'Rimbauer' writer clears up book, film mystery
Ernest A. Jasmin; The News Tribune
|Chris Goodenow | The News Tribune
Preparing to shoot a scene from 'The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer' at Lakewood's Thornewood Castle, Keli Craig, left, and Bruce Lawson put tape strips on the floor to mark spots for actors.
Stephen King may not have written "The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer," as many assumed when the novel topped the best-sellers list early last year. But a bit of King seems to be rubbing off on the real author, Ridley Pearson.
King is known for making quirky cameos in movies based on his work - including his appearance as the pizza delivery guy in ABC-TV's hit miniseries "Rose Red" last year. And recently Pearson - who plays with King in the band the Rock Bottom Remainders - awaited his own cameo in the TV movie version of "Rimbauer," being filmed at Lakewood's Thornewood Castle.
"It was one of Stephen's absolute demands that I play some kind of role," said the bespectacled writer, dressed as a turn-of-the-century butler as the film's crew worked in the nearby ballroom. "He wanted to make sure we continued the tradition of the writer being in the shot."
"The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer" book was conceived as a promotional tie-in to the "Rose Red" miniseries. But Pearson - who also wrote the movie screenplay - said it wasn't originally going to be a novel; his publisher wanted to create an architectural book that featured photos and drawings of the house with a ghost story subtly woven into the mix.
"I thought that's not going to sell very well," Pearson said. "It's going to be an expensive book, because art-laden books are expensive, and we'd sell, like, six copies to my nearest relatives."
Pearson read the "Rose Red" script looking for ideas and homed in on several mentions of a diary. So he wound up writing from the perspective of the character Ellen Rimbauer, a ghost in "Rose Red," but flesh-and-blood in the "Rimbauer" prequel.
"And then Stephen, in his genius, came up with the idea of working kind of a 'Blair Witch' idea into it," Pearson said, "where my name would not be on it, his name would not be on it."
King fans who assumed their idol had written the book fell for a carefully orchestrated prank. The "Rimbauer" foreword mentioned that a best-selling author had found the journal in Maine, King's home state.
"Part of Steve's idea was that no one would know who wrote it, rumors would circulate," Pearson said. "And if his fan base jumped on it, we could have a real big book. And that's what happened.
King confessed that he wasn't the author last June. But some still don't realize that the book is fiction.
"And to this day we get many, many letters from people who are actually convinced that it is Ellen Rimbauer's diary, and asking where the house is," Pearson said. "People really bought into the joke."
Pearson said it was challenging to translate his work for television. "Much of the diary is not dialogue and, of course, a script is 90 percent dialogue," he said. "The fun thing about adaptation is you have to be ready not to stick with the original."
He said he trimmed down the original story to focus on the relationship between John and Ellen Rimbauer - played by Steven Brand ("The Scorpion King") and Lisa Brenner ("The Patriot").
Viewers should also expect plenty of steamy scenes, according to Mark Carliner, who shares executive producer credit with King.
"I'm shocked the network is allowing this level of sexuality," Carliner said. "In the first 10 minutes of the movie, we have a ménage à trois. We have what happens on their honeymoon in Africa."
Carliner said the movie will likely air in May or September. Depending on the ratings, Thornewood could be featured in more "Rose Red" movies.
Pearson said he has already batted some ideas around for the next script. If the next film is a sequel, he plans to give the story a 1930s gangster theme. "If we do a prequel, I'm going to set it in England in the 1880s before the house is moved to America," he said.
Ernest Jasmin: 253-274-7389
(Published 12:30AM, February 2nd, 2003)