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BOOK REVIEW : From Starlet to 'Jaws' in a Prom Dress : ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES by Charlie Hauck ; William Morrow; $21, 238 pages

July 20, 1993|MICHAEL O'MAHONY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FDR feasted with Will Rogers during the Depression. JFK was an Ian Fleming aficionado. Jimmy Carter got his belt from the Bible.

With the Democrats back on Pennsylvania Avenue, Bill Clinton must be going for belly laughs: Over dinner, Clinton told author Charlie Hauck that his "Artistic Differences" is at the top of this summer's presidential reading list.

This first novel might easily be a primer subtitled "Adventures in the Small Screen Trade." Hauck opens each chapter with a real Hollywood anecdote, zany enough to rival the subsequent antics of his fictional characters.

Jimmy Hoy, the book's narrator, is a hyphenate--Hollywoodese for people with multiple titles and paychecks, e.g. actor-waiter. Early on, Jimmy describes the struggle of the writer-producer to Geneva Holloway, an aspiring starlet, using Chapter 37 of "Moby Dick":

"The whale is the television show. The hit series. Like, if it goes into syndication, everybody connected with it makes 50 million dollars. And the people in the boat, they're the writers and producers. They're the ones trying to get the whale, who know how to do it. And the sharks, the guys biting the . . . oars, they're the network guys, and the production company executives and the agents and everybody else who, when they don't know how to get to the whale, decide, somewhere back in the swamp ova of the human brain, well, I should do some thing, why don't I try to sink the . . . boat?"

Geneva Holloway wants to know: "What about the actors?"

"Well, they can be in the boat, helping to row, or they can be sharks. If they're stars, the temptation is for them to be sharks."

Fade out.

Fade in: Four years down the line, Jimmy's producing "The Geneva Holloway Show." Her career has turned to gold, and she has become a Great White. What follows is Jimmy's slant on the 1988-1989 television season: a hilarious, behind-the-screen roller-coaster ride with back-stabbing, adultery, greed, revenge, egomaniacs, nymphomaniacs, suicides and insanity. The first season, like Hurricane Andrew, finally comes to an end. The show is a hit.

Renewed for a second season, Geneva's ego trips and demands take on leviathan proportions. She's "Jaws" in a prom dress.

In the network high-stakes strip-poker game, Geneva finally becomes the princess with no clothes; she's out. "Artistic differences" is show-biz jargon explaining the sudden departures.

Nevertheless, the show must go on. The solution? Just get a new Geneva. The show is an even bigger hit.

Meanwhile, the "real" Geneva circles in for the kill.

Hauck also is a sitcom writer and among his credits is "The Hogan Family." Prime-time fans might recall the show was originally titled "Valerie," but the star quit over "artistic differences"--and sued for millions. In this roman a clef , Hauck gets in a final jab with the aim of Groucho with a harpoon. He may not eat lunch in this town again, but as Charlie Hauck may be the funniest writer to dine in the White House since Will Rogers.

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