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Making Book on Showbiz Bestsellers

September 08, 1996|Judy Brennan | Judy Brennan is a regular contributor to Calendar

Hollywood may be bent on snapping up bestsellers, but its dogged pursuit can't match that of the book world turning Hollywood into one.

This summer "Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood" by entertainment journalists Kim Masters and Nancy Griffin broke open the pack of Hollywood-related books and landed on the bestseller lists in New York and Los Angeles for several weeks. It highlighted Sony's management fiascoes and string of box-office debacles at its Columbia and TriStar Pictures studios that have been the target of media scrutiny for years. Now it appears Universal and its related entities are the latest hot topic to watch.

There are at least four such books by journalists-turned-authors in the works: From Wall Street Journal reporter Tom King's upcoming book on David Geffen (Random House), to former Variety reporter Joseph McBride's "Dreammaker: A Biography of Steven Spielberg"--unauthorized--for Simon & Schuster due out next spring, to Entertainment Weekly reporter Gregg Kilday's pending untitled work on DreamWorks SKG for Dutton, and former Los Angeles Times reporter Dennis McDougal's unauthorized biography for Crown on former MCA/Universal Chairman Lew Wasserman--a man commonly referred to as the godfather of showbiz who somehow has managed to dodge the bio bullet in the past.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 15, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
DreamWorks book--Writer Gregg Kilday's upcoming book about the creation of DreamWorks SKG was incorrectly described in last Sunday's Calendar. The book is unauthorized.

But that's just the beginning.

Not since such industry bestsellers as Julia Phillips' "You'll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again," Steven Bach's "Final Cut," A. Scott Berg's "Goldwyn: A Biography" or David McClintick's "Indecent Exposure" have Hollywood tales become of such interest to New York.

In the pipeline or recently hitting bookstores are novels, trashy tell-alls, more authorized and unauthorized biographies on luminaries of just about every showbiz ilk, the agency business and books on Walt Disney and its executives including Michael Ovitz (Robert Sam Anson's upcoming "The Rules of the Magic" and Stephen Singular's recent bestseller "Power to Burn: Michael Ovitz and the New Business of Show Business").

And, of course, there are the usual Hollywood how-to's and survival books, ranging from producer/writer Lynda Obst's just-released "Hello, He Lied and Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches"; Billy Frolick's upcoming "What I Really Want to Do Is Direct: Seven Film School Graduates Go to Hollywood"; B-movie queen Jewel Shepard's "If I'm So Famous, How Come Nobody's Ever Heard of Me"; to entertainment lawyer Brooke Wharton's L.A. bestseller "The Writer Got Screwed (But Didn't Have To): A Guide to the Legal and Business Practices of Writing for the Entertainment Industry." Wharton says not only does the HarperCollins book offer advice in avoiding the pitfalls of screenwriting and finding an agent, it offers a way out when it happens.

"The publishing industry is fascinated with Hollywood," says David Rosenthal, publisher of Villard Books, a division of Random House. "But the problem with books about Hollywood is that they are very inside baseball. So publishing, particularly about Hollywood, is like the movies . . . it's based far more on hope than on reality. And if it's written like a novel, it has a far better chance."

Rosenthal should know. This summer Villard published screenwriter/novelist Bruce Wagner's best-selling "I'm Losing You"--a dark, edgy and hilarious tale that takes Robert Altman's "The Player" to another level. Wagner, an admittedly home-grown Hollywood kid whose Main Street was Rodeo Drive and who calls Dickens his hero, concedes that his novels "are morbid on some level . . . and getting more real and more extreme." Wagner, who also wrote the bestseller "Force Majeure," won over the publishing world and the public by simply writing Hollywood as "the place I grew up in."

Like Rosenthal, New York literary agent Jane Dystell emphasized that if the effort isn't a Hollywood novel, it had better read like one. "That's what made a book like 'Indecent Exposure' or [Julie Salomon's] 'The Devil's Candy' great reads. There are books coming out about Don Simpson and the agency business [Charles Fleming's "Bad Boy: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess" shaped around the producer's death, and Nikke Finke's "Pay or Play," respectively] but I doubt if either will ever hit the bestseller list. Even though they are very much Hollywood stories, unless they get them out there fast and advance the stories significantly, their ship has sailed."

Fleming recently sold his concept to Doubleday's Anchor Books imprint for about $250,000 while Finke's effort, now at Bantam, Doubleday, Dell's Dial Press imprint, has been in the works since 1991. She declined to comment about the book, problems that caused its delay or when it would hit bookstores. She offered only this advice: "Here's the only thing I'm going to tell you . . . you lock yourself in a closet until the feeling to write a book about the industry passes!"

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