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Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel (Screen Classics) Hardcover – March 19, 2009

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Product Details

  • Series: Screen Classics
  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: The University Press of Kentucky; First Edition edition (March 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813125383
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813125381
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,485,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


""Given that Ashby made several important films that continue to have substantial impact on filmmaking and as cultural references, and given the fact that Dawson tells the Ashby story in a fascinating and involving way, this work will represent an important addition to the study of film." --Timothy Meyer, coauthor of Mediated Communication: A Social Action Perspective" --

""Ashby's quiet genius brought us the some of the best American films of the '70s -- Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Coming Home, and Being There -- movies which have not lost their compassion, relevance or unforced artfulness with the passage of time. Dawson's biography provides a thorough and insightful overview of why Ashby was so highly regarded by friends and colleagues, not just as a filmmaker, but as a remarkable human being." --Lee Hill, author of A Grand Guy: The Art and Life of Terry Southern" --

""Film scholars have frequently lamented the lack of a Hal Ashby biography. Now, there is one and it will long remain the definitive study. In addition to making a close analysis of Ashby's work, Nick Dawson has also sought out the people best qualified to provide the most informed and incisive insights into his personal life and professional achievement. There should be no excuse to deny Ashby his place among the most important American directors of the post-studio era." --David Parkinson, author of History of Film" --

""Scrupulously researched and sensitively rendered, Being Hal Ashby is the definitive biography of a protean, gone-too-soon talent." --David Stenn, author of Bombshell: The Life and Death of Jean Harlow" --

""Finally somebody has put down in print -- and in fascinating, intricate detail -- what so many have known for so long, and in doing so has deepened our knowledge of Ashby's contributions to American cinema. Hal Ashby and his films are deserving of great attention; Nick Dawson's book is the first important step towards making this so." --Aaron Hunter, Department of Film Studies, Queen's University Belfast" --

""Finally, a book -- and a very good one indeed -- on Hal Ashby, the neglected, least appreciated director of the 1970s. Hopefully, Dawson's excellent volume will revive his reputation and get him the attention he deserves." --Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood" --

""Glides through Ashby's wrecked personal relationships, wisely choosing to dwell instead on the work of a man whose career consumed his life. A worthwhile portrait by a capable biographer." --Kirkus Reviews" --

""Dawson, an editor at FilmsInFocus, has written a superb biography of this troubled, talented man." --Tucson Citizen" --

""Penetrating, insightful, with keen and precise discussions of each of the director's films, this book is a celebration of Ashby's work and his rebellious spirit." --John Foote," --

""Mention Hal Ashby's name these days and eyes usually glaze with nonrecognition. Start listing the late filmmaker's movies and they glimmer with admiration.... Author Nick Dawson, who wasn't born when Ashby thrived, aims to end that anonymity."" --

""In the first real biography of Ashby, FilmInFocus editor Dawson delivers a book that is simultaneously informative, insightful, and genuinely fun to read." --Library Journal" --

""In this groundbreaking and exhaustively researched biography, Nick Dawson draws on firsthand interviews and personal papers from the Ashby's estate to offer an intimate look at the tumultuous life of an artist unwilling to conform or compromise." --Turner Classic Movies" --

""Dawson's superlative biography is sure to renew interest in the director of Harold and Maude, The Last Detail and Being There. He has written a comprehensive and sympathetic book, generously quoting from interviews from family and collaborators from every period of Ashby's life, as well as from personal letters.... Being Hal Ashby joins Patrick McGilligan's Robert Altman: Jumping off the liff as one of the definitive books on Seventies cinema." --Film Comment" --

""Depicts the director refusing to capitulate to an increasingly corporate industry."-- Village Voice" --

""[Hal's] bad luck, bad decisions, self-destruction due to excess, and stubborn refusal to get his deteriorating health checked out... [are] excellently recounted [this] book."-- indieWIRE" --

""Dawson's impeccably researched and admirably clear-eyed biography reclaims Ashby from the fog of myth and sets his career in perspective, reminding us again what a loss his death was." --DGA Quarterly" --

""It's obvious that Nick Dawson has a deep appreciation of the director's work and his enthusiasm is contagious.... When a book inspires me to reevaluate my own opinions about a filmmaker's career, it's well worth recommending." --Cinebeats" --

""Dawson depicts Ashby's professional and personal relationships in a way that is fittingly yet painfully human." --Anniston Star" --

""Dawson's brilliantly-written biography will long remain the definitive literary exploration of Ashby's work." --Hugh Lilly, Insequential" --

""Films and books strive toward a common goal: telling a story. And very few modern filmmakers are as good at spinning a yard as the late Ashby was, the subject of a penetrating and applause-worthy biography written by film journalist Nick Dawson." --Pop Matters" --

""Rebel is a biography that finally tells the full story of Ashby's unlikely journey from Ogden, Utah to Hollywood." --Facets Features" --

""Nick Dawson should be teaching a course in how to write a Hollywood biography. Being Hal Ashby is note perfect, with the appropriate attention paid to the art and to the artist's messy life." --Creative Loafing" --

""The legendary director... has finally become the subject of a long-overdue biography." --Splice Today" --

""[Ashby's] speedy rise and spectacular swan dive from Tinseltown's high board is an old story, but a fascinating read as relayed by Nick Dawson in his scrupulously researched Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel." --Sunday Star Ledger" --

