Writing Books, Teaching Kids & Creating Iconic Roles for Hollywood Hearthrobs--It's All in a Day's Work for Robert Kaplow

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Thumbnail image for 11273894_gal.jpgThere are a lot of people who live in Metuchen whose work takes them to places far beyond our town's borders. Robert Kaplow is a time traveler--not only has his work led him to great adventures in culture but it also takes him back and forth in time, like a character on LOST, between the decaying remnants of our present-day greed to a previously- changing world where the WPA was keeping artists productive and literature and theater hosted the greatest talents and collective hope for the American arts.

Having grown up in nearby Westfield, Kaplow is no stranger to these parts and truly loves the small-town feel of Metuchen.Robert Kaplow spends the school year teaching four courses at Summit High School, including a classic film survey class and AP English classes. Carrying him through his academic work, there is the specter of a free summer--the time when he sits on his screened-in porch facing Woodbridge Avenue and 'watches the world go by' while concocting his next great American novel. His Sears home is chock-full of remnants of another time--the cultural history of early 20th century America is a particular interest--and these things have helped him create the works that have made him a successfully-published author. ME AND ORSON WELLES, his paen to the bright young genius and his protege, a young kid from Westfield, who learns the ropes of adult life when he stumbles into the Mercury Theater production of "Julius Caesar" is the best known of them all.

This attention to the details of Americana has struck a chord with readers--and his humor-filled bent on celebrity culture has led to several parody novels, namely WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT WRITERS OF AMERICA? But it has been ME AND ORSON WELLES that has taken him on the most rollicking adventure of his writing career.

WRITING BOOKS

This attention to the details of Americana has struck a chord with readers--and his humor-filled bent on celebrity culture has led to several parody novels, namely WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT WRITERS OF AMERICA?  Kaplow, after a few years of hard work, managed to publish his first novel at the ripe old age of 25 (TWO IN THE CITY) and hasn't stopped since.  He wrote pop culture satires for NPR's Morning Edition as a member of Moe Moskowitz and the Punsters, a side project he started while still at Westfield High School. Inspired by the radio hijinks of THE GOON SHOW on the BBC as well as the work of Jean Shepard, he joked about the events of the day. But it is ME AND ORSON WELLES that forced him to exercise his most creative attempts to bring the dreamy life of his mind into a physical form he could share with his readers.

MAKING MOVIES

Having now been made into a film directed by Richard Linklater (DAZED AND CONFUSED, WAKING LIFE, SCHOOL OF ROCK), highlighted by an impressive performance by today's most famous hearthrob, Zac Efron (HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL), it's hard to believe that it took ten years for Kaplow's novel to find a home. He even rewrote it as a screenplay in order to give it legs. With a resolute belief in the value of his work, the book was finally published. Soon after, the novel hit the New York Times bestseller list and ended up in the hands of Linklater, who connected to it in a significant way.

Throughout the writing of the adapted screenplay by Holly Gent Palmo and Vincent Palmo, Jr., Kaplow was in touch with the filmmakers and his suggestions were happily incorporated into every draft. "I know this doesn't happen to everybody," he admitted, since most times the novelist gets shoved out of the way during the filmic process. He even played a part in creating casting magic: he introduced Linklater to the young actor, Christian McKay, who is receiving rave reviews for his portrayal of young Welles. Kaplow was then rewarded with an invitation to attend the beginning of filming on the Isle of Man at the Gaeity, a vintage theater that recreated the look and feel of the actual Mercury Theater.

With nothing but good things to say about the production, which also stars Claire Danes, Ben Chaplin and white-hot acting ingenue Zoe Kazan, Kaplow has particularly fond memories of the shoot. His relationship with Linklater is still friendly, so much so, in fact,  that Kaplow was able to take his elderly dad to a private screening of the film in NYC. In fact, Kaplow still owns the radio on which his dad actually listened to Welles' radio productions, including THE WAR OF THE WORLDS. It is his father's interest in Welles that led Kaplow to this subject matter so sharing the film with him was a special moment for them both.

TEACHING AND WRITING ABOUT TEACHING

At present, he's working on a  new novel, NOBODY'S HEART: A NOVEL ABOUT TEACHERS, drawing on his 25-plus years' career teaching wide-eyed high school students. Inventive and funny, easy-going, passionate and accomplished, Kaplow deserves to take his place in line with the other denizens of our "Brainy Boro" lineage throughout its history.

ME AND ORSON WELLES is on sale at the Raconteur as the first in a series of virtual book club events sponsored by The Raconteur and Metuchen Matters. Get your copy now and join us on Thursday, March 19th, to talk about the book and its adaptation with the always-charming Mr. Robert Kaplow! 

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