It can be a surprise when one discovers that a particular story in fact has its roots in an earlier work. However, it should not come as a complete shock when it happens. After all, the lengthy course of human history has led to all sorts of stories being written and told. Sometimes, these stories may be reshaped or molded with a new lens or angle to tell them. Sometimes, it is simply a case of an adaptation channeling the core of its source. Such is the case with works like Annie, a beloved musical based upon the old comic strip Little Orphan Annie, or A Fistful of Dollars, a spaghetti western with its roots in the detective story Red Harvest. The subject of today’s post is a novel called Brewster’s Millions, a comedy all about the ups and downs of financial spending. Though it was adapted numerous times on stage and screen, most people would probably be most familiar with the 1985 film adaptation that stars Richard Pryor. In truth, the story started as a novel written in 1902 by George Barr McCutcheon. As it turns out, the original novel is still worth a read, offering a fun story thanks to a light touch in the writing and its inspired idea.
Montgomery Brewster is a young man who has been spending his days trading stocks and hanging out with his friends in the “Sons of the Little Rich” club. One day, he receives word that his grandfather has passed away, leaving him one million dollars. His friends and business associates all praise his luck and his newfound wealth. Soon after, though, his uncle dies and leaves him seven million dollars. However, there are some conditions that need to be met before Brewster can gain this inheritance. It turns out that the uncle had hated the grandfather and had noted in his will that his inheritor could not have a cent of the grandfather’s money. Thus, Brewster has one year to spend every cent of his grandfather’s million to gain the uncle’s seven million or else he will gain nothing. This proves to be a greater challenge than expected, considering all sorts of rules in the uncle’s will prohibit how he can spend the money and specify that no one is to know of what he is doing. The result is people seeing Brewster as a sudden spendthrift, all as Brewster does whatever he can to earn that seven million dollars.
The book still holds up in my opinion, thanks to the strength of the writing here. It presents its narrative with a breezy tone, chronicling the exploits of Brewster as he figures out how to spend this million dollars. It revels in the sorts of opportunities that can arise in such a scenario, whether in more serious moments like saving a bank from falling apart in a run or in humorous moments like a sure-fire terrible investment turning into a money-making hit. It also showcases his hurdles in relation to Peggy Gray and Barbara Drew. Barbara Drew is a socialite who Brewster has fallen hard for, while Peggy Gray is a sweet girl who has known Brewster throughout his life. The romantic triangle that plays out between Monty and these two women serves as another avenue for how the story explores Brewster’s pursuit of the inheritance, showing their responses to his excessive spending. In fact, their reactions and how Brewster deals with it are a big part of the central idea of this novel: namely, the importance of strong morals over money.
Throughout the book, Brewster is spending his cash in every which way that he can. The results are plenty of people who see him as a man who can not manage his money and burning through every penny he can spend. However, while he is working his hardest to spend that million, he demonstrates that he is also a good man. Though others may only see his spending habits, he is also doing his hardest to help out others while he keeps his eyes on the prize. For instance, when he holds a massive cruise, he is the only one who rushes to help a passenger who has fallen overboard. He shows such moments of courage and selflessness throughout even as people only pay attention to his spending habits. That is what makes this book such a strong idea: it is a tale of a good man who acts reckless and is seen as reckless, yet still performs good deeds for their own sake. There are plenty of people who try to do good, but find their efforts ignored as people focus on their more negative or sensationalist elements. They find themselves toiling away, with others blind to what they achieve. This story captures that idea with a delightful pace and humor, catering with laughs of all the challenges in excessive spending while keeping its heart on the importance of selfless action and a strong heart no matter the financial circumstances. It is no wonder that this novel has been adapted to stage and screen time and again.