For St. Louis Magazine, Jeannette Cooperman spends some time with George Hodgman — in both St. Louis and Hodgman’s native Paris, Missouri, where he returned from New York a few years ago to care for his dying mother and wrote the bestselling memoir, Bettyville, about it. The occasion for the profile is the news that Paramount TV has optioned the book for a “dramedy,” with Matthew Broderick portraying Hodgman and Shirley MacLaine playing his charismatic mother.
I ask whether he likes the idea of Matthew Broderick playing him. “To be true to me, it should be someone who is much more of a sex symbol,” he deadpans. “I was thinking Ryan Gosling. But I’m much more worried about what the character is going to do than who is going to play him. In the screenplay, they had me mowing the lawn in my mother’s sunhat and singing ‘Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little’ from The Music Man. I thought I was going to have a relapse.”
The casting call that really interested him was for the woman who’d play Betty. “I knew from the get-go that it should be Shirley MacLaine. When I was in fourth grade, we went to New York. We stayed at the Hotel Dixie—there was a Shirley Temple drag queen show in the lobby—and outside there was one of those huge billboards, Shirley with her purse thrown over her shoulder as Sweet Charity. We went to the show, and for years, if something went wrong, I’d come home and throw my lunchbox on the table and say, ‘I’ve got to get out of the Fandango Dance Palace.’”
Now, he’s the star. All this unexpected furor over his poignant, funny, lyrically written book must be a rush?
“I’ve only been waiting 50 years to be interviewed. When I was 5, I was talking to Barbara Walters about my marital difficulties.”
Cooperman also asks Hodgman about his future plans now that his mother is gone — whether he plans to stay in Paris, move to St. Louis, or return to New York — and he’s not sure. He’s got mixed feelings about New York, something he touched on when I spoke with him for Longreads in April of 2015.