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Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks (Wisconsin Film Studies) Paperback – April 8, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"This first major biography of Brooks is a well-written and insightful study of an unfairly neglected filmmaker. ... An enjoyable read for film buffs and historians. -- Library Journal

A "very welcome biography ... I liked Richard Brooks a great deal, and I like Mr. Daniel's biography so much that I wish there were more of it." --Scott Eyman, The Wall Street Journal

“Reads like a wonderful movie. Richard Brooks’s story is feisty, opinionated, emotional, heartfelt, bitter, angry, warmhearted, and even funny. I loved Richard Brooks and I love this wonderful book.”—Paul Mazursky, Academy Award–nominated filmmaker


“Mr. Daniel has captured the essence of the artist known as Richard Brooks. The struggle of the Outsider who became an Insider in Hollywood in spite of being a ruffian cannot be put down. I admired Mr. Brooks when I worked with him and through this wonderful book I grew to love him.”—Shirley Knight, actress


“Douglass Daniel has nailed Richard Brooks. It is high time for this engrossing and revelatory account of his life, his work and his creative drive. This places Brooks where he rightfully belongs, among the greats of cinema history.”—Scott Wilson, actor who portrayed Dick Hickock in In Cold Blood

“In recent years writer-director Richard Brooks has been making frequent, noisy walk-on appearances in other people’s biographies, picking fights, yelling, being fantastically rude and abrasive, and prompting this reader many times to think, ‘Wow, I want to read his biography.’ Well, here it is, and it delivers. Not only do we get the very best/worst of Brooks’ incredibly irascible on-set personality, we get to see beyond the barking autocrat and observe what several friends and co-workers call ‘the mischievous twinkle in his eye,’ which suggested that the other stuff was maybe all a nervous put-on. More important, author Douglass K. Daniel is cleareyed in his assessment of the enduring value and power of Brooks’ best work.”—The DGA Quarterly

Book Description

Called “God’s angry man” for his unyielding demands in pursuit of personal and artistic freedom, Oscar-winning filmmaker Richard Brooks brought us some of the mid-twentieth century’s most iconic films, including Blackboard Jungle, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Elmer Gantry, In Cold Blood, and Looking for Mr. Goodbar. “The important thing,” he once remarked, “is to write your story, to make it believable, to make it live.” His own life story has never been fully chronicled, until now.

            Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks restores to importance the career of a prickly iconoclast who sought realism and truth in his films. Douglass K. Daniel explores how the writer-director made it from the slums of Philadelphia to the heights of the Hollywood elite, working with the top stars of the day, among them Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Jean Simmons, Sidney Poitier, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, and Diane Keaton. Brooks dramatized social issues and depicted characters in conflict with their own values, winning an Academy Award for his Elmer Gantry screenplay and earning nominations for another seven Oscars for directing and screenwriting.
            Tough as Nails offers illuminating insights into Brooks’s life, drawing on unpublished studio memos and documents and interviews from stars and colleagues, including Poitier, director Paul Mazursky, and Simmons, who was married to Brooks for twenty years. Daniel takes readers behind the scenes of Brooks’s major films and sheds light on their making, their compromises, and their common threads. Tough as Nails celebrates Brooks’s vision while adding to the critical understanding of his works, their flaws as well as their merits, and depicting the tumults and trends in the life of a man who always kept his own compass.

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Product Details

  • Series: Wisconsin Film Studies
  • Paperback: 260 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press; 1 edition (April 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299251241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299251246
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #873,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My latest book, "Tough as Nails: The Life and Films of Richard Brooks," available now from amazon.com, combines two of my lifelong interests: writing and film. (Check out the Facebook page 'Tough as Nails Richard Brooks.')It's my second biography -- actually, my third, if you count the fictional TV character Lou Grant from the series of that name. I also wrote a biography, published in 2007, of "60 Minutes" correspondent Harry Reasoner.

That would make an interesting threesome to meet over lunch: Lou Grant, the tough but lovable city editor; Harry Reasoner, the exceedingly smart and witty writer and broadcaster; and Richard Brooks, himself once a reporter and later a novelist and screenwriter who turned to directing. I doubt I could get in a word -- and probably wouldn't want to do much but listen anyway.

Richard Brooks -- "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Elmer Gantry" and "In Cold Blood" are among his two dozen films -- was a great subject for a biography. First of all, no one has written about his life until now. I interviewed nearly forty people who knew him, worked in his films, loved him and at times hated the guy. I also reviewed his papers, at the motion picture academy archive, and files from MGM, 20th Century-Fox and other studios. Mr. Brooks lived according to his rules -- and his rules included decency and truth but also toughness and hard work.

Putting together the puzzle that was Richard Brooks' life challenged me as a writer and as a researcher. I've been writing since I attended journalism school at Kansas State University and worked on the K-State Collegian. In the years since, I have worked mainly for The Associated Press as a writer and editor. For several years I taught journalism at Kansas State and my other alma mater, Ohio University. Today, I'm back with the AP, in the Washington bureau.

