In a blink, the world's most profitable and popular idiot is back. Forrest Gump.
You know him, you love Tom Hanks as him, and you rented the movie over the weekend -- although you saw it twice in the theater last year. And you probably bought Winston Groom's book of the same name and then the spin-off, "Gumpisms: The Wit and Wisdom of Forrest Gump."
We have bought it all.
Now comes Mr. Groom with "Gump & Co." (Pocket Books, $22), which will be available in bookstores Wednesday. The book is the speedy sequel or "extension" to his "Forrest Gump," which has sold about 2 million copies (Japan ate it up). The 1994 movie starring Tom Hanks won six Academy Awards and has grossed more than $670 million worldwide.
"Take my word for it -- don't never let nobody make a movie of your life's story. Whether they get it right or wrong, it don't matter," says Forrest of "Gump & Co." "Problem is, people be comin up to you all the time, askin questions, pokin TV cameras in your face . . . tellin you what a fine feller you are. Ha!"
Ha! Mr. Groom says he had to mention the movie in his sequel. The writer has Forrest meeting Hanks in Elaine's, Manhattan's place-to-be-seen. Forrest even sees the movie and thinks ol' Tom was "pretty good."
How could the writer resist?
"This ain't just some movie. This is a phenomenon," says Mr. Groom, chatting by phone from his home in Alabama. He's a day away from leaving for a six-week book tour. "HUSH FORREST. SIT, SIT," he says to his old English Sheep dog, barking in the background.
Mr. Groom, 52, dispenses with The Movie reference on Page 1, then "Gump & Co." hauls off where the book left off. Forrest is still sweeping floors at a strip joint run by Wanda in New Orleans. He's poor, broke and stupid and destined to become the stooge in another round of current events. Jenny is alive and still married to a salesman named Donald. In the book, Forrest did not get the girl in the end. He got a stripper.
Jenny is one of Mr. Groom's favorite characters. He had plans for her in his sequel. Then, the author saw the movie. Jenny was killed off. "I didn't want to lose her." But you don't mess with Hollywood's Forrest Gump any more than you mess with Hollywood's Rhett Butler, Mr. Groom says.
So, he killed off Jenny. In the sequel, her spirit occasionally appears -- like a sexy Jiminy Cricket telling Forrest to do the right thing. It's the writer's concession and arguably one of the book's faults.
"People might say this is just pandering to the movie. All right, it is," Mr. Groom says. "I don't think it's shameless pandering."
A good deal more
Mr. Groom, a Vietnam veteran and former reporter for the Washington Star, is smack dab in the middle of Gump mania. He started writing the sequel after the movie was released last year. He needed to see how Hollywood's version came out.
In Gump-time, the sequel took Mr. Groom a life-time to write -- nine months. He had taken seven weeks to write the first book, which lounged around for 10 years until Paramount Pictures brought Gump to life in 1994. (Mr. Groom has earned $600,000 from the movie's success. He signed a seven-figure deal for the sequel and will earn a percentage of the gross receipts from the movie sequel, which Paramount is planning.)
Mr. Groom shipped the sequel's manuscript to his publisher in June, so Pocket Books could run off 600,000 copies this summer -- and before Michael Crichton's sequel to "Jurassic Park" comes out in the fall.
For Mr. Groom, the Gump books were not painstaking. He says it's not like co-writing the Pulitzer Prize nominee, "Conversations with the Enemy," or writing his recent non-fiction book about the Civil War called "Shrouds of Glory." Those required a lot of research; Mr. Groom knows Forrest by heart. "I had the characters. I had the voice. I had the events."
Mr. Groom had "another 15 years of history to play with" since we left Forrest in the late 1980s. Trolling for events and people he could pair with Gump, he asked Esquire to send him the magazine's Dubious Distinction Awards. Friends and strangers suggested inserting Forrest into the O.J. Simpson case or the Oklahoma City bombings. Forrest Situations waiting to happen? The author didn't think so.
Instead, the updated Forrest Gump becomes an encyclopedia salesman with a conscience, the accidental inventor of New Coke, a successful pig farmer until the (bad word) hits the fan, and an aging running back for the New Orleans Saints. Forrest also finds himself at the wheel of the Exxon-Valdez and the rest, as they say, is a news story.
The face of history
It wouldn't be Gump if there weren't famous cameos: Forrest working for Jim Bakker, then Ollie North. Forrest and buddie Lt. Dan kidnapping Saddam during the Persian Gulf War. Forrest working for a couple of characters renamed Ivan Bozosky and Mike Mulligan, who are jailed for insider trading. Forrest running into a guy named Bill at some place called Whitewater.
Forrest being Forrest.
"The message is you don't have to be rich or famous or even smart to be dignified," Mr. Groom says. "This person here is a sort of a hero."
True to Mr. Groom's vision, the man with the IQ of 75 spends the new book in and out of jail, where Forrest is visited and scolded by his son, Little Forrest. Father & Son wind up making millions in the oyster business.
"I'm putting this to rest," says Mr. Groom. "No more Forrest for a long time."
Winston Groom will be signing books from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Crown Books in McLean, Va., 1451 Chain Bridge Road. For more information, call (703) 893-7640.