Did you know that Homer Simpson is a character in 'Day of the Locust'?
January 1, 2006 10:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for tales about the dark side of Hollywood, showbiz, and the gossip/tabloid industry. I've read "Day of the Locust" and "The Mailroom: Hollywood History from the Bottom Up", seen "All About Eve" and "Sweet Smell of Success" and "Showgirls", am halfway through Julia Phillips' "You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again", and am planning on reading Joe Eszterhas' "Hollywood Animal: A Memoir". I'm not looking for gossip, per se, as much as I am looking for explorations, whether first-hand or fictional, of how screwed up the cult of celebrity is. Suggestions for books, movies, musicals, blogs, or whatever would be welcomed.
posted by Asparagirl to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Kid Stays In The Picture, whether it be in book, cd or movie form (although I recommend the cd and the movie more, you just have to hear his voice tell the tale).
posted by cyphill at 10:25 PM on January 1, 2006

Edward Jay Epstein writes a lot about the economics of Hollywood. He has a web page, and does regular pieces for Slate.
posted by Brian James at 10:30 PM on January 1, 2006

James Ellroy's "underworld trilogy" touches upon the sleazier side of Hollywood from the 1940s through '60s.
posted by Rothko at 10:32 PM on January 1, 2006

The movie "Barton Fink."
posted by johngoren at 10:33 PM on January 1, 2006

Kenneth Anger's "Hollywood Babylon" and "Hollywood Babylon II" are train wreck fascinating (more historical golden age of Hollywood stuff than modern). Likely more (dark, sordid, creepy, sensational-tabloidy) gossipy than you want, but there's a lot in there to work with that you can extrapolate from. Both are often easily found in used book stores, and the first one is by far the more interesting of the two.
posted by biscotti at 10:34 PM on January 1, 2006

Mommie Dearest, by Christina Crawford
posted by hermitosis at 10:43 PM on January 1, 2006

For gossip, there's Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the sex'n'drugs'rock'n'roll generation saved Hollywood. It's trashy, but fun. Apparently, it's also a documentary, though I've not seen it.

For fictional insight, see Robert Altman's film The Player, a dark comedy about a Hollywood film producer based on a a great novel(ella) of the same name by Michael Tolkin).
posted by hot soup girl at 10:44 PM on January 1, 2006

I'd just caution against putting too much stock in the Hollywood Babylon books. Anger's take on the Fatty Arbuckle case, for one example, is over the top in ways not supported by the evidence. I'd recommend the 1975 movie version of "Day of the Locust" as well as the book; Karen Black and Donald Sutherland are great. Despite its flaws, the film is truly beautiful and takes a nicely caustic romp through the empty train wreck that is Hollywood. Definitely worth a couple of hours.
posted by mediareport at 10:46 PM on January 1, 2006

"City of Nets".
posted by gallois at 10:54 PM on January 1, 2006

Gavin Lambert's collection The Slide Area is very fine 50s take on the company town.
posted by Scram at 11:11 PM on January 1, 2006

"The rags-to-riches-to-rags story of Troy Duffy, a blue collar Boston twenty something that struck a dream movie deal with Miramax in 1997 to direct the $15 million project "Boondock Saints" from his own script. It was a deal that received worldwide attention. But when Miramax jumped ship and put the film in turnaround, Duffy's overnight success soon starts to crash and burn."
posted by Tenuki at 11:13 PM on January 1, 2006

I received these two Hollywood tell-all type books for Christmas: Haven't actually finished the first or started the second, but they both look what you're describing...and great fun as well.

You might also be interested in books about the Black Dahlia murder as well as Clive Barker's Coldheart Canyon (fictional, but it gets that ridiculousness-of-the-cult-of-celebrity thing down pat).
posted by jenh at 11:19 PM on January 1, 2006

Killer Instinct: Jane Hamsher's very honest and unintentionally hilarious account of serving as one of the producers on Natural Born Killers. Hamsher doesn't seem to realize that she comes across as a complete and total bitch. And that's what really makes it worth reading..

Ben Stein used to write about his misadventures in Hollywood. A number of his writings on this subject were collected in a book called Hollywood Days, Hollywood Nights: The Diary of a Mad Screenwriter. It's a personal favorite of mine. The only thing is, Stein never included names or dates; he'd just say "a producer" or "an actor" or whatever.

