''Even Cowgirls Get the Blues'': From book to film -- We look at the 18 years it's taken for this novel to go the big screen

By Gregg Kilday
Updated May 20, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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Even Cowgirls‘ fans get the blues: Ever since Tom Robbins’ novel became a cult hit in the late ’70s, Hollywood has been trying to film the oddball odyssey. But this road to the big screen has certainly been filled with curves and detours.

May 1976 Houghton Mifflin publishes Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (simultaneously in hardcover and paperback).
1977 A 25-year-old Gus Van Sant asks Robbins to autograph his copy at a Portland, Ore., book signing and vows that one day he will direct the film version.
April 1977 Producer Robert Wunsch (Slap Shot) signs screenwriter Stephen Geller (Slaughterhouse-Five) to adapt the book for the screen, but his option runs out a year later, before a studio enters the deal.
August 1980 Warner Bros. signs Shelley Duvall (Popeye) to write and star in Cowgirls, which she describes two years later as ”my Cuckoo’s Nest.”
May 1990 TriStar Pictures inks Van Sant, hot from the success of Drugstore Cowboy, to direct Cowgirls.
May 1992 Deciding the material might be too quirky for mainstream audiences, TriStar puts the project on hold.
August 1992 The independent Fine Line Features gets the rights from Tri-Star and agrees to produce the movie for $9 million.
Sept. 4, 1992 Shooting begins in New York City.
Sept. 2, 1993 The movie debuts at the Venice Film Festival. Variety calls it ”a far-out meandering fantasy.”
Sept. 13, 1993 It screens at the Toronto Film Festival. The Hollywood Reporter predicts that it ”should be able to corral some impressive numbers.”
Oct. 13, 1993 Fine Line cancels the movie’s Nov. 3 release to give Van Sant time to reedit. ”The pacing could be improved,” the director admits. ”In parts it’s too slow, and other times too fast.”
Oct. 22, 1993 Warner Bros. releases k.d. lang’s soundtrack, which rises as high as No. 82 on Billboard‘s pop album chart.
April 12, 1994 Fine Line postpones the opening again, from April 22 to May 20.
May 20, 1994 Nearly two decades after Sissy Hankshaw first appeared in print, she’s finally set to appear on the big screen.

Episode Recaps

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

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  • Gus Van Sant