HAIL, FRANZONI: Rutland may be a long way from ancient Rome, but that didn’t stop a Green Mountain Boy from dreaming up Gladiator. “It’s my script, from beginning to end,” David Franzoni says of the epic blockbuster that stars Russell Crowe as a Roman general turned mace-slinging slave. The Vermont native also earned his first “producer” credit on the film, which he concedes is “making bazillions.” Born and raised in Rutland, and still a frequent Vermont visitor, Franzoni first made movie news with his screenplay for Amistad about African slaves on trial for murder. The studio survived its own legal battle when a woman claimed the story was hers, not his. But no one is challenging Franzoni on Gladiator, which he conceptualized on a motorcycle trip in the Middle East. “I was reading a book about the Colosseum and discovered that Commodus had gone into the ring,” he explains. The idea solidified while he was in Rome working on Amistad. His next movie, for Universal Studios, is about a contemporary crime-solving society inspired by Napoleon’s secret police.
WORD ON THE STREET: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road may be the last word on the Beat generation. But a more eye-opening — read: sober — account of the era is a book by part-time Vermonter Joyce Johnson. If you haven’t read her Minor Characters, about the babes behind the dharma bums, another option is Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957-1958, excerpted in the current issue of Vanity Fair. Johnson’s upcoming book retells the story of the mood-swinging Beats through letters she and Kerouac exchanged over the course of their relationship. He was a much better bohemian than boyfriend ... Lincoln novelist Chris Bohjalian has written about dowsers, midwives, homeopaths — and now transsexuals. Appropriately, Trans-Sister Radio got a mixed reception last Sunday in The New York Times Book Review. “The honest, messy pain of gender dysphoria would be too unsettling for this book, with its cutesy title and perky prose,” the reviewer wrote. He also took a swipe at public radio, which plays a major role in Bohjalian’s book. “With their private colleges, baby-boom politics and Queen Anne porches, the people in Trans-Sister Radio are perfect avatars of what might he called the National Public Radio elite. And so it’s only fitting that...they should all speak in the same NPR voice: fluent, progressive, unfailingly nice”... Katherine Paterson is not the only Vermont writer collecting kudos for her word works. Along with Paterson, who was recently named a Library of Congress “Living Legend,” the Green Mountains can claim a number of award-winning husband and wife literati. Eric Zencey and Kathryn Davis received his-and-hers grants from the Guggenheim Foundation. Zencey received the coveted award last year. Davis got hers this spring. “I got nothing this year,” Zencey says, laughing rather than complaining, “...yet” ... The American Academy of Arts and Letters has singled out Vermont State Poet Ellen Bryant Voigt for a literary award that puts her in the same league as Lorrie Moore, Annie Dillard and Walker Percy — and earns her a check for $7500. “It is considered one of our highest awards for achievements over the course of a career,” Academy spokesperson Betsy Feeley says of the honor. “It wouldn’t go to a young writer, but someone who has been working for a while.” Formerly of Plainfield, Louise Glück was among the “academy” that selected the winners. She is Voigt’s state poet predecessor, friend and fellow founder of New England Culinary Institute.
BURLINGTON BOUND: All those livability citations are finally paying off in free publicity for the Queen City. The June issue of Travel and Leisure magazine features a long story on Burlington in its “Weekender” section, found only in subscription copies. After noting a “dearth of accommodations” in town; the writer spends a little time at the Fleming Museum and the Perkins Museum of Geology and, of course, on Church Street, with its “forget-your-troubles vibe.” While it acknowledges the chain stores, the article singles out the indies, including Frog Hollow, Apple Mountain and Crow Books, which “gets it right with creaky wooden floors and a wide selection of used books.” Smokejacks made the culinary cut, in both Travel and Leisure and the travel section of the Sunday New York Times last week. In the Times story on Burlington, Marian Burros also plugs the Village Pump House, Myer’s Bagel Bakery and Rì Rà as alternate eateries. Scrumptious, too, gets a well-deserved mention, although the cafe’s location — on the corner of North Street and North Champlain — is described as “slightly away from downtown in the gentrified Old North End.” Hello?