Daniel James Brown and his Boys in the Boat

Last Sunday evening I had the pleasure of attending an event at Stonington Harbor Yacht Club in Stonington, Connecticut, where Daniel James Brown, author of The Boys in the Boat, gave a talk about his newly published book. I am sorry to say that it was not that well attended, but among the folks who came were rowers and others connected with rowing, so there was no lack of intelligent rowing questions asked at the end of Brown’s talk. Brown started by telling us about how he came to write this story. He is not a rower – he knew absolutely nothing about the sport when he began this project – but through connections he visited the Boathouse at University of Washington (in Seattle), where the ‘boys in the boat’ plied their oars in the 1930s, especially for the upcoming 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. Their shell Husky Clipper is still in the Boathouse, and their story is well-known, of course, by the Husky rowers. Brown spent some time in the coach launch to follow some of the Husky rowers of today to learn more about the sport of rowing.

The author then read an exciting part of his book, about a rowing race, and there is no question about it, Brown knows how to write a compelling scene, in this particular case it was both thrilling and entertaining – and ‘correct’ from a rowing point of view. I asked some questions about Ran Laurie, who stroked the British eight in the Olympic final, and also about Noel Duckworth, who coxed the Englishmen’s boat which was in the final, but did not medal; both men are in The Boys in the Boat. (Unfortunately, I had only managed to read the first couple of chapters of the book before coming to this event.) For my last question, I asked if Brown had any news about the film which is to be based on his book. He was deliberate in saying (not that he actually had more information) what we already have read elsewhere, that the Weinstein Company has bought the rights for an upcoming film adaptation of his book. He has met the scriptwriter, but in his contract with the Weinstein Company, nothing is mentioned that Brown should, or has the rights to, read the film script before a company starts shooting the film.

Those of us who had assembled at Stonington Harbor Yacht Club all hope that it will be a good rowing movie, especially as there are very, very few good movies about rowing around; right now I can only think of one which I am terribly fond of (although it is not perfect!): Bert and Dickie (called Going for Gold in America). My advice to the film company is: get a real rower, coach and rowing historian to look at the script before you mess up the details. Give me a call and I will give you some names (no, my name not included).

Daniel James Brown is a nice fellow – and I am not writing this because he told me that he was a reader of HTBS or signed my copy of his book – but he has tried to write an honest story about rowing and the hardship which all the ‘boys in the boat’ went through before, during and after their Olympic gold medal race in the Berlin Games.

A review of The Boys in the Boat will soon be posted on HTBS. Read an interview with Daniel James Brown here.

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