May 27, 2008 Originally published on Panopticist
There’s no current hook for this post about a little-known Hollywood scandal. It’s just something I’ve been meaning to post about for a couple of years. The bare details have been mentioned online, but only in passing, and as far as I know the scandal has never been officially reported anywhere.
So here it is: Much of the plot setup and some of the dialogue in Martin Scorsese’s excellent 1985 film After Hours—a significant portion of the movie’s first 30 minutes, in fact—were brazenly lifted from “Lies,” a 1982 NPR Playhouse monologue by Joe Frank, the great L.A.-based radio artist who’s gotten a lot of love here on Panopticist. Joe Frank never received official credit for his contributions, and he appears to have been paid a generous amount of money to settle the plagiarism suit and keep everything quiet. It’s possible that this scandal was reported in the film-industry trade press around the time of the film’s release, but neither Nexis nor Google reveal evidence of any media coverage. I learned of the similarities in 2004 or 2005 through chatter on the unofficial Joe Frank mailing list. The closest thing I’ve found to a reference in a traditional media outlet is in this March 2000 Joe Frank profile in Salon, which mentions that Frank was “paid handsomely by producers of a Hollywood film (which he won’t name) that plagiarized his dialogue.”
The Wikipedia page for the screenwriter of After Hours, Joseph Minion, mentions that the film included some “minor details” borrowed from Joe Frank, and that Frank successfully sued over it. But the theft was far from minor. Many of the details in the film’s first half hour are similar, if not copied outright: the chance meeting of a man and a kooky but sexy woman; the woman’s offer to set the man up with some of her artist roommate’s plaster of paris bagel-and-cream-cheese paperweights; the man’s late-night phone call to the woman; his cab ride to meet her, at the end of which his only cash flies out the window; her wearing of a loosely tied bathrobe when she answers the door; her tale of having been raped by man who came down the fire escape; and so forth.
Here’s the entire monologue so you can judge for yourself. It’s 11 minutes long. If you’ve seen the film, much of this will sound very familiar indeed:
(If you don’t see the audio player, here’s a direct link to the audio file.)
Joseph Minion apparently created the script in his mid-twenties as part of his work at Columbia’s Graduate Film Program. It was later optioned by Griffin Dunne and Amy Robinson, who showed it to Scorsese. Minion’s IMDb credits are pretty thin after the early 1990s, so his career seems to have been really hurt by this, no surprise.
There’s also a weird twist: The cabbie who drives Griffin Dunne downtown is played by an actor named Larry Block, and he’s apparently the same Larry Block who appeared on many of Joe Frank’s shows for KCRW in the 1990s. Was the plagiarism discovered during the making of the film, and the role given to Frank’s friend Block as part of the lawsuit negotiations? Whatever the reason, it’s hard to believe Block’s casting was just a coincidence.