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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 9th October 2004

Hollywood Animal by Joe Eszterhas

Joe Eszterhas

Hutchinson, £18.99, pp.381

This book, which presents itself as a no-holds-barred account of Joe Eszterhas's reign as the toughest and most highly-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, is doubly misleading. To begin with, it's heavily censored; and, secondly, he isn't the fierce defender of his work that he purports to be. At least, not judging from the way he's allowed the lawyers to decimate this book.

Eszterhas revels in his image as a Hollywood bad-boy. When a lowly grip on the set of Betrayed, his 1988 film starring Debra Winger and Tom Berenger, suggests how the film's ending might be improved, the warrior-screenwriter punches him in the stomach. The director of another of his scripts receives a memo that's so eviscerating he suffers a heart attack while reading it. Eszterhas is such a tough guy, be wears a black T-shirt that bears the legend: "My inner child is a mean little fuck."

The screenwriter justifies this behaviour on the grounds that it's the only way he can force these Hollywood philistines to treat him with a little respect. Indeed, he goes further and argues that by refusing to allow his work to be "fucked with" he's standing up for writers everywhere: "I was the man who was single-handedly getting even for all the...stories about the million ways screenwriters were abused and humiliated in Hollywood...I was the rape victim come back as Charles Bronson in Death Wish."

I've no idea whether Eszterhas really is as fierce as he claims to be when defending his screenplays, but the way he's allowed the British edition of this book to be "fucked with" suggests not.

The main selling point of Hollywood Animal is that it contains hundreds of gossipy tales about various industry bigwigs that Eszterhas has worked with over the years--people such as Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas and Glen Close--but readers should be aware that this edition is very different from the American one.

Take the story of Eszterhas's one-night stand with Sharon Stone, supposedly his reward for "creating" this "Frankenstein's monster" by writing such a great part for her in Basic Instinct. The American edition contains the following verdict on the actress: "Her body was doughy, too much peanut butter and Wonder Bread maybe." No such description appears in the British edition.

Even more alarming are the cuts that have been made to Eszterhas's account of his feud with Mike Ovitz. This is a cause for real concern because the details that have been omitted are so widely known they form part of Hollywood lore. In what was probably the most talked-about show biz story of 1989, Eszterhas revealed that when he notified Ovitz of his intention to leave CAA, Ovitz said: "My foot soldiers who go up and down Wilshire Boulevard each day will blow your brains out."

Why is this quote--one of the most famous in Hollywood's history--missing from the British edition? Presumably, because the in-house lawyer at Hutchinson thought it was potentially libellous. Had Eszterhas been as protective of his writing as he claims to be, he could have pointed out that he made a note of his conversation with Ovitz less than a day afterwards and, even though this quote has appeared in hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, the superagent has never sued. Admittedly, Britain's libel laws are a lot stricter than America's, but this detail was included in a story in the Sunday Telegraph earlier this year without triggering a lawsuit, not to mention the Times in 1999, the Guardian in 1995 and the Sunday Times in 1990.

It's a great shame that Eszterhas didn't stand up for himself on this occasion since--for once--he could have genuinely done some good. Every year, dozens of American books are published over here in heavily censored versions, a recent example being Autumn of the Moguls by Michael Wolff. So cautious are British publishers that Judy Bachrach's gossipy account of the rise and fall of Harold Evans and Tina Brown hasn't even appeared in this country. If Eszterhas had half the writerly pride he claims, he would have stood his ground and refused to budge. Alas, it seems this self-professed Hollywood animal is just a paper tiger.

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