Both of these books deal extensively with the business of making movies; studio execs, script changes, egotism, etc. There's not much in the way of sex. Hamsher's book includes some discussion of Oliver Stone's drug use (Gasp! Shock!), but that's about as far as it goes.
posted by Clay201 at 11:27 PM on January 1, 2006

another vote for Killer Instinct. Tad Friend also occasionally turns his glance towards the entertainment industry; a collection of his stories for The New Yorker and other pubs: Lost in Mongolia: Travels in Hollywood and Other Foreign Lands
posted by gac at 11:54 PM on January 1, 2006

Scorsese's The King of Comedy, with Jerry Lewis and Robert DeNiro, seems to fit the bill. And I'll vouch for Bendis' brief autobio comic Fortune and Glory; the dialogue is a hoot as it conveys the lunacy of Hollywood negotiations.
posted by mediareport at 12:01 AM on January 2, 2006

Postcards From The Edge
posted by airguitar at 12:06 AM on January 2, 2006

There's a book with a title somewhere along the lines of "How To Be Famous In Two Weeks" - it's not as dark, and it literally outlines the steps to being famous in a short time (it's based on a magazine article by the same authors) but it subtly shows how strange the world of rame really is.
posted by divabat at 12:07 AM on January 2, 2006

By the time I finish typing some of these will be seconds or thirds:

Overnight (documentary)
What Just Happened? (and other books by Art Linson)
The Player (book and film)
Force Majeure (novel by Bruce Wagner)
Kid Stays in the Picture (read it and see it. they're both excellent)
I Find Your Lack of Faith Disturbing (blog)
Killer Instinct (book)
Outrageous Conduct (book)
Which Lie Did I Tell? (and other books by William Goldman)
Peter Biskind's books "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls" and "Down and Dirty Pictures"
Hello, He Lied (book by Linda Obst)
I Was Interupted by Nicholas Ray
Any of Spike Lee's books
Final Cut (book about making of Heaven's Gate) by steven bach
You're Only as Good as Your Next One (book by mike medavoy)
Hit and Run (book)
High Concept : Don Simpson and the Hollywood Cultures of Excess (book)
Its All Your Fault : How To Make It As A Hollywood Assistant (book)
A Decade Under the Influence (documentary)
Swimming with Sharks (movie)
Celebrity (woody allen movie)
Flyerman (terrific documentary - not about hollywood but about someone who wants to be a celebrity)
What Makes Sammy Run? (novel by Budd Schulberg)
The book Sweet Smell of Success is also good and worth a read even though you saw the film.
The Grove Book of Hollywood
Battle of Brazil (book)
Mulholland Drive (film, my previous askme post on it)
If They Move, Kill 'Em (biography of Sam Peckinpah--sections from 60s on are very interesting)
Cinemania (docu about film nuts)
All That Jazz (not really about Hollywood but about celebrity -- a pseudo bio of Bob Fosse)
Any of the books in the The Screenwriter Talks to the Screenwriter series
posted by dobbs at 12:34 AM on January 2, 2006

Not great lit, but nasty and funny, is Bruce Wagner's Tinseltown trilogy: I'm Losing You, I'll Let You Go, and Still Holding. I'd also recommend the Showtime series Beggars and Choosers, which Buena Vista was planning to release on DVD in the near future.
posted by rob511 at 12:41 AM on January 2, 2006

Dobbs' list is extensive and excellent, but left out "The Big Knife," which is actually pretty hard to find because it was essentially blacklisted from Hollywood. We have it on DVD, however.
posted by Brittanie at 1:40 AM on January 2, 2006

Last month at Slate Michael Kinsley had an interesting thesis that HBO’s Hollywood–centered programs were the late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century equivalents of Jane Austen’s work. It’s more defensible than it sounds. I bring it up because it bears tangentially on your question, giving some sense of why “Hollywood insider” productions might work, as well as recommending some.

And Brittanie, who are “we”?
posted by cgc373 at 3:08 AM on January 2, 2006

My husband and I. (Just bragging, that's all).
posted by Brittanie at 4:05 AM on January 2, 2006

Also, we just bought Sunset Boulevard but haven't watched it yet.
posted by Brittanie at 5:31 AM on January 2, 2006

Neal Gabler's excellent biography of Walter Winchell covers this subject, especially in its discussion of Winchell's later career, when he became a Hollywood gossip hound in addition to a Broadway gossip hound.
posted by Dr. Wu at 5:52 AM on January 2, 2006

Julia Phillips was the model for Britt in Erica Jong's How to Save Your Own Life--although Jong is kinder to her in her nonfiction. Read Fear of Flying first.
posted by brujita at 6:05 AM on January 2, 2006

