Films That Almost Got Made That Time Forgot: The Lobster Boy
When comedian Mel Brooks decided he wanted to take a break from comedy and produce a serious film, he settled on the story of Joseph Merrick, the famed “Elephant Man” of the Victorian England sideshow circuit. When it came to choosing a director, he looked for a candidate who could bring a strong artistic vision to the project. He found what he was looking for in David Lynch. Lynch’s first feature-length film Eraserhead had been a surprise success. Although the film wasn’t a box office hit, it was respected as a surrealist masterpiece featuring lush black and white photography and an intricate sound design. Brooks had liked Eraserhead and hired Lynch to direct The Elephant Man and co-write the screenplay.
Abandoning the surreal elements that populated Eraserhead, and would also turn up again in future projects like Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, Lynch crafted a sensitive and moving portrayal of Merrick, a young Englishman who demanded to be treated with dignity in spite of his catastrophic physical deformities. The film was a huge success, garnering eight Oscar nominations and winning BAFTA Awards for Best Film, Best Actor and Best Production Design.
When it became clear that the film was a hit, Brooks approached Lynch
and informed him that The Elephant Man was always intended to be the first of a trilogy of films about people who had been marginalized due to their deformities. Brooks offered Lynch the
chance to direct the sequel to The Elephant Man tentatively titled The Lobster Boy. It was to be the story of Grady Stiles, a circus performer who suffered from ectrodactyly, a deformity in his hands and feet that caused them to take on the appearance of lobster claws. At the time, Stiles was at the height of his fame as a circus performer, and was quite successful in spite of his disability.
Lynch appreciated the offer, but was already deep in preproduction for his next film – the epic Sci-Fi Fantasy Dune. Brooks was disappointed and spent the next ten years searching for a director willing to take on the project, but met with no success. Things took a turn for the worse when, on November 29, 1992, Stiles was shot to death. The gunman had been hired by Stiles’ wife and son. During the subsequent trial, unflattering details of Stiles life emerged, including the fact that he was a violent alcoholic who terrorized his family.
Brooks decided that making a movie about an abusive, drunken Grady Stiles would be a poor fit thematically with the story of the sensitive, harmless Joseph Merrick. Brooks subsequently dropped plans for the Lobster Boy movie as well as for the planned third film in the trilogy, The Baboon Lady.