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TV Guide

11 Gay Book Characters Turned Straight for the Movie Version

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TV Guide

Adapted screenplays may follow books very closely, or may be completely different. When characters are gay or lesbian - or have had some significant same-sex experiences - screenwriters sometimes sidestep those facets of their stories entirely when it comes to the big screen.

1. Corporal Fife, The Thin Red Line

The third chapter in James Jones' World War II novel, originally published in 1962, depicts a green-behind-the ears Corporal Fife bunking in a shelter tent next to Private Bead, a fellow member of Charlie Company, during a rainy night. (The two are played by Adrien Brody and Nick Stahl, respectively, in Terrence Malick's 1998 film adaptation.) It's a pretty in-depth exploration of one of the realities of war that American mothers and housewives at the time maybe didn't want to face: Their men had needs.

Jones writes:

What could a guy do? Nothing, that was what ... Unless guys helped each other out now and then. It was either that, or find yourself a queer cook or baker someplace, or it was nothing. Guys could help each other out, Bead supposed.

“Well, what do you say?” he said cheerfully. “Shall we help each other out?” I’ll do it to you if you’ll do it to me.”

Bead, finding that he was not rebuffed, now became more confident in his voice and in his salesmanship. Apparently it made no difference to him and did not worry him that he was suggesting something homosexual ... As he started to crawl over to Fife’s side of the little tent he stopped and said: “I just dont want you to think I’m no queer, or nothing like that.”

“Well, dont you get the idea I am, either,” Fife had answered.

2. Justin McLeod, The Man Without a Face


Photo courtesy of Giant Bomb

The title character in Mel Gibson's directorial debut, also played by Gibson, was originally gay in Isabelle Holland's 1972 novel. "The fact that the (McLeod) character was gay was prohibitive in selling the book," Holland's book agent Lisa Callamaro told the Los Angeles Times in 1993.

3. Pussy Galore, Goldfinger

Photo courtesy of The Times UK

Ian Fleming's seventh 007 book has Pussy Galore running an outfit of lesbian cat burglars. In the third James Bond film of the same name, actress Honor Blackman's Bond girl has a far more suppressed sexual orientation. (Her character's hair is also switched from brunette to blonde.) Although in both the novel and the movie, Bond has no issue proving his own heterosexuality by forcing himself on her in a barn. Fleming's novel suggests his super spy holds enough sexual prowess to make any gay woman hop the fence.

4. Don Birnam, The Lost Weekend

Photo courtesy of Watch the Academies)

Billy Wilder's character study of Don Birnam, a failed writer turned alcoholic, swept the Academy Awards in 1946, winning Best Picture, Director (Wilder), Actor (Ray Milland) and Screenplay (Wilder, Charles Brackett). But author Charles Jackson didn't connect the boozing to a losing career in publishing. In his ranty novel, Birnam tormented himself over memories from his adolescence.

Excerpted from "Part Two: The Wife" in Jackson's novel:

When, at what time, had he deliberately ignored the responsibility and opportunity that beckoned him? Oh, he could put his finger on a dozen such moments ... Some were more revealing than others; one he would never forget.

What went on between them in the carriage-sheds back of the Presbyterian Church, several afternoons a week, in the backseat of an abandoned carriage that hadn’t been used for years—used for anything but this …

5.  Paul Varjak, Breakfast at Tiffany's

Photo courtesy of The Skinny Stiletto

Screenwriter George Axelrod updated Truman Capote's WWII-Era novella to fit into 1961 Manhattan. "Nothing really happened in the book," the scribe has been widely quoted. "All we had was this glorious girl—a perfect part for Audrie Hepburn. What we had to do was devise a story, get a central romantic relationship, and make the hero a red-blooded heterosexual."

George Peppard's leading man in Blake Edwards' silver screen classic was hardly the same love interest on celluloid as he was in Capote's text. In section 16 of the novella, Holly Golightly (played by Audrey Hepburn on film) referred to him as a "Maude"—which was understood in the gay underworld at the time as slang for male prostitute.

6. Rorschach, Watchmen

Photo courtesy of Hero Complex

Writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' archetypical Batman character had a soft spot for his partner in crime, Nite Owl, although it was never explicit (it is, however, the subject of much fan speculation). In the movie version, there simply was no time for the love that dare not speak its name, even though it was only whispered in the comics at best.

7. Ruth Jamison, Fried Green Tomatoes

Photo courtesy of hubpages

Fannie Flagg's 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe has a pretty clear-cut intimate relationship defined between Ruth and Idgie. The 1991 movie? Zilch. Flagg's screenplay has Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker) hung up on the deceased Buddy Threadgoode (Chris O'Donnell).

8. Ben, Ben-Hur

Photo courtesy of Home Theater Forum

As far as his Hollywood career went, Gore Vidal had a reputation for taking liberties with original source material. When it came to the chariot epic starring Charlton Heston, the historian made an exact effort at finding a romantic connection in Lew Wallace's 1880 manuscript between the title character and his friend Messala (Stephen Boyd in the 1959 film). According to a letter Vidal received from Heston, he and director William Wyler roundly rejected the loose interpretation from Lew Wallace's 1880 manuscript. Ben stayed as straight as they could make him in a sandal drama.

9. Brick Pollitt, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Photo courtesy of Cinema Nostalgia

Another Hollywood alcoholic inexplicably drowned in his own sorrows. Brick (Paul Newman) grieves the loss of his friend Skipper, who committed suicide, and won't sleep with his wife Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor). He just drinks whiskey on the rocks and leaves Maggie to wonder how she's "gone through this horrible transformation." But Tennessee Williams's play remains ambiguous, pushing its audience to raise questions about Brick's sexuality.

10. Celie Johnson, The Color Purple

Photo courtesy the Telegraph

Steven Spielberg's 1985 Oscar bait let Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) and Shug (Margaret Avery) steal a smooch which Goldberg characterized as "about love and tenderness ... It has nothing to do with lesbianism. It has to do with, her eyes are opened, now she understands." Alice Walker's epistolary novel takes the pair way further than a kiss.

11. Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln

Photo courtesy of Slate

This one's a bit of a stretch, but biographer Carl Sandburg famously wrote in 1926 that the 16th president had "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets" in specific reference to the connection between Lincoln and his roommate Joshua Speed. The details of the Illinois boys' relationship have been highly contested for years, although Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner stated in an interview that, after the six years he spent working on the script for Steven Spielberg, "there is some reason to speculate that Lincoln might have been bisexual or gay."

Kushner left that part out. "I find it difficult to believe that Lincoln was [with] anybody," during that time, Kushner said, because the president was likely "ground to a pulp by the war and by the pressures of his job."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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