‘Brave New World’ for Hollywood

'brave new world' for hollywoodfrom london times: When Leonardo DiCaprio was a young boy, he used to play hide-and-seek in the overgrown gardens of a Hollywood Hills mansion owned by the family of the visionary British author Aldous Huxley.

Now, 30 years later, the star of Titanic and The Aviator is paying back the hospitality by putting his Hollywood muscle behind the first big-screen production of Brave New World, Huxley’s most enduring novel.

The Universal Studios movie, which Sir Ridley Scott wants to direct, has become possible only because years of wrangling over the terms of Huxley’s will have finally been settled, his granddaughter Tessa confirmed last week. “There is now nothing stopping this film,” she said.

America, which claims the Surrey-born author as one of its own, appears to be on the brink of a Huxley revival.

Fresh editions of his novels are in the works, Californian libraries are bidding for his papers, which include a hoard of unpublished manuscripts, and his last home above Los Angeles — where DiCaprio played — may be turned into a writers’ retreat.

Yet Huxley was a quintessential middle-class Englishman. Born in Godalming and educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, he became a friend of 1920s luminaries such as DH Lawrence and the philosopher Bertrand Russell. Both men influenced Huxley’s portrait of a future London where sex is easy but love banned in Brave New World, which was published in 1932.

He moved to Los Angeles in 1937, saying the light suited his poor eyesight. Hollywood employed him to rewrite British classics for the screen such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. His rambling home on Mulholland Drive, the highway that winds along the top of the mountains overlooking Los Angeles, became a salon for intellectuals from the astronomer Edwin Hubble to the Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary, promoter of the hallucinogenic drug LSD, which Huxley took as part of a final ceremony as he lay stricken with cancer in 1963.

Until her own death at 96 last December, Huxley’s Italian-born widow Laura maintained the Mulholland home as an open house where she became friends with George DiCaprio, the actor’s artist father.

“Laura and I were friends, and Leo was friends with Laura’s ward Karen: they were toddlers playing together in these rambling old gardens with an empty fish pond and wild flowers everywhere,” DiCaprio, 64, recalled last week.

“Laura always wanted a film made of Brave New World, but the technology was not there to make it look convincing. It is a vast futuristic world to put on screen, packed with many ideas which made it tough for some studios to deal with. And there were also family issues,” he said.

These issues hinged on the terms of Huxley’s will. It left 80% of future royalties to Laura and 20% to his son Matthew by his first wife Maria, which on Matthew’s death passed to his two children Trevenen and Tessa.

They expressed what family friends call “disappointment” with this arrangement, and made it clear they enjoyed “termination” rights, which meant they could stop any film. Studios were not willing to risk that.

The Huxleys’ literary agent, Georges Borchardt, who also represents Ian McEwan and the Tennessee Williams estate, has negotiated a fresh, undisclosed royalty deal with the younger Huxleys, which has cleared the way for the movie.

DiCaprio will play John the Savage, who lives a “natural” life on a reservation while the rest of cloned humanity is lulled into docility with sex, soma (drugs) and feelies (films that also involve the senses of smell and touch). He finally escapes celebrity to become a lighthouse keeper.

“And Ridley Scott, who has just finished working with Leo on a film called Body of Lies, has volunteered himself to direct,” said George DiCaprio, who is helping to produce Brave New World. “We are due to see the first script next week.”

Tessa Huxley, 54, said last week that she remembered playing as a small child with her grandfather in the house on Mulholland. She added: “I know my grandfather would be very pleased that his ideas were about to reach a new audience around the world.”

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