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Atuk (Inuit for "Grandfather")' is the name of an as-yet-unfilmed American film screenplay, intended to be a film adaptation based upon the 1963 novel The Incomparable Atuk by acclaimed Canadianmarker author Mordecai Richler. It is essentially a fish out of water comedy of a proud, mighty Eskimo hunter trying to adapt to life in the big city with satirical elements on racism, materialism and popular culture. Peter Gzowski's afterword adds some historical context, and elaborates on the satirized real-life counterparts of several of the novel's minor characters, including Pierre Berton.

The script for the proposed film adaptation has been in existence since at least the very early 1980s, and although numerous Hollywoodmarker film studios have shown an interest in producing the film over the years, the movie remains unfilmed and the entire project in development hell. The film script is also reknowed for an alleged paranormal curse which, as an urban legend, has said to have killed all the actors who have shown an interest in the lead role. These include John Belushi, Sam Kinison, John Candy, and Chris Farley, and even others who were planning to be in the film or associates of the late leads who had read the script in their presence, such as Michael O'Donoghue and Phil Hartman, amongst others.


In the novel, Atuk is a Canadian Eskimo poet from Baffin Islandmarker who gets transplanted to Torontomarker, however in the proposed film screenplay Atuk is a native of Alaskamarker who ends up in New York Citymarker. In the film adaptation, Atuk was to be the son of an Inuit woman and a missionary who dreams of seeing the world outside of the Inuit territory of Alaska. He sees his chance when a beautiful documentarian named Michelle Ross and her crew, arrive to film the village he lives in. Atuk stows away in Michelle's plane when her crew takes off from another village, after the crew lands in Canada. Michelle has no choice but to take Atuk with her past the border and into America. The two end up at Michelle's destination, New York City. Meanwhile, powerful real estate mogul Alexander McKuen is planning to erect a massive metropolis on top of Alaska's wilderness called The Emerald. McKuen is clashing with environmentalists over the project, because they claim the city will poison the ecosystem there. McKuen is also having problems with his sixteen year old son Bishop, an underage drinker and smoker who is a terror at his school.Bishop goes joyriding in his boat while he is supposed to be punished, and crashes near the pier where Atuk is and begins to drown, Atuk jumps in and saves Bishop. Bishop befriends Atuk, and takes him out for a night on the town. Alexander decides to have Atuk stay at their mansion until they can put him up in one of their hotels, something McKuen's wife Vera objects to. McKuen reveals to Atuk that Michelle works for him, and tells Atuk he wants him to be a part of an image campaign for McKuen's project, Atuk accepts. Bishop is sent off to military school, and is angry at Atuk for having sold out to his father. Michelle and Atuk travel back to Alaska to shoot the commercials for McKuen's Emerald project, in an attempt to reassure the environmentalists who are critical of the project. Atuk is put into dark makeup and is put through primitive Inuit paces, which makes him feel unnatural. But as they work together, Atuk and Michelle realize that they like each other very much. At a viewing of the commercial, Atuk realizes that by editing, McKuen has used him to sell his message. Atuk now knowing that he's been taken advantage of, breaks Bishop out of the military academy and using a dog sled, hurries to a hearing about plans for The Emerald and convinces everyone there that he was wrong to endorse McKuen's plans because the project will be bad for the land. With all of the investors for the project pulled out, McKuen and Bishop reconcile. Atuk returns to his village, but the next day Michelle arrives in a plane asking him to go to Hawaii with her. Atuk accepts and the two fly off in the plane…with Bishop in the Co-Pilot's seat!

Alleged curse

Atuk is most infamous, however, for supposedly being cursed and, at least partly responsible for the deaths of several major comedic actors in the 1980s and 1990s. The Atuk Curse has become one of the better known urban legends of Hollywoodmarker. Its first victim, supposedly, was John Belushi, who had read the script and was reportedly enthusiastic about taking on the role of Atuk. Shortly afterwards, he was found dead of a drug overdose in 1982.

After Belushi's death the part was offered to comedian Sam Kinison, who accepted it in 1988. Kinison filmed at least one scene for the film before he grew dissatisfied with the script and demanded parts of it be re-written, halting production. His leaving the film led the production company to file a lawsuit against him which was a large part in of making him destitute when it finally settled. Not long after, while talks were underway to continue the project, Kinison died in a car crash in 1992.

The curse supposedly struck again in 1994 when John Candy, who had been approached for the role of Atuk, was reading the script when he suddenly died of a heart attack, on March 4 (the day before the 12th anniversary of Belushi's death). It was around this point in the production's history that the press began to speak of a curse. Some believe the curse struck twice that year, since in November Michael O'Donoghue died of a cerebral hemorrhage. O'Donoghue was a writer and comedian who was also a friend of Belushi and Kinison and, the story goes, had read the script (in some versions even worked on it) before recommending it to them.

The final victim of the Atuk Curse, to date, is said to be Chris Farley, who idolized John Belushi. Like his idol, he was up for the role of Atuk, and was about to accept when, also like his idol, he died of a drug overdose in December 1997. According to some versions the curse would strike once more, only six months later in May 1998 when Farley's friend and former Saturday Night Live cast-mate, Phil Hartman, was murdered by his wife. Farley is said to have shown the Atuk script to Hartman, before his death, and was encouraging him to take a co-starring role.

Recent years

Atuk has not been and, due to its infamy (along with the fact so many involved with it seem to keep dying), in all likelihood never will be made into a film. A copy of the script was purportedly put up for auction on eBay in recent years. The curse has been a featured topic on several TV shows and documentaries. Coincidentally, the author of the novel on which it is based, Richler, and writer of the afterword Gzowski both died peacefully in 2001 and 2002 respectively, after enjoying long lives and successful careers.

The movie was also referenced in the commentary track for 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, in which Adam McKay repeatedly pitches a screenplay called "Eskimo in New York" to Will Ferrell. Will remarks several times that he doesn't think it will make a good movie, and refuses to be a part of it.


  • Mordecai Richler, The Incomparable Atuk, New Canadian Library, 1989, afterword by Peter Gzowski

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