by Roger Zotti
Richard Harteis and “Marathon”
Amby Burfoot, Executive Editor of “Runner’s World” and a former Boston Marathon winner, called it “the best first-person marathon story ever published anywhere.” The work, Richard Harteis’ “Marathon,” is being made into a full-length feature film with Biju Viswanath, an Indian film maker, as director.
On one level, book and movie are about Richard’s training for and competing in the New York City Marathon. On a deeper level, book and movie deal with Richard’s life as caregiver for William Meredith, U.S. Poet Laureate.
“Well, my partner of thirty-six years, William Meredith, had a stroke in 1982,” Richard said. “For a couple of years he didn’t speak or move.” Gradually, William began to improve and Richard realized, “After about eight years into being a caregiver, I was a bit overweight and not feeling very good about life.” Richard, 41 at the time, knew he had to make some life changes: “I wanted to do something I’d never done before, something difficult, like running a marathon.”
Interestingly, the journal Richard kept turned into more than a record of his marathon training. “It became a reflection on American society, what aging was all about, what my life was about, what William’s was about,” Richard explained. Also, it contained poems because Richard, like William, is a poet: “I would think about one of the poems William wrote and write one in response. In any case, as I trained and lost weight and achieved self-confidence again, so did he. The story ends with William winning the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. It’s an uplifting, true story.” (And Richard’s marathon training paid off: He ran the New York City Marathon and six more after that.)
While Richard was in Ireland last summer, he met Biju, who read “Marathon” and believed it would make an excellent film. He and Richard began working on the script.
“In principal, August 15th the film is finished,” Richard said. “Then it goes to post-production in India and will be finished by about October 1. [There will be] a world pre-premiere at the Garde Arts Center, in New London, on Halloween night.”
The William Meredith Foundation and the Norwich Arts Council, in partnership, formed the William Meredith Center for the Arts. “The main thing is that our home, in Uncasville, on the Thames River – it’s called Riverrun – was put on the registry of Historic Landmarks for the State of CT on December 5, 2007,” Richard noted. “That was a wonderful thing because it recognized that was where William lived and worked, and it will keep his legacy alive.”
Riverrun will serve as a retreat for artists, poets, and film people. They’ll spend time there and “do their work, maybe publish some poetry,” Richard said. “Perhaps teach. It’s small scale. That’s the goal. It’ll keep me happy and engaged, too. It’s a new phase in my life as I move into semi-retirement. Part of the profits from this film with be used to endow the Center.”
Clearly, Alan Alda’s “Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself” (Random House) isn’t your typical celebrity memoir. Written conversationally, sometimes lyrically, always perceptively, it contains a graceful mix of wisdom and humor.
Alan writes about his family, friends, likes and dislikes, philosophy, and fears. Most importantly, he digs into his life and what he learned after seventy years. The question he keeps returning to is, “We live. We die. What’s in between?” It’s a subject he began thinking about after nearly dying in Chile, several years ago, from an intestinal obstruction.
As for his family, here’s what Alan came to realize about his actor father, Robert: “He might have been vain, but he was far less of a show-off about his curiosity than I was about mine… I mistook his gentleness for passivity. How could he urge me to find my own way if he insisted on the road I take? He gave me the freedom to discover it myself. He gently urged me to explore… gave me the nerve to go places that scare me, but where I find excitement and adventure.”
Check out the book’s last and most important chapter, “Bosco’s Belly,” for what Alan says about getting the most out of life. I’m not going to give too much away, but it has something to do with what he calls “some mysterious mix” and it’s sage advice.