Whether you're a lifelong lover of literature or not, there's something special about a person's first encounter with poetry. As reported by Deadline, James Franco will play Shel Silverstein in a film based on the famed poet's life. For many kids who grew up in the '80s and '90s, Silverstein was their first favorite poet, thanks to his collections like Where the Sidewalk Ends and Falling Up. Now, Franco will be bringing Silverstein to the big screen in A Boy Named Shel, based on Lisa Rogak's unauthorized biography of the author. The actor is also signed on to direct the film.
Franco is having a bit of a moment. His latest film, The Disaster Artist, is also based on the life of a famous personality: Tommy Wiseau, the writer, director, and star of The Room— a film considered by some to be the greatest bad movie of all time. Franco is both the director and star of the film that's already generating Oscars buzz. It seems fitting that the actor would follow up his turn as the eccentric Wiseau by embodying Silverstein, a free spirit whose talent speaks for itself.
Despite Rogak's book being unauthorized, it features enough anecdotes to create a coherent picture of Silverstein's life. It's a safe bet that Franco will be able to find the heart of the man behind the tales given how he was able to inhabit the mercurial Wiseau to so much acclaim. Besides, Silverstein is already a character who's larger than life.
If you know Silverstein best as the weaver of whimsical poetry that you actually enjoyed reading in elementary school, then you may be in for a shock when you delve further into the writer's life story. Silverstein began writing and drawing at an early age, and by the '50s, he was a leading cartoonist at Playboy. He was also a military man, serving in both Korea and Japan. In addition to working with the likes of David Mamet, who considered himself Silverstein's best friend, Silverstein was also a prolific songwriter who famously penned the Johnny Cash classic "A Boy Named Sue."
Silverstein was something of a modern renaissance man, but while his professional life was nothing but a success, he also faced his share of private tragedies. In 1975, Silverstein's first wife died one day before their daughter's fifth birthday, according to New World Encyclopedia. He then lost his daughter in 1982 when she died at the age of 11. Silverstein went on to have a son, Matthew, but he lived his later life alone, moving often. In an essay for The Paris Review, Silverstein's friend Mamet wrote,
"He lived alone in various houses, and moved from one to the next in response to no discernible stimulus. I assumed that, at some point, he felt it was just 'time to move.'"
It seems clear that Silverstein is a man of depth, and any film based on his life story should be one that encapsulates the many eras of his journey. Thankfully, Franco has his share of experience playing real-life figures. In addition to Wiseau, Franco has also starred in biopics about James Dean, Allen Ginsberg, and Aron Ralston. The fact that Franco is a writer who loves to create across multiple platforms just like Silverstein could also help him give the poet's life the respectful film treatment that it deserves.
Multiple generations of children have grown up reading Silverstein's beautiful poems and picture books like The Giving Tree, but there's so much more to his story. Anyone who has ever lost an afternoon to one of Silverstein's collections should be excited to see how Franco decides to tell the story of a man who was capable of the kind of artistic greatness that never truly stops being a part of people's lives.