by Joe Eszterhas
He was the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood. He refused to let the studio executives push him around and change his scripts. He partied hard. He broke up a friend's marriage, then broke up his own marriage to marry the same friend's wife. He was called the devil on several occasions. He was insufferable. He said so himself. And yet, in his memoir Hollywood Animal, Joe Eszterhas is brutally honest with himself, and that almost makes him endearing.
Eszterhas began his life in Hungarian refugee camps during World War II, before his parents were able to escape to America. He grew up a poor boy in Cleveland, Ohio, and after suffering hardships was able to become a journalist for Rolling Stone, and then eventually began writing screenplays in the late 1970s. He had no aspirations of being a producer or a director like most other screenwriters, and he developed a reputation very quickly for being passionate about his writings, to the point of fault.
On his way to the top of the movie business, Eszterhas wrote movies that grossed over a billion dollars combined, from Jagged Edge to his biggest hit Basic Instinct to Showgirls. Along the way he had affairs, did lots of drugs, and drank lots of booze... lots of booze. Meanwhile, he struggles