""A rigorously researched, page-turning biography of the iconic director that is highly recommended." --Filmmaker Magazine" --

""A fascinating and fun read for anyone acquainted with Ashby's work." --GreenCine Daily" --

""Dawson [excels] when reporting on film, and both Beatty and Ashby remain object lessons of filmmakers taking chances at the top, not simply as first-timers with nothing to lose." --Bookforum" --

""Nick Dawson has written the first biography of Ashby, a work that examines the director's tormented personal life and childhood, and traces the troubled personal skein into an exemplary body of work in motion pictures." --Editors Guild Magazine" --

About the Author

Nick Dawson is editor at and writes a weekly interview column, The Director Interviews, for Filmmaker magazine. Originally from the UK, he has written on film for Empire, Uncut, the London Times, and the Scotsman.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James Sturch on May 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've written capsules on Lean, Losey, and Hawks, all fine directors, yet; we finally have a biography that surpasses my interest on those mentioned. This was a quiet release, much like Hal himself I suppose. Quiet, unassuming, peaceful? How can anyone not love the beauty of Harold and Maude? The synthesis of talent in The Last Detail? Being wholly independent has no real relevance now in film. It doesn't exist. It doesn't exist in the 'indie' world of film, nor in Sundance. Like everything else that was once pure, the notion of being independent is now corrupt. Hal Ashby was the last detail in the world of truly independent artists. Finally, we have a biography on the man. It's a straightforward, chronological account of the editor / director with evident research, detail, and care for Hal. There's been little since, personally, I continued to refer back to an old issue of Premiere magazine, Oct 2006, that featured a decent profile of Ashby. Another profile showed up on the Internet, which revealed the many current directors paying tribute to their 'favorite' Hal Ashby films. That was it. Thank you Mr. Dawson for your steadfast pursuit on writing this fine account. No other director was made a strand of films in this certain Hal vein: The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail, Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and Being There. The tone and spirit were consistent in all his films, a spirit that rested in a love for life and a pursuit for all things pure, which define an independent spirit. Battling producers toward the end, Hal remained true to this spirit, as a great artist should. This is a great book. This is the end.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By jgc on June 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ashby was once a solidly A-list director, helming pictures that were not only startling and fresh in their time but which still hold up extremely well (which is why his work speaks to so many contemporary directors--most obviously Wes Anderson, whose style owes an enormous debt to Ashby, particularly his work in 'Harold and Maude'). In the '70s, he delivered five classic films in a row; this remarkable winning streak can go toe to toe with the work in that decade by Coppola, Altman, and Scorsese. And yet, while those directors have been celebrated to the gills (rightfully so), Ashby has fallen into something that looks an awful lot like obscurity. A tragic--but not totally surprising--fate for this workhorse, this hippie workaholic who routinely took on extra responsibility, was almost freakishly generous, and rarely got his due.

Author Dawson spent a decade researching and writing this biography, and the results do shed much light on Ashby's life. But aside from filling in the factual gaps, the book seeks to recognize Ashby's artistry, clarifying what his specific strengths were and refuting the absurd idea that this deep and protean artist was merely a hired gun. Invariably it was those films confiscated and re-cut by the suits that tanked; most of the films on which Ashby was allowed to complete his vision were commercial and critical hits. Dawson also debunks Ashby's rep as a drug casualty: while Hal did love his weed, and famously slept only a few hours per night, the book makes it clear that he remained professional to the end.

Sometimes I wish that Dawson were more penetrating--in regard to the films as well as the psychology of the subject himself--but in terms of raw material, this book is an invaluable first step in re-evaluating a great but strangely forgotten artist.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By CHARLES MULVEHILL on December 26, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Well researched and told with honesty and flair. Nick manages to catch the essence of Ashby along with the warts that plagued his career, life and relationships. Having been a part of Hal's life for 20 years, i can attest to its veracity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ian Bernard on May 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Nick Lawson has written a well researched and engrossing biography of Hal Ashby, one of Hollywood's most interesting movie directors. It also tells of the intricate deal making that goes on behind every movie and the relationship between the money people and the artists. And sometimes the effect is devastating to the final product. So the biography is not only a careful description of Ashby's complicated life, but also a detailed look at how movies come to be made. This is an important book for all students of the movie business.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By James A. Davidson on March 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Finally...a full length biography of one of Hollywood's most enigmatic film directors - Hal Ashby - has been written by Nick Dawson. This book was thoroughly researched and gives the reader tremendous insight into the background of the director of, amongst other films, "Harold and Maude", "Shampoo" and "Being There". Dawson puts to rest a few of the myths about Ashby's life and background, including the circumstances of the unusual death of the director's father, while helping the reader understand the forces that shaped the personality of this intriguing filmmaker. From his early days in Ogden, Utah to his highly successful career as an editor and director, to his untimely early death, Dawson leaves no stone unturned in this landmark biography. Highly recommended for anyone interested in films of the 1960's and 70's.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By larry nelson on March 5, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is an absolutely wonderful biography. Nick Dawson has given this iconic director the book he deserves.... A page turner that fills in the story with great detail.
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More About the Author

Nick Dawson is the managing editor at Filmmaker magazine. His 2009 book, Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel, is the first biography of Hal Ashby.

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