Do people actually read here in Hollywood?
In point of fact, they do.
And among the scripts and books they have to read, when Hollywood-ites read for fun, they often turn to tomes about themselves. But which books about Hollywood are "classics" here in the 310 area code? Which are the most beloved and most truthful? And which have been taken to heart? Here then are the Top Ten Most Influential Hollywood Hardcovers:
10. Memo by David O. Selznick.
Our picture of what a producer does has never been better illuminated than in this inside-the-head look at the legendary David O. Selznick. Chronicled in Benzedrine-fueled memos to directors, writers and studio chiefs, on classic films like Gone With The Wind and Rebecca, Memo shows what it takes to shoot for perfection and occasionally achieve it. Selznick's wild rages, fights with Hitchcock, and tussles with actors, are all here in this 1971 document dump. Re-released in paperback with a foreword by Roger Ebert, Memo is an X-ray of the million decisions that make the difference between good and great, and a revealing look at a personality driven to demand the latter.
9. What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg.
And speaking of drive, nowhere in the canon of moviedom is Hollywood personified more acutely than in this landmark novel. Though the screenwriting scene in Fitzgerald's Last Tycoon is most-quoted, and Bruce Wagner has updated the archetype in his cell phone trilogy (especially I'm Losing You) hustler Sammy Glickremains the Horatio Alger-on-steroids champ. He is also the most cinematically elusive; another attempt to bring Sammy to the screen, starring and directed by Ben Stiller, is in the Dreamworks pipeline now. But for the sheer joy of livewire paranoia, and the self-love/self-hate that oils the Hollywood gears, nothing tops Schulberg's Rorschach Test.
8. Adventures In The Screen Trade by Willliam Goldman.
In and of itself, this overly-in-love-with-me re-telling of how William Goldman came to write Butch Cassidy and The Not-So Great Waldo Pepper is fun and frothy. But as an in-the-trenches look at the bullshit writers have to put up with, even from themselves, it's a classic, and one line from it has become emblazoned on the mind of every hotshot with a headset: "Nobody Knows Anything" is the smartest thought anyone's ever had to explain why some movies get made and why they succeed or fail. It is a line that it heard 14,000 times a day now to justify all kinds of things. And next to the ever-popular "Oh... Shit!" may be Goldman's best.
7. You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again by Julia Phillips.
An angry screed that got pegged as brilliantly written for its scorched earth willingness to burn friends and enemies, Phillips gave the Jackie Collins tell-all a coke-amped overhaul and made the world safe for memoirs by producer chicks. Phillips followed up with the not-so-well-received Driving Under The Influence and before she died became a kind of a film world Lenny Bruce. Lunch spawned a slew of books by producers, from the great-titled Hello, He Lied by Lynda Obst to the incomprehensibly-titled They Can Kill You But They Can't Eat You by the late and beloved Dawn Steel (a catch phrase I still don't understand) to the radioactive self-worship of Robert Evans' The Kid Stays In The Picture. But Phillips' cry was the loudest and the best.
6. Hollywood Babylon by Kenneth Anger.
The recent Hollywood, Interrupted tried it. So have half a dozen other tell-all surveys about the seamy side of filmdom. But for sheer slash-n-trash nothing beats Hollywood Babylon for balls-out exposure of the peccadilloes PMK would rather you not see. Telling all about the drug addiction, sexual proclivities and unsolved murders of early Hollywood, it's like a really, really good issue of National Enquirer. All that's missing is a more recent update of this camp classic. Anybody?
5. Indecent Exposure by David McClintock.
The David Begelman affair of the late-seventies opened up Hollywood's dirtiest secret -- its bookkeeping methods -- and nothing is more byzantine or more mysterious. Reading much like a detective story, Wall Street Journal reporter McClintock's timeless work tells how actor Cliff Robertson discovered a loose thread in Hollywood's finely-knit cashmere sweater and decided to pull, unraveling a complex maze of backstabbing, double dealing and flat out greed. It ended with Robertson being blacklisted for a time and Begelman committing suicide, but Hollywood never got over the shock of this Exposure.
3. Hit And Run by Nancy Griffin and Kim Masters.
Jon Peters and Peter Guber should be movie stars. They are in many ways far more interesting than any of the actors they hire, and this book proves it. Hit and Run tells the tale of how these two producing legends (Batman, Rainman) took over Sony and gave their foreign investors the kamikaze ride of a lifetime. Hilarious, outrageous, and entertainingly written, a Life Lesson for us all about when and how to take it to the max.
3. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind.
Think movies are bad now? Then slip back to a time when mood rings were king and movies were art -- even though everyone was too stoned to know it. Fueled by fantastic stories of sex and drugs excess as the 60's generation took over Hollywood, it is also a reappraisal of that time pre-Jaws, pre-Stars Wars, when the revolutionaries had a chance -- and "blew it." It was that brief gap between Old Hollywood and the Gulf-Western corporate-ization of the studios we know and love today. More than any other, this book explains "How We Got Here." Biskind's follow-up Down And Dirty Pictures about the rise of the indie world in the 80s and 90s is underrated and equally fun. Honorable Mention: The Operator by the late Tom King.
2. Anything by Neal Gabler -- From his biography of Walter Winchell to Life: The Movie to An Empire Of Their Own, no one writes about Hollywood with more insight than culture critic Neal Gabler. To understand this intersection of time and place, Gabler has brought sociological understanding to the party and dissects Hollywood with amazing skill. Gabler can also be seen on AMC and on cable as a talking head nowadays and continues to have a unique perspective on the bottom line: what Hollywood means to American culture and history.
1. Screenplay by Syd Field -- Though out of style now (like the cheat sheet you ditch after the test is over) no single book has been more responsible for changing how Hollywood does its job. First published in 1984, it codified the screenplay in a way that allowed writers and development executives to talk to each other. Field spawned an entire industry of screenwriting gurus like Robert McKee, author of the influential Story, and John Truby. But what Field also did was put it into terms an MBA could understand, complete with charts and graphs. It came along at the perfect time in the history of Hollywood when "the poster" was king, and it helped make blockbusters that could be turned out like link sausages. Though out of date now, and not taking into account the Pulp Fiction era that was essentially a rebellion against codifiers like Field, no book in the last 20 years has had more impact and whose influence continues even today.