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The Year of Magical Thinking

(From John O'Rourke, TODAY Producer)Sixteen months ago, we brought you the story of Joan Didion. One of the nation's most celebrated writers, Didion had just written a memoir at the time about the sudden death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne and the grief she experienced in the wake of his death. The book was called "The Year of Magical Thinking" and in it, Didion chronicled in unsparing

(From John O'Rourke, TODAY Producer)

Sixteen months ago, we brought you the story of Joan Didion. One of the nation's most celebrated writers, Didion had just written a memoir at the time about the sudden death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne and the grief she experienced in the wake of his death. The book was called "The Year of Magical Thinking" and in it, Didion chronicled in unsparing words how her grief drove her literally "crazy." She found herself engaging in what anthropologists call "magical thinking." For example, Didion found herself thinking that if she had an autopsy done on her husband's body, perhaps doctors would find how that there was something minor wrong with him and he would come back. If she kept his shoes, he'd return.

Didion's book turned out to be a surprise best seller. It sold more than 600,000 copies in hardcover. Readers were drawn to it because they identified with Didion's own journey through grief and recovery. But "The Year of Magical Thinking" struck another chord as well: the book told another story in counterpoint: Joan and John's only child, Quintana, was battling for her life at the time that John died. The book details Quintana's struggle to regain her health, only to face repeated setbacks.

There was a tragic counterpoint to Joan Didion's story. Just six weeks before publication of "The Year of Magical Thinking", Quintana died. At the time we did our profile on Joan in December 2005, she was still struggling to come to terms with her daughter's death, which was not included in the book. At the time of our first story on Ms. Didion, she was, she told us, just beginning to grieve for her daughter. 

Fast forward to April 2007. Joan Didion has written her first play, also titled "The Year of Magical Thinking." It is not so much an adaptation of her book, as it is a reworking of the material in her book. But it includes the loss of her daughter. The play stars the incomparable Vanessa Redgrave. When we learned of the fact that Ms. Didion and Ms. Redgrave were teaming up for this extraordinary collaboration, we knew that we wanted to tell part II of this story: how Didion came to write a play (the first in her storied career); why she thought only Redgrave could play the part; why Redgrave wanted so badly to be a part of this project; and why this play has resonated so much with audiences. We sat down with Ms. Didion and Ms. Redgrave on the stage of the Booth Theatre where "The Year of Magical Thinking" is running. These two deeply private women shared with us how they worked together to make  "The Year of Magical Thinking” one of the hottest tickets this season on the Great White Way.