For the first time ever presented in a public forum, you can now read the infamous final screenplay of Don Novello and John Belushi, “Noble Rot”.
If you have ever read “Wired”, Bob Woodward’s compelling (and very controversial) biography of John Belushi, then you are no doubt aware of the final screenplay that Belushi was attempting to write with Don Novello (most famous for his Saturday Night Live portrayal of “Father Guido Sarducci”). I am a fan of that book, I have read it many times over the years and decades, and I have always wondered about the screenplay.
By early 1982, Belushi’s notorious drug habits had worsened significantly – to the point where, even in the era of carefree recreational usage, there was no denying he was out of control. Feeling his career had already peaked and there was nowhere to go but down, Belushi decided to take the creation of his next film into his own hands. Despite the fact that he was not a writer, he teamed up with Novello to reconfigure an existing movie script called “Sweet Deception” (written by Jay Sandrich) into “Noble Rot”, a comedy about winemaking. Together with Novello, Belushi spent nearly a year tweaking the plot and reduxing the entire script to fit him.
It was a romantic comedy/adventure about a young, unsophisticated guy named Johnny Glorioso, who takes an elite new California wine to a New York wine tasting contest (the wine has a much desired and very rare fungus named Botrytis or “noble rot” of the film’s title, that can either destroy an entire crop or turn it into a legendary smooth and sweet wine), falls in love with a very untrustworthy but sexually desirable young woman named Christine (who is responsible for the multiple thefts of his beloved few wine samples for the competition), becomes involved with a diamond smuggling ring, and maybe grows up a little and loses his naivete in the process, while getting the last laugh in the kind of final scene that audiences loved seeing Belushi have. Belushi considered it the role he was born to play, and he became obsessed with getting it produced.
However, Paramount Pictures (the studio behind producing a potential film of “Noble Rot”, headed at that time Michael Eisner) was very unimpressed with the script, and was instead pushing Belushi to star in a sophomoric comedy based on the popular book, “The Joy of Sex”, to be directed by Penny Marshall of “Laverne and Shirley” fame (a completely different version was created a few years after Belushi’s death by director Martha Coolidge). Meanwhile, Aykroyd had also intended for Belushi to star in the supernatural comedy, “Ghostbusters”, which he was co-scripting with Harold Ramis. By this time, Belushi was heavily into punk rock (especially the raw L.A. punk band FEAR, who’s members he was hanging around with at the time, and who had an infamously subversive Saturday Night Live appearance at Belushi’s belligerent insistence) – to the point of alienating friends who would not listen to it and didn’t appreciate his overbearing insistence that it was brilliant. Belushi moved out to Hollywood to continue writing the film with Novello, feeling it would restore his waning cinematic mojo.
Holed up in a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont hotel (located on the Sunset Strip), Belushi hit the L.A. party scene more intensely than ever before – which, not surprisingly, resulted in a frustrated Novello usually having to write and revise the script alone while John was MIA on a drug binge. At the same time, Paramount made it known that the “Noble Rot” drafts they were seeing were unacceptable to them. Feeling the pinch, Belushi put himself into overdrive and let go of the controls, diving into unrestrained excesses. During the nights spent scoring drugs and partying till dawn on the Sunset Strip at such clubs as the Roxy and the Rainbow, Belushi met a former backup singer (and girlfriend of Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot) named Cathy Smith. Smith, a sleazy junkie, introduced Belushi to the next step on the chemical ladder: heroin. Always afraid of needles and knowing that heroin was the point-of-no-return, Belushi still began experimenting with the dangerous opiate, combining it with cocaine into the ultra-rush “speedball”. With Aykroyd secretly planning a flight to the West Coast to bring his troubled friend back home, Belushi began a non-stop three-day binge.
On March 5, 1982, after Hollywood pals Robin Williams and Robert De Niro left his bungalow in the early morning hours, Smith administered the umpteenth speedball to Belushi. In the morning, allegedly seeing him still snoring and alive, she took his car and left to run errands. Later in the morning while she was gone, Belushi’s personal trainer, Bill Wallace, showed up to rouse his friend to do a work out; instead, he discovered that Belushi was not breathing. After frantically applying CPR and summoning medical help, Wallace knew it was too late for Aykroyd to help his doomed friend. John Belushi was dead, and Johnny Glorioso would never live on the screen.
Though it was definitely not finished by any means (and some parts of it are obviously rushed and confused), this is not nearly as bad as the reputation that has dogged this final project of Belushi for decades. Sure, Christine is completely unlikeably and unsympathetic, but she gets her just desserts in the end, along with her compatriots, and Johnny gets the last laugh. With some more re-writing, (this draft is dated two months before Belushi’s death and the team’s frantic last minute re-write attempts in the days leading up to Belushi’s death), this could have ended up as a rather witty and sophisticated light comedy, and Belushi’s improvisations during alot of the scenes would have surely made it much more than appears on the page (as is often the case with rough draft screenplays). Once again, this is a case of a script and a concept that never really got a fair shake from the producers, and this is largely what frustrated Belushi into doing that final, fatal binge. So now, I will give “Noble Rot” a fair day in court.
Download the complete screenplay here in two pdf files.
WOULD “NOBLE ROT” HAVE BEEN A COMEDY CLASSIC, OR JUST ANOTHER BELUSHI FLOP?