's records at the Capstone.

"Yeah, we've had people — not as much now obviously — we have to tell them, 'He was not a real player; he may have been based on real players, but there is no Forrest Gump in the records,'" said Ken Gaddy, director of the museum. "It's hard to convince people. They think you're hiding something."

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