Since seceding from Mexico and joining the United States, Texas has made substantial contributions to America in politics, sports, literature and entertainment. Near the top of the list would be multi-talented writer Larry McMurtry. His co-written screenplay for the movie Brokeback Mountain won him an Academy Award, his novel LONESOME DOVE earned him the Pulitzer Prize, and Emmy and Oscar nominations as well as various literary awards are sprinkled throughout his illustrious career. HOLLYWOOD is the last installment of his memoir trilogy, preceded by BOOKS and LITERARY LIFE. This final volume focuses on McMurtry’s Hollywood career that spans nearly 50 years and includes contributions to some of the greatest movie and television performances of contemporary America.
"Throughout his years in Hollywood, McMurtry never bought into the glamour or star treatment that was part of the industry."
As the author of dozens of books and scores of screenplays, McMurtry is uniquely positioned to recognize the differences in the two genres. Of course, both rely on words. There is, however, a difference because “…the words in fiction come out of silence, and the words in a movie script, come out of talk.” More important is the cost difference: “All fiction requires is a pencil, some paper, and a good imagination. Novels can be written on a few months rent money and some groceries. But getting money, and usually a lot of it, is the first essential to moviemaking. No dough, no show.”
HOLLYWOOD is by no means a lengthy tome. One could finish the book on a flight from Los Angeles to New York and still have time for lunch (if only airlines were still serving meals). McMurtry readers are familiar with his anecdotal style, which is brisk, brief and to the point. There are no wasted words in his memoirs. He even pokes fun at his economical writing style: “In fact I am old and there are many subjects about which I have something to say --- just not much.”
The anecdotes from McMurtry’s Hollywood career are plentiful. We learn that Cary Grant and Jennifer Jones were original candidates for the starring roles in the movie Terms of Endearment. Grant declined the part played by Jack Nicholson, and Jones, who had the option on the film, sold the rights to James L. Brooks, who cast Shirley MacLaine as Aurora. We learn of deals that were dreams and deals that could never be. Of McMurtry’s 70 screenplays, dozens never even reached production, a fact that may disappoint him but one that he recognizes is a reality of the movie industry. McMurtry’s accounts of his dealings with duplicitous agents and studio executives are outright hysterical, reminding us that the most important work in Hollywood is what occurs behind the stage in studio offices and conference rooms.
Throughout his years in Hollywood, McMurtry never bought into the glamour or star treatment that was part of the industry. Perhaps it was because he could always turn to the novels he was writing or the bookstores that he was operating for a career change of pace, which allowed him to maintain a detached and unemotional view of the Hollywood lifestyle. McMurtry is an old-fashioned guy, who reminded Hollywood when accepting his Oscar that he still wrote on a typewriter. Whether in films or in novels, the magic of the words produced on those ancient machines is a contribution to America’s culture that few can match.
Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on January 22, 2011