In "Illuminati," one of the stories in Jim Gavin's short story collection, college dropout and writer, Sean, describes the experience of selling his first and only script. "Two years ago, all my dumb ideas and tenuous connections came together. I sold a screenplay to a finance company that was developing a project for a pair of comedians
Then nothing happened. The finance company dissolved, the production company lost their studio deal, and so forth. Nothing always happens. The literature of Hollywood is depressingly consistent on this point."
Turns out that's pretty accurate. Though different writers have taken it from different approaches, disparate perspectives and more than one distinct genre, the small but formidable canon of Hollywood novels seem to agree on this point: that the industry, for all its glamour and appeal and mythology, is little more than an exercise in smoke and mirrors. (And alcohol. And drugs.)
In the Hollywood novel tradition, perhaps the granddaddies are Nathaniel West's The Day of the Locust, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, and Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays. All treat the film industry and celebrity industrial complex with characteristic cynicism and unexpected humor. Somewhat less famous but no less popular are screenwriter Michael Tolkin's The Player, and Darcy O'Brien's A Way of Life, Like Any Other. The prize for the weirdest, darkest portrayal of the Hollywood machine goes to Robert Stone's Children of Light. And this reviewer's personal favorites are Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, which considers the funeral industry alongside the film industry, and Norman Mailer's The Deer Park, about the Hollywood crowd in Desert D'Or, a fictionalized Palm Springs.
This article was originally published in February 2013, and has been updated for the
February 2014 paperback release.
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