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Hollywood Animal: A Memoir Hardcover – January 27, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Author/screenwriter Eszterhas introduces readers to the ultimate in Hollywood animal thinking when he quotes an unnamed Oscar-winning producer as saying, "the only time Ill root for anybody to be a success is if he or she has cancer, and I know for certain that the cancer is terminal." Eszterhass book is unabashedly vulgar, a brutally revealing blend of sex and greed that goes much further than Peter Biskinds Down and Dirty Pictures (Forecasts, Jan. 5) in exposing Hollywoods dark side. Eszterhas refers to himself as "insufferable" for coveting success and money, but as the horrifying anecdotes unfold, he mounts a dynamic defense of screenwriters who have been treated like "discarded hookers... not invited to premieres of their own movies, cheated of residual payments." Salacious details mingle with explosions of temper, and Eszterhas isnt afraid to take potshots at William Goldman, Ron Bass, Robert Towne and other screenwriters he believes have compromised too heavily with the system. A particularly absorbing story centers on Sylvester Stallone, who starred in F.I.S.T. and then tried to take credit for Eszterhass script. Even more shocking is producer Marty Ransohoffs relentless criticism of Glenn Close during the filming of Jagged Edge, which made the actress throw Ransohoff and his daughter (who was not involved in the movie) off the set. Just as readers begin to drown in an ocean of gossip, Eszterhas introduces two dramatic plots: his battle with throat cancer and the discovery that his father was an outspokenly anti-Semitic former Nazi. This electrifying section overshadows the Hollywood material and deserves a book of its own. It makes an argument readers will immediately pick up on: that animalistic behavior is just as savagely prevalent outside Hollywood studio gates.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Sleaze and more sleaze. But don't we love it? Hollywood insider stuff par excellence, from a well-known and contentious screenwriter. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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My biggest complaint is that Joe spends WAY TOO MUCH TIME ON HIS CHILDHOOD. I agree that it is interesting in parts, but people aren't reading this book to learn about his childhood. People read it because they are interested in his Hollywood screenwriting career.
Joe disguises the length, somewhat, by skipping between the two subjects. You'll read about Hollywood, then you'll cut back to his childhood. Then back to Hollywood, then childhood. There's just too much detail about what Joe experienced growing up, and as I read, I kept saying to myself, "OK, here we go again with his crazy mother...what? He's only ten years old here? OMG! How long until we get back to the Hollywood stuff?"
Clearly Eszterhas (by choice or by exile) hasn't been a Hollywood player for quite some time as most of his stories revolve around the 1980s and 1990s but there are still some relevant people here and there that stand out. Hollywood is a town that eats its old instead of its young, so it is not surprising that someone with vast amounts of success can be completely irrelevant in a period of 10 years.
The best thing I can say about this book is at first I groaned when I flipped through and saw so many chapters about Eszterhas growing up in war torn Hungary, coming to Ohio in the 1950s and growing up as an immigrant with an 'interesting' family life. (I will leave it there to avoid spoiling part of the book for you.) However, while reading it ... those parts became my favorite part of the book because while embelished, I am sure, they represent real feelings that people can connect with. My favorite part of the book was reading about the author's experiences as a young immigrant.
Where Eszterhas lost me is the constant repetition and bragging. It is clear that Joe Eszterhas is in love with himself and very good at selling the image of the hard a++ writer who bucked the system, took on Mike Ovitz (which is why my industry friend had such respect for him) and basically made millions of dollars on movies that didn't always work out. It is one thing to brag and repeat one's self while being drunk at a bar. But to sit and write a book like this and use the same 'I am great' stories over and over throughout the chapters makes you eventually resent the author. Partly for falling in love with himself and partly for wasting one's time.
Cocky is something Eszterhas has down to a science, which is probably why he rose so high in Hollywood circles where 'manhood measuring contests' are as common as handshakes. Several times Eszterhas disparages and mocks those 'unsucessful hacks' who were unable to get projects greenlighted and make tons of money. At times reading this book is very much like sitting next to a bitter drunk who sits on his barstool and talks about how great he was and how everyone else is a hack or wannabe. It just gets not fun to read.
I certainly respect Eszterhas as a writer ... he is the Howard Stern of screenwriting. Fascinated by sex, no filter and very good at self publicity. He turned his boorish personality into a way to make millions of dollars and a comfortable living. Eszterhas seems like the guy who moves into the multi-million dollar neighborhood that you don't want as your neighbor for various reasons. But he is/was good at what he did ... and by that I don't mean writing. I mean exploiting the red meat machismo culture of Hollywood and gaming the system to become incredibly relevant.
My favorite chapters were the heart breaking stories where he basically lets us all into the crazy life he had as a child. A close second were the faux-diary entries of his wife which highlighted the exploits of coked out oversexed super producer, Bob Evans (who's book 'And The Kid Stays in the Picture' I will next read). I could have dealt without the chapters dealing with the end of his marriage to his wife because they made me like Eszterhas less. While he made no apologies for what he did to his wife/family by leaving them for a friend's wife ... he certainly did not own up to his role in the situation.
Overall, this isn't the easiest book to get through because of the repetition and the fact it jumps all over the place. But, it gives you a small taste of what life in Hollywood would be like. It gives you a few funny stories. A few heartbreaking stories. And a ton of pages of a guy you probably wouldn't care to know about if he wasn't a Hollywood Animal.
This book is telling, but so much more than that - it is an honest view of a life lived hard and fast, in the not-so-honest world of Hollywood. You will get more information about Hollywood than you ever wanted to know...and throughout this book you will see Joe Eszterhas not as a "Hollywood person" or a writer but as a person- a person who readily admits he made mistakes in his professional and personal life...but a man who stuck up not only for himself but for the written word and his creative process.
This book was so much more than I bargained for but I loved it all the same.