In 1594, William Shakespeare wrote about "now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York" (meaning the time of unhappiness was past) in 'Richard III'. In July 1961, the Viking Press published John Steinbeck's final book, 'The Winter of Our Discontent'. John Steinbeck told Budd Schulberg of 'Newsday, Inc' in 1968, "I don’t think I have anything to say anymore. And yet, I’m like an old tailor. 

"Put a needle and thread in my hand and a piece of cloth and I begin to sew. My hands have to keep busy. I have to hold a pencil in my fingers. I need to write some pages every day. When you do something for over 30 years, when you hardly think about anything else but how to put your experiences into the right words, you can’t just turn it off and go out and play in the garden. I want to write every day, even if – I don’t have anything to say." 

Set between Good Friday and just after the 4th of July 1960, 'The Winter of Our Discontent' explored the prevalent attitude toward personal, business and political morality. Ethan Allen Hawley, a scrupulous man from the Long Island village of New Baytown in New England entered his middle-age years, feeling disappointed with what he was left with, in part because of misfortune, mismanagement, and the chicanery of an earlier generation. In search of "a cushion of security" (or money, power and success) Ethan sought a moral compromise.   

Michael De Guzman tried to sell his idea of making an adaptation of 'The Winter of Our Discontent' but without success. In 1981, Lorimar Production, with the No. 1 program on television 'Dallas', approached CBS with the proposal. The network agreed to put up the money to develop the project. 'The Winter of Our Discontent' went on air in December 1983 as part of the 'Hallmark Hall of Fame' special. 

Director Waris Hussein of 'Ordinary People' observed, "Going from 'Princess Daisy' (featuring Lindsay Wagner) to 'The Winter of Our Discontent' was one of the biggest jumps I could make." Michael De Guzman rewrote the script made known, "I had to lighten it. It’s a novel laden with symbolism, much of it religious and even mystical in nature. It’s a complex book, and I had to create a storyline that had clarity, that went from here to there. 

"If you want an audience to take a journey to the gates of hell on the shoulder of a character, they have to be willing to make the journey – to wish he wasn't doing what he's doing. In the case of Hawley, as Steinbeck painted him, he was too shrewd and manipulative ... What I tried to do was soften this. I start him off with a strong sense of values, and, as the story progresses, I show him to be less consciously aware of what he's getting caught up in, thereby closing the gap between the audience and Hawley, so they identify with him. 

"The Steinbeck character represents a piece of all of us. Financial pressures today (in 1983) are as great, if not greater, than they were when Steinbeck wrote the novel (in 1960). And there's an all-pervasive philosophy today (in 1983) that is best expressed in a line in the novel: 'Everybody does it, so why shouldn't I?' I think it’s the job of drama to raise questions. I hope this film will make people stop and examine their own lives." 

Terri Garr told David Bianculli of 'Knight–Ridder Newspapers', "This was a real fast one. We finished it 3 weeks ago (filmed in October to early November 1983), and we're now doing the voices for looping (re-recording dialog to make it more audible). It’s a story about moral corruption, about copping out or not copping out. Does one person not doing it help anything? That’s the thing that’s fascinating about it. The first 25 pages of the script weren't shot. They weren’t big dramatic scenes, just establishing scenes, showing the ambiance of that family and its day-to-day life. You should see what’s really left of this thing. 

"I’m happy to be in it, but it’s really Donald Sutherland's thing. My part is even less than it was in the screenplay, which is only about five-eighths of what was in there in the novel. But I’ve been in an awful lot of movies. I know what can happen. Once I do my job, that’s it. I love Steinbeck, and I’ve read all the stuff he wrote. But most of the time, when people in television are choosing novels and novelists to turn into mini-series and movies, they do Judith Krantz. But anyway, I admire Hallmark so much for picking this material. It's not 'Charlie's Angels' or 'Laverne & Shirley', it's a very moral story about corruption."

Donald made the observation, "It was quite a polemic novel. What he was attacking was the loss of tradition, the loss of vision and clarity. It was one that not many people read. Ethan came from a family of wealth and tradition. You suffer the loss first by not having the instinct. Then the next generation loses the morality. Steinbeck thought we were not supporting the tenets of our forefathers. He says at the beginning of the novel that you shouldn't look for people you know. He said, look and you’ll probably find yourself." Producer R.W. Goodwin added, "It was getting the on-camera cast together that was the problem. One couldn't be signed without the other. It was like putting pieces of a puzzle together. They had to be compatible." 

Before his death in 1968, the 60-year-old John Steinbeck spent 5½ hours talking to Budd Schulberg from his hospital bed in Manhattan's East River. Budd remembered, "We talked about writing and what writers we admired and what writers we could live without. By now he had become a curmudgeon (bad-tempered person) to the 'now' generation who called him a warmonger for his stand on Vietnam. He always had believed in peace, but there were times when man had to fight. They also called him an old fogey for his attitude toward marijuana, acid and speed. We half disagreed about the hippies. He was troubled by their indolence, their self-indulgence, their tendency to do more talking about art than actually to produce any."

John Steinbeck told Budd Schulberg, "This generation that thinks it's so hip could be the real lost generation. The proof will be in what they produce – and what kind of next generation they produce. We thought we had it bad in the '30s. But I've never seen a time when the country was so confused as to where it's headed. The trouble with the young people seems to be, they're trying to swing the wheel around and take off in some opposite direction. But no one was ever able to do that successfully without maps, without charting a course, taking readings, and knowing the next anchorage."

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