John Carlen does not rank among Hollywood's best-known screenwriters; though he'd been working in the business since 1978, when he served as a technical adviser on Ulu Grosbard's Straight Time, his most famous script was for Nic Cage's critically savaged directoral debut Sonny starring James Franco. Which is why, perhaps, it has taken several days for news of Carlen's death last week, at the age of 64 following a stroke, to reach us.
A Friend of Unfair Park sends his Variety obit, which contains intriguing details about the Dallas-born screenwriter's early life: "According to an obituary submitted by his friend Tracy Quinn, Carlen was born in a Dallas whorehouse, out of which his great-grandmother ran a criminal empire. He spent time as a male prostitute and a bank robber, then served time in prison." Carlen filled in the details in this wide-ranging interview:
I grew up in a whorehouse-gambling den-outlaw-hangout converted three-story railroad hotel in Dallas, Texas that was run by my great-grandmother. It was one of many whoring and gambling operations she ran all over Texas and Louisiana... I was taken away from my safecracking parents as an infant and raised by the old woman. Her plan was that I would take over the family business when she died. And since she figured I couldn't run an empire of whores without intimate knowledge of the business, she turned me out at nine.
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He added that he had intended to set Sonny in Dallas, but initially settled on Houston, before finally going with New Orleans, because his hometown had "morphed into a socially correct, uptight, anal...thing, and I felt that Houston was a place that you could at least still breathe without someone making a mental note of your posture and breeding."