Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Keeping It Real in Hollywood

Paul here.

Are you behind in your reading? Did you vow to read every novel to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, starting with Herman Wouk's "The Caine Mutiny"; in 1952. And you made it as far as Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea" in 1953.

Oh, sure, back in school, you devoured "To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee's 1960 masterpiece. And you hit a hot streak starting in 1980 with Norman Mailer's "The Executioner's Song," John Kennedy Toole's posthumous "A Confederacy of Dunces," John Updike's "Rabbit Is Rich," Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," and William Kennedy's "Ironweed."

But admit it. You're way behind, and not just with Pulitzer winners. Books are stacked on your nightstand, piled in the corner of the bedroom, crammed into every nook and cranny in the house. Sure, you intended to read everything. But once you fell behind, later books cut in line like maniac drivers on the Harbor Freeway.

Well, that's my situation. I'm way behind in my reading. How far? Gulp. I finally read "What Makes Sammy Run?", Budd Schulberg's 1941 dissection of Hollywood greed and ambition.

Nobody's ever done it better. And amazingly, the book, set in the 1930's, still rings true. Sammy Glick was a cutthroat careerist, and boy, did he run. He ran "with death as the only finish line...without a single principle to slow him down."

The Hollywood novel seems to be a genre all its own. A partial list includes "The Last Tycoon" (F. Scott Fitzgerald), "The Day of the Locust" (Nathanael West), and more recently, "Play It as It Lays" (Joan Didion), "The Player" (Michael Tolkin), and "Get Shorty" (Elmore Leonard). There are many more, too many to mention, not even counting Jackie Collins' "Hollywood Wives."

(We recently caught a performance of David Mamet's sly yet searing "Speed the Plow," a theatrical look at duplicity and mendacity in Hollywood).

All of which leads me to a new release this week. My friend, Bill Bryan, a witty and wily TV comedy writer, is out with "Keep It Real," a savagely funny look at reality television.

In its review, Publishers Weekly proclaimed that Bryan has "a real gift for satire." I second that notion. Bill's first signing will be here in town, at the incomparable Dutton's in Brentwood Friday at 7 p.m. Then, he'll be at Village Books in Pacific Palisades Saturday at 5 p.m. and next Monday at the venerable Book Soup in West Hollywood at 7 p.m.

This is Bill's first novel, so this weekend has got to be both exciting and terrifying. I published my first book, "To Speak for the Dead," in 1990. My first signing was at Books & Books in Coral Gables, FL. The place was packed; all my friends came; some bought half-a-dozen books to give as presents. A year later, my second book, "Night Vision," came out. Most of my friends, feeling they'd already done their duty, stayed away. So, enjoy this weekend Bill! A first novel only happens once.

(I see on Amazon that an unsigned, "like new" first edition of "To Speak for the Dead" is selling for $60, or triple its original price. My guess is that it'll be on the shelves for a while).


My second favorite movie is "Chinatown." Robert Towne's dialogue is masterful in conveying character by saying a lot with a little. Here's the villain, millionaire Noah Cross (John Huston) speaking to Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson):

"'Course I'm respectable. I'm old. Politicians, ugly buildings, and whores all get respectable if they last long enough."

And my favorite movie? "Lawrence of Arabia." But we'll save that for another time.


Sylvester Stallone pleads guilty to unlawfully bringing vials of human growth hormone into Australia.

In a related development, Baseball Commissioner Bud (Lite) Selig announces he can't make up his mind whether he'll go see any more Stallone movies.



  1. Paul, you described all of our TBR piles with frightening accuracy. I saw the movie "What Makes Sammy Run" and loved it. In fact, I'm a sucker for any kind of Hollywood story. Bill's sounds great. One more book on the pile...

  2. What am I reading?

    I plead guilty to cowardly going back to old favorites instead of bravely tackling the pile. Right now, it's LUCKY JIM by Kingsley Amis. Just before that, it was CITY by Clifford D. Simak. And before that, it was THE FEAR SIGN by Margery Allingham.

    The only constant book in my life is the Oxford English Dictionary. (Note my use of the word "cowardly" as an adverb instead of an adjective. I wouldn't have had the courage to do that without the OED, even though the most recent usage it lists is 1890.)

    I was astonished to find out that there are people in Hollywood who actually read.

  3. Patty,
    Re: "What Makes Sammy Run?"

    There was a TV movie many years ago. There was a Broadway musical starring Steve Lawrence in the 1960's. But no feature film yet.

    It's been in and out of development for decades. And that is yet another Hollywood story.

    But someday, someone will make the picture about a young man "with big dreams, hungry and without shame."

  4. One of my favorite Hollywood novels is "The Deal" by Peter Lefcourt.

    My TBR is out of control and will probably remain so forever. I count at least 43 books on my TBR and I know there are several I wish to re-read and there's a new Harry Potter coming out in July and the latest Rick Riordan's out and I haven't picked it up yet, and also I haven't picked up Harlan Coben's latest or Randy Wayne White's, and I see Jeffery Deavers' latest is coming out in paperback this month, and there's a couple I want coming out in June (that I know about), and... oh shit.

  5. I probably saw it on TV. It was the Player I saw in the theatre. Or did I...

  6. For the first time in months I'm getting caught up in TBR published books but I'm still nine to fifteen months behind on manuscripts people have handed me.

    I just started God's Children by Harry Coyle.