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Media Life: Lost 1950s best-seller, movie boast Auburn characters, settings

“Not as a Stranger” detailed lives of Auburn doctor, local residents
By: Gus Thomson/Media Life
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AUBURN CA - When your Auburn grandfather is the thinly veiled subject of a book that turns into a best-seller and then a major motion picture, is it too much of a stretch to get the writing bug yourself? Born in Auburn and now living in Lincoln Hills, neophyte author David Kindopp has just self-published “Manana Doesn’t Mean Tomorrow.” It’s a true story about Kindopp’s life as an erstwhile charter-boat skipper in Mazatlan – peppered with his misadventures as well as adventures. Sixty years ago, Kindopp was a 4-year-old living in Auburn and his family was about to get their 15 minutes of fame, thanks to novelist Morton Thompson. Virtually forgotten today, Thompson wrote a brick of a book based around characters he encountered in the Auburn area while living in the community in the late 1940s. The novel – about an ambitious doctor and the travails of the medical world – struck a nerve with Eisenhower-era America and became one of the biggest-selling books of 1954. A year later the book was turned into a major motion picture, with Stanley Kramer directing and a cast that included Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra and Olivia De Havilland. A hit at the box-office, the film – like the novel – has failed to pass the test of time. It was only last year, for instance, that the movie was released on DVD. The book has long been out of print. Inspiration on a house call David Kindopp’s grandfather was Dr. David Mervin Kindopp, an Auburn doctor. Thompson, according to Kindopp’s grandson’s recollection, worked two years as a lab technician in the 1940s with the doctor in Auburn. One day, Kindopp invited Thompson to travel with him for a house call to Applegate where two elderly women lived, scratching out a living baking bread that they sold through an Auburn store. At the end of the visit, Thompson was visibly inspired. “Dave, I’m going to write a book,” he was quoted by Kindopp as saying. “It will be called ‘Not as a Stranger.’” The title was a quote from the Book of Job but also at tribute to Kindopp’s ability to visit patients “not as a stranger.” Kindopp was the prototype for the novel’s “Dr. Runkleman” but it would have been “Dr. Kindopp” in the book if he hadn’t declined, citing an ethical conflict of interest. Auburn also goes by another name – “Greenville.” When the film started shooting, Kindopp was called to Hollywood to provide guidance on the character to Kramer, the Journal reported in a 1971 article that quoted the doctor. On a Placercentric sidenote, one of the character actors in the film was Lon Chaney Jr., who knew Applegate well. He had relatives who owned an antique store there, just off what was then Highway 40. Auburn had its now barely remembered moment in the sun, with several characters in the book based on locals. His grandson remembers Dr. Kindopp passing away in the late 1970s – ending a life that had started in the latter half of the 19th century in South Dakota and included a migration on foot to Canada’s Alberta to settle and farm. David Kindopp, the doctor’s grandson, recalls that the proud physician would easily reminisce about the circumstances surrounding “Not as a Stranger,” his friendship with Thompson and the movie that followed. Charles Bickford, a veteran character actor and three-time Oscar nominee, played the Runkleman character onscreen. Author died young Thompson was a best-selling author but died before he could be celebrated. Born in 1907, he died in the summer of 1953 in Ledyard, Conn. at the age of 45. There would be no follow-up to a hit novel to perhaps seal his reputation as an author for the ages. For the younger Kindopp, now 64, moving into the realm of writing is a chance to reconnect while also telling a story that he says mixes a colorful cast of characters with some adventure. “Imagine Jimmy Buffett as the first mate, Dr. Wayne Dyer as the cook, Ernest Hemingway the helmsman and Jack London as the navigator and you get a pretty good idea about the crew in the author’s head who helped shape this adventure,” Kindopp said. And maybe a dash of Morton Thompson. Media Life’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. Also hear Thomson most Fridays at 6 p.m. on Dave Rosenthal’s drive-time radio show on KAHI 950 AM. He’s also a regular guest on Capital Public Radio’s “Insight.” And you can catch up with Thomson on Twitter at AJ_Media_Life.