Writing more than the day's news allows me a chance to be creative. I suppose nonfiction sets up familiar boundaries -- facts, you could call them -- and gives me a direction to follow. I admire novelists for their ability to create a world that can operate according to their imaginations. But nonfiction has its creative elements, too, and I am trying to master them.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Long overdue to say the least, this dynamite look at the life & films of the great Richard Brooks is a must read. Brooks, inflammatory in his personal life and director of such classics as CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, ELMER GANTRY & IN COLD BLOOD is one of the least written about of the master directors. This is such a well put together & thorough book, you'll not be able to put it down. With some excellent commentary by the likes of Shirley Jones, Scott Wilson, Brooks's ex-wife Jean Simmons and many others, the book is chock full of insight into how this maverick worked and created some of the best films of the 1950s & 1960s. One critique: lousy reproduction of some interesting photos/movies stills.
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Format: Paperback
Douglass Daniel's book on Richard Brooks provides not only a personal insight into one of Hollywood's most fascinating directors, it also gives the reader a sense of how far Brooks's creative career reached. Brooks was a director whose career spanned from the days of the studio system into the modern filmmaking industry. Daniel shows how Brooks developed his reputation as a "tough as nails" boss on the set. It also shows how resolute and saavy Brooks was in piloting his own career, rising from the ranks of writer to become director with an immense degree of autonomy over his projects. Being tough includes taking risks, facing criticism, and being smart enough the overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of your goals. Through Daniel's biography, a picture of Richard Brooks emerges as having all of these attributes. On top of being a man of tremendous talent and energy, Daniel illustrates Brooks as a man with the backbone to remain true to his principles. Tough as nails indeed.
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Richard Brooks was a top writer-director. I love many of his Hollywood films such as The Professionals and In Cold Blood, two of my favorites. I even like his less successful films $ (Dollars) and Fever Pitch.

Ever since I was a teenager I've read whatever I could find on Brooks, which has not been much. He was very controlling of his work, not even giving his scripts to his actors to know the movie they were working on.

I never understood why no one had ever written a biography on Brooks before -- and still don't. But I'm very grateful to have this book now.

Author Douglass K. Daniel has spent years researching Brooks life and uncovering information that even actress Jean Simmons, Brooks' wife of twenty years, didn't know. Fascinating and page-turning. I only wish that it was two or three times longer.

Daniel also doesn't spare any punches. He writes of how salty and difficult Brooks could be, sometimes unwarranted. But his actors and crew still rallied around him because they knew that he stood out from the pack.

His passion for the written word and protecting the words that he wrote, the biggest reason he became a producer-director, is on every page.

I inhaled this book when it arrived in the mail last week and am now going through it again and more thoroughly. As well as piling a stack of DVDs of Richard Brooks' by the TV to go through again.

Every time I watch a Richard Brooks film it makes me want to write. Reading Douglass K. Daniel's insightful glimpse into Brooks' life inspires me to want to open up my laptop and start pounding the keys.

If anyone is thinking of buying this book -- then stop. Buy it! Then start savoring the pages for yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Many, many, many thanks. It's been worth the wait.
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The author gained tremendous access on this project and yet maintained a no-punches-pulled approach to the writing. The narratives and anecdotes throughout this book make it a genuine page-turner. This is a great read for fans (and critics) of Brooks' works, as well as anyone interested in film-making. A terrific, terrific biography.
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I've always enjoyed Richard Brooks' colorful adventure yarn, "The Professionals," and take a mean pleasure in watching his schematic "The Blackboard Jungle." And much of his other stuff is worth catching.

Therefore, as much as I don't like saying it, this objective and dispassionate biography doesn't show us the life of a particularly happy or talented man. He was brutal in handling his crew and some of his actors. Evidently, if he was pleased with their work he ignored them. That was about all you could expect. And unlike, say, John Ford, his anger -- well, his outrage really -- grew worse as he aged and there was no sign of any leavening humor. Ford at least appreciate a joke or a gag and would get drunk from time to time. Brooks grew so nearly paranoid that he wouldn't even let the actors see their lines except one page at a time, always worried that something would be stolen. There were four marriages.

Brooks fought his way to the top, born poor in Philadelphia, working through a desk job in the Marine Corps and newspaper stories and columns. He was careful to avoid controversy. He was both a writer and director but there wasn't a peep out of him during the House Unamerican Activities Committee hunts for commies under every bed.

Daniel hasn't done a hatchet job. Don't get me wrong. The prose is reportorial rather than editorial. Here is Richard Brooks, warts and all.

"Actors, studio executives, and journalists had been telling the same stories about Richard for years. He dressed like a bum. He kept his script under wraps. He passed up offers to direct top movies (in 1979, "The Godfather, Part II," after reading a treatment.) He accepted the guild minimums to write and direct a movie his way.
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