Posted on Tuesday, July 14th, 2009 by Russ Fischer
PT Barnum is America’s premiere showman. As in, he was the first man to define the quintessentially American sense of show business success to a degree that he became synonymous with his shows. Phineas Taylor ‘PT’ Barnum’s name and image are far more well known than the man himself, and fiction has long since held sway over truth. (For instance, the famous ‘there’s a sucker born every minute’ line didn’t come from Barnum, but from a competitor, David Hannum.) Now Columbia Pictures may shed some light on the man behind the curtain. (Or not; this is Hollywood.) The studio has bought an untitled Barnum pitch by Stan Chervin that will tell the story of the showman’s life.
I’m not sure about how this will be structured, however, as the trade claims the film will focus on Barnum’s ‘early years.’ He didn’t really get into the circus business until late in life, though. “The Greatest Show on Earth” grew out of a traveling circus established by Barnum when he was 61. Granted, he’d been running freak shows and other strange exhibitions long before that. Barnum started out as a shopkeeper, got into the lottery craze and founded a weekly paper, The Herald of Freedom, in Danbury, CT. When the lottery was legislated out of business he moved to New York City and eventually bought the Scudder Museum, which he rechristened Barnum’s American Museum and packed with life acts and curiosities. Barnum was a salesman at heart, and he added lights and banners to draw in pedestrians, and remade the museum’s rooftop into a strolling garden complete with hot-air balloon flights that allowed patrons to make out high over the city. A long series of other activities, exhibits, hoaxes and other business ventures eventually led him to create “The Greatest Show on Earth.”
Stan Chervin wrote the first draft of Moneyball, later rewritten by Steve Zaillian and now Aaron Sorkin. He also wrote J Mac for Sony and The Sorceror’s Apprentice for Disney.