On March 26, 1969, a young man named John Kennedy Toole connected a hose to his car's exhaust pipe, locked himself in and committed suicide.
It is impossible to fathom why a person takes his or her own life, but this much is certain: Toole was despondent about his career as a writer, his unpublished novel had been rejected year in, year out, and the future seemed bleak -- which makes the subsequent success of "A Confederacy of Dunces" all the more dazzling.
Years after Toole's death, his mother gave the manuscript to writer Walker Percy, who passed it on to the Louisiana State University Press. In 1980, the LSUP printed about 800 copies of the book's first edition, which took off to become a best seller and win its author a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
But before the LSUP even printed "Confederacy," the manuscript had found its way into the hands of Scott Kramer, then a 19-year-old executive at 20th Century Fox. Kramer had written to the publisher about an entirely different matter -- requesting a botany book for his mother -- but became its sole contact in Hollywood. When "Confederacy" was in galleys, the LSUP sent it to Kramer on the off chance that he might be interested.
Thus began an extraordinary 25-year journey through which "Confederacy" has dominated Kramer's life and become a Hollywood legend. He is still working on the project but admits that it has given him cause to reflect.
By then, Soderbergh's interest in directing "Confederacy" had waned, and he and Kramer attached David Gordon Green, in turn bringing aboard such talent as Drew Barrymore, Mos Def and Will Ferrell. The movie seemed set to go, but precisely then, Miramax's relationship with parent the Walt Disney Co. began to flounder. Stuck between Harvey Weinstein's passion and Michael Eisner's wallet, "Confederacy" froze until Miramax's option expired in January 2004 and the book reverted to Paramount.