I first saw the movie Cool Hand Luke on cable TV when I was 13 or 14-years-old and immediately fell in love with that movie and story. A few years after I saw the movie I found out it was based on a novel and I found it at The Book Emporium in Sheridan Village. It was back in the pre-internet days when you had to seek out and search for a book and I felt lucky to have found a copy. I usually enjoy books more than the movies that they’re based on and this is no exception to that rule. So let’s take a closer look at Cool Hand Luke, by Donn Pearce.
The MBIP Book Of The Week - Cool Hand Luke By Donn Pearce
Cool Hand Luke was the first novel written by Donn Pearce. It was published by Scribners and the first edition came out in 1965. Prior to becoming a published author, Pearce had done time in the army and had been arrested for counterfeiting American money in Europe. He escaped from a European jail, made his way to Canada and then back to America and became a safecracker. He was arrested in 1949 for burglary and served two years on a Florida chain gang.
It was those years that he based the novel, Cool Hand Luke on. While the book is fiction, the main character is an extension of Donn Pearce himself. The story in the book is told from a narrator’s point of view and details the time that Luke goes from first becoming part of a chain gang, to being christened “Cool Hand Luke,” after winning a poker game, to his death at the end of the novel.
Two years later the novel was made into a movie starring Paul Newman and Pearce wrote the original screenplay. The movie was nominated for multiple Academy Awards including best screenplay. Pearce had come pretty far from his days as a Florida safecracker.
Donn Pearce wrote three other novels and had a career as a freelance journalist writing for Esquire and Playboy magazine among others. In addition to writing he also became a private investigator in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
This is an photo essay that Donn Pearce wrote and executed for Esquire magazine back in 1970 which was based on his time served in a chain gang. He shows how to take off a pair of pants while wearing leg chains.
Cool Hand Luke On Stage
The book became a movie and in 2015 the movie became a play in New York City. In May of 2015 the play had a short run in New York at Godlight Theater Company. Here’s a link to the NY Times review of the play.
Four Cover Designs
Here’s four different cover designs for paperback editions of Cool Hand Luke.
One Of My Favorite Pieces Of Writing Of All Time
This section of the book is so fantastic. I keep it framed in the kitchen of the MBIP World Headquarters and read it for inspiration and something to pick me up when I’m feeling down. Here it is:
And then one night while playing poker he managed to bluff his way into stealing a pot of a dollar and sixty-five cents. Everyone else had thrown in his hand except Bullshit Bill who was holding a pair of aces. But when Luke raised the last bet a dollar he refused to call the raise. After dragging in the nickels, dimes and quarters, Luke showed his hand to Bullshit Bill. He had a pair of nothing. Smiling he murmured softly,
Just remember, man. Wherever you go and whatever you do. Always play a real cool hand.
And from that night on he always answered to the name of Cool Hand Luke.
Related Post: The MBIP Saturday Morning Book Club: The Hell’s Angels by Hunter S. Thompson.