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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Monday 29th January 2007

The Devils Guide to Hollywood by Joe Eszterhas

Duckworth, £12.99, pp.397

What a minute? Do we really need another volume of autobiographical musings from Joe Eszterhas? The former Hollywood scriptwriter always promises to scandalise us with plenty of juicy gossip, but the main revelation in his two previous volumes was that he'd slept with Sharon Stone. Sure enough, if you look up Stone in the index of The Devil's Guide to Hollywood she appears on pages 39, 41, 43, 44, 47, 72, 78, 80-81, 102, 103, 104, 105, 109, 142, 145, 159, 166, 169, 172, 179, 191, 211, 220, 305-306, 310, 316, 322, 323, 325 and 327. "I'm jealous that Bill Goldman has won two Oscars and I've won none," writes Eszterhas on page 72. "But I bet Bill Goldman is jealous that I've bedded Sharon Stone."Has anyone ever got so much mileage out of a one-night stand? When it comes to kissing-and-telling, Joe Eszterhas puts Alicia Duvall to shame.

As with Clive James's multiple volumes of memoirs, Eszterhas's output is subject to the law of diminishing returns. It's not as if he left anything out of the two other books. We already know that Basic Instinct was the box office champ of 1992, that he was paid $4 million for a four-page outline of One Night Stand and that his movies have grossed over $1 billion worldwide since he told us this in Hollywood Animal (2004). He claims to be a reformed alcoholic, but his prose has a very drunken feel to it. It's bombastic and overbearing, full of self-aggrandising stories that don't ring true. ("I left a gigantic dent in the William Morris Agency's conference table by smashing it with my African Dogon walking stick.") Above all, it's repetitive. Reading his books is like being cornered by an aggressive drunk in a bar.

The Devil's Guide to Hollywood differs from his previous books in two main ways: it purports to be a how-to guide for wannabe screenwriters and it contains almost no extended passages of prose. Rather, it is composed almost entirely of little stand-alone gobbets-- anecdotes, observations, old Hollywood lore and, inevitably, stories revealing just how close Eszterhas is to an endless parade of celebrities. "I've never been nominated for an Oscar," he writes on page 114, "but Jon Bon Jovi asked me to fly to Budapest, Hungary, with him and introduce the band onstage in the Hungarian language." (He's clearly rankled by the fact that he's never won an Oscar.)

To give the devil his due, this book isn't entirely worthless. It's brimming with great quotations, such as this one from Paddy Chayefsky's Oscar acceptance speech for Network: "I would like to suggest to Miss Vanessa Redgrave that her winning an Academy Award is not a pivotal moment in history, does not require a proclamation, and a simple 'Thank you' would have sufficed." However, nearly all of these gems will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the history of Hollywood--and they were almost certainly compiled by some unacknowledged researcher rather than Eszterhas. The best that can be said of The Devil's Guide to Hollywood is that it's a useful compendium of titbits and factoids about screenwriters.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that Joe Eszterhas is such a shameless recycler when it comes to his books since he was guilty of the same sin in his movies. In a typical Eszterhas script, an innocent young naïf discovers that the gorgeous lover who has just rocked his or her world has a hidden past that usually involves the mysterious disappearance of their previous sexual partner. This, in essence, was the plot of Jagged Edge, Betrayed, Basic Instinct, Sliver, Showgirls and Jade. Invariably, at some point in this scenario, one of the characters says: "You like to play games, don't you?" Is it any surprise that Eszterhas has never won an Oscar?

The Evening Standard

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