MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Dumbledore was originally going to be straight in the Harry Potter movies.
I can’t say for sure exactly when the first work of art was translated into a different medium (like, what was the first book that was adapted into a play), but I can say with some certainty that whatever it was, there was somebody who said, “The original was better.”
That’s the tantalizing risk/reward nature of adapting a popular work into another medium: You enter your work with an established audience (you know people are already interested in the story because it was popular in the other medium), but you also enter your with an established audience that is going to be wary of any changes you make in the story. Now we are nearly a century removed from seeing stuff like the early days of Hollywood saying, “Yeah, Anna Karenina is good and all, but can we give it a happy ending?” but we still see dramatic changes in plots and characters as source material is adapted into films, television shows and plays. (The obsession with giving dark stories happy ending is nothing new: Henrik Ibsen was forced to give A Doll’s House an alternate happy ending when it opened in Berlin in 1879 and that was the version that was performed in the United States at the time.)
Comedian Ngaio Bealum recently spoke about explaining to his young daughter that the “movie universe” and the “book universe” will always be different things when discussing the changes made to the Harry Potter novels written by J.K. Rowling as they were adapted into a series of films. He told her she just had to accept it for what it is (he called it as “a life lesson for a young nerd”).
The Harry Potter films were mostly adapted by screenwriter Steve Kloves, who worked closely with Rowling (he skipped the fourth film in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but wrote all the others). Kloves had to make a lot of changes to adapt the novels, but Rowling was supportive, saying, “Steve’s a compassionate surgeon. We couldn’t make eight-hour-long films, and I’d rather have had him wielding the scalpel than anyone else.” However, Kloves had another challenge much different than just cutting material: He had to adapt the books while Rowling was still writing, so he had to always worry about making plot points in the films that would conflict with what the author had planned for future books. An example that often comes up to demonstrate this concern is that Kloves was intending to have Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore be revealed to be straight while Rowling always wrote him as gay (only officially revealing that fact after the last book in the series had been released). Is that true?
From Rowling’s perspective, it’s true. In 2007, when she made news around the globe through her “outing” of Dumbledore, Rowling further elaborated (as reported by David Haber):
She went on to say that while she was reading Steve Kloves’ script for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she came across a passage in which Dumbledore was reminiscing about past loves, and she corrected it by crossing it out and scrawling “Dumbledore is gay” in the margin.
That’s the basis for the whole “Dumbledore was going to be straight in the films” story. However, while it is largely true, Kloves takes some issue with how it is reported.
The basic gist of what happened was accurately retold by Rowling: She came across a scene in Kloves’ script for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that she felt implied Dumbledore was straight, and she wrote on the margins “Dumbledore is gay” (she and Kloves were actually working in the same room at the time). However, Kloves notes that he never intended to make Dumbledore straight and that, in fact, he always presumed the character was gay. “When you live within a narrative the way I have and you start to feel the DNA of the book, you can tell,” he recalled. “There was something about the way she wrote about him. There was a freedom and a quality to his humor that made him someone who was slightly outside, and who was comfortable being outside normal conventions.” He was only having Dumblefore talk about a woman he once knew, not meaning to imply anything about Dumbledore’s sexuality. Rowling thought it seemed otherwise, but as noted above, Kloves never meant to have Dumbledore be straight in the films. So it is a bit of a slight misunderstanding between colleagues.
So the legend is…
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Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!
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