Edward Jay Epstein also wrote a full-length book, and Neal Gabler has written at least one other excellent book about the biz. Besides that, I greatly enjoyed Julie Salamon's 'The Devil's Candy,' about the making of 'Bonfire of the Vanities,' and Ian Grey's 'Sex, Stupidity and Greed.' John Gregory Dunne has written a few very funny and insightful books about his and Joan Didion's Hollywood experiences (their script work, however, isn't necessarily to my taste). Check out Julia Phillips 'Driving Under the Affluence,' too, of course (though you can probably skip 'The Drudge Manifesto,' which if I understand correctly she ghost-wrote). There's a book by a historian/political scientist type who worked with Oliver Stone, but its name escapes me. Some of these may be repeats--there are already some great suggestions in this post.
posted by box at 7:50 AM on January 2, 2006

Indeed, Gabler's biography of Winchell is excellent. (Michael Herr's Walter Winchell: A Novel is also interesting.) So is Gabler's An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, though I don't know if it fills the "cult of celebrity" criteria.

Some blogs that may or may not work for you:

The Superficial
Pink is the new Blog
A Socialite's Life (also, see their blog list for many more links)

Films that may fit the criteria:

What Price Hollywood?
The Bad and the Beautiful
A Star Is Born ('54 version)

On preview, yes, Devil's Candy is very good.
posted by dobbs at 8:16 AM on January 2, 2006

I third (?) Julie Salamon's Devil's Candy about the making of the Bonfire of the Vanities, but also it's predecessor Lillian Ross's Picture on the making of Red Badge of Courage are both by journalists who were there to report on how the films get made. Picture doesn't delve too much in to the dark side of Hollywood but does show the heartless business side. There's also a new book out on the Black Dahlia murder called The Black Dahlia files by Donald Wolfe that just came out.
posted by rodz at 9:22 AM on January 2, 2006

Maybe "How To Lose Friends and Alienate People" by Toby Young is up your alley.
posted by elisabeth r at 9:23 AM on January 2, 2006

dobbs' mention of Budd Schulberg reminds me I recently watched "A Face in the Crowd," a 1957 flick by Schulberg and Elia Kazan, starring Andy Griffith as a charming backwoods hustler who quickly becomes a radio and then national TV star, in the process turning into a monstrous political figure with a huge audience he despises. It's overblown at times (hey, it's Kazan), but is still worth watching for a classic, rather prescient mid-50s look at the perils of celebrity.
posted by mediareport at 10:05 AM on January 2, 2006

I wanted to echo you should definately read:

Hit and Run
How producers John Peters and Peter Gruber "took Sony for a ride". The level of excess is astounding -- shows you how large corporations will throw money around so blindly for the lure of Hollywood.

Devil's Candy
A really great book about the making of a really bad movie -- The Bonfire of the Vanities. The author was given complete access during the making of the film: she ends up seeing how compromise after compromise can lead really good people to make a really bad film.

Killer Instinct
Very dishy book from one of the producers of Natural Born Killers. Everyone involved ends up looking pretty bad (Oliver Stone, Quentin Tarantino, the author, her producing partner, etc.) This is the book that motivated Quentin Tarantino to deck the author's producing partner in a Hollywood bar.

and wanted to warn you to stay far far away from:

Monster: Living off the Big Screen
About screenwriter John Gregory Dunne's experience with his screenplay being turned into a movie -- Up Close and Personal. Really awful.
posted by jca at 10:23 AM on January 2, 2006

Perfect Blue
posted by SPrintF at 10:24 AM on January 2, 2006

Not exactly cult-of-celebrity books, but packed with great stories about how monster egos will trump creativity and talent every time, are two books by David Hughes: Tales from Development Hell and The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made.

Disclaimer: David is a friend, but also a kick-ass writer and a regular writer and reviewer for Empire.
posted by Hogshead at 11:07 AM on January 2, 2006

A Way of Life Like Any Other (novel) by Darcy Obrien. A bit like West's books, and well worth the read.
posted by OmieWise at 6:29 AM on January 3, 2006

A lot of screenwriters have their own websites, just filled with interesting tales:

• Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio's Wordplayer has such articles as Building the Bomb, about their experiences on what ended up being a really bad movie.
• John August wrote Big Fish and the recent Charlie & The Chocolate Factory remake.
Josh Friedman has a lot of great stories, like the one about how he co-wrote Spielberg's War of the Worlds and yet nobody knows who he is.
• John Rogers was a writer of the much-panned Catwoman movie, and he doesn't feel too good about it.
posted by yankeefog at 5:51 AM on January 4, 2006

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