Life into Art: Novelist John Irving

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Garp Creator John Irving strikes again The pieces of the dream machine are in place. Scaffolding has been erected against a brick building for a shot involving a small boy who nearly falls off a roof. At the edge of a vast lawn, a fake rock wall and Styrofoam cannon mark the location of the sex scene. The trucks that moved the cameras, props and coils of electrical spaghetti have been converted into Teamster poker parlors. For the hot, thirsty crew that has assembled jv this summer on the bosky Georgian campus of the Millbrook School near Poughkeepsie, N.Y., it is another wrap in the filming of The World According to Garp. But for John Irving, au thor of the 1978 bestseller, and for Robin Williams, the movie's star, the working day has two sweaty hours to go.

Irving, 39, a former collegiate and A.A.U. wrestler, has been hired by Director George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) to coach Williams for Garp's match at Steering School, the fictional New England prep school of the novel. Accompanied by Sons Colin, 16, and Brendan, 11, Irving arrives at the Millbrook gym dressed to grapple: red singlet, kneepads and ear guards that resemble perforated saucers. In preparation for his role as the epical Wrestler-Writer T.S. Garp, "Mork" Williams has selected a modified outer-space look: a shiny blue and green workout suit that encases him from neck to ankles.

Good habits are worth being fanatical about.

—Setting Free the Bears

Williams has his work cut out for him. This is no cheeky celebrity-jock special for weekend TV. His mentor is the most successful "serious" young writer in America. Few novelists are rewarded financially as well as critically. Fewer still make cultural waves. In the '50s J.D. Salinger produced Catcher in the Rye, the Huckleberry Finn for the Silent Generation. Readers in the '60s and early '70s rallied around Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, with its "karass," and the casually philosophical "So it goes," from Slaughterhouse-Five. The end of the decade be longed to Irving and Garpomania: a choice of paperback in six delicious cover colors and T shirts reading I BELIEVE IN GARP and BEWARE OF THE UNDERTOAD—a phrase that Irving attributes to Son Brendan, who once misunderstood a warning about swimming in the ocean.

There is also Irving the physical phenomenon. He has dark, heartthrob good looks. Though he seems slight—he is 5 ft. 8 in. tall and 155 lbs.—his bulk is imposingly carried in a wedge from shoulders to waist. Not since Hemingway has a well-known American writer worked as hard on his body as he has on his prose. Rarely a day goes by when a bout at the typewriter is not followed by a roll on the mat with his sons, a three-to six-mile run or a session bench-pressing weights until he tires. "I do not lift for bulk or definition," he notes, "but for stamina."

He needs it. His activities on the film expanded voluntarily from coaching to advising Scriptwriter Steve Tesich (Breaking Away) how to make Williams a convincing literary hero. Irving also appears briefly in the movie as the referee peering intently into knots of arms and legs. In addition, he is currently finishing two weeks of teaching and readings at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference in Middlebury, Vt., appearing with such

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