Doors History, June 1969: Jim Morrison and Michael McClure Adapt “The Adept”

Jim Morrison at "The Beard" before "The Adept"
Jim Morrison and Pam Courson at the opening of Michael McClure's "The Beard"

In the spring and early summer of 1969, Jim Morrison, after Miami had cancelled what would have been The Doors’ first national tour, was looking for artistic outlets outside of The Doors. He turned towards film and writing. Along with Frank Lisciandro and Paul Ferrara he filmed “Hwy,” and in June of 1969 he started writing, with beat poet Michael McClure, a screenplay for McClure’s novel “The Adept.”

Morrison had met McClure in New York in early 1968 while McClure was rehearsing his play “The Beard.” Their initial meeting didn’t go well until they started talking literature and poetry. Producer Elliott Kastner was interested in doing a film version of McClure’s “The Beard,” and Jim Morrison was interest in playing the lead of Billy the Kid. Morrison and McClure flew over to London to see Kastner about the part, but Kastner didn’t think Morrison was right for the role and asked if they had any other projects.

Morrison suggested a film of “The Adept” and pitched the idea of giving Kastner and McClure a detailed synopsis of the book off the top of his head! Kastner passed on the project possibly because Morrison was hung over and not looking at his peak physically. But the recitation of his novel had impressed McClure.

When the two were back in L.A. in June, McClure discovered Morrison was still interested in doing “The Adept” and had even found a producer that fronted some money to write the screenplay. Morrison and McClure rented an office in a building on the Sunset Strip, but McClure had a couple of provisions that Morrison would have to adhere to: no drinking before 6 PM (for both of them), and if Jim showed up late that would end the project. In an interview with Frank Lisciandro that was published in McClure’s “Lighting the Corners,” McClure remembers that Morrison took the project seriously and was never late.

The Adept

To aid in the writing process they hired a secretary to take dictation as both writers went through the book writing the screenplay directly from the book, and bouncing ideas off of one another, including in the screenplay events and people they had seen. After 3-4 weeks of writing like this they had a 200-page script (a screenplay usually is about 90-120 pages). McClure regrets to this day not taking Morrison’s initial suggestion of first writing a treatment first that would have acted like a guideline for them.

Realizing they couldn’t show a producer a 200-page screenplay, Morrison in a cocaine-fueled burst of creativity edited the screenplay down to 90 pages, but neither was satisfied with it, with McClure voicing the opinion that in the edits Morrison had missed the point of the novel. Later other producers would option the novel but it was never made into a film.

Source: Frank Lisicandro’s interview with Michael McClure which was excerpted in “Morrison: A Feast of Friends” (1991) and is published in full in Michael McClure’s “Lighting the Corners.”

Originally published June 1, 2013.

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