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List 'O Lists

August 08, 1993|Irene Lacher

If you figure that books lie dearest to the hearts of book collectors, then what comes in a reasonably close second?

Lists of books. "So you can brag, 'I'm only missing three on the li" says Charles Heiskell. "It's a way of keeping score, if you will."

Heiskell, a retired cardiologist, speaks from the rarefied position of both book collector and list maker. The erstwhile president of the Book Collectors of Los Angeles is one among several book hounds who recently completed the tender task of compiling such a list, a slender volume titled, "One Hundred Books on Hollywood & the Movies."

Note the absence of that testy adjective best, although you can fairly assume that no so-so books made the cut for the discriminating Book Collectors' second annotated bibliography of California works (fiction and nonfiction). Consider it the balm to ease the tumult over what was left off.

"I finally tell everyone that if there's one book that you really think should have been on the list, that would have been 101," Los Angeles Times film critic and fellow list maker Kenneth Turan told a celebratory gathering recently at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Center for Motion Picture Study. (Turan chaired the list-making group, which also included former UCLA professor Andy Dowdy, producer and producer's scion Bud Lesser, Times critic emeritus Charles Champlin and former Book Collectors president Joanne Bernstein.)

If No. 101 is Everybook, then No. 1 was unquestionably Budd Schulberg's classic "What Makes Sammy Run?" (a novel about ruthless studio executive Sammy Glick) which garnered the most nominations at more than 200. Schulberg flew in for the event.

"To be very immodest, I honestly would expect it to be one of 100 books on Hollywood," Schulberg said, well, immodestly. "It was sort of a granddaddy of Hollywood novels. . . . At every meeting I attend I sit across from Sammy. I started out thinking I was writing an epitaph for Sammy Glick and I found I'd written kind of a how-to book." Actually, the notable Hollywood book is a creation of relatively recent vintage. Lesser notes that before 1950, no more than 25 new books on movies were published. He writes: "If you had told Sam Goldwyn in his prime that you were listing the 100 best books on the movies, he would have blurted, 'One hundred what did you say?' "

And now, those publication figures have shot up to one film book or monograph per day. Indeed, the Academy boasts literary coffers of 23,000 volumes.

None of which made narrowing down the field to a tidy 100 an easy task. The committee spent a leisurely nine years completing it, using its own independent-minded criteria. The winners are neither "celebrity driven," certainly a rarity in this town. Neither are they necessarily rarities, "not a compilation intended to make collectors drool," as Turan writes.

Rather, they're simply samples of good writing, selected for those of us "who just read and enjoy books about a subject not much older than the white-haired gentleman in the last row," in Dowdy's words.

Of course, those with the competitive collectors' bug may also appreciate the fact that the $50 books are issued in a limited, numbered edition of 500. They're available through the Book Collectors club--send a check for $54.13 (including tax) to P.O. Box 3082, Los Angeles 90078.

Despite the book's select reach, several authors who made the grade were happy to toast its launch. Among them was Time film critic Richard Schickel, for his definitive doorstop tome, "D. W. Griffith."

"It's fun," he said cheerily. "It's 100. There's a competition, and I got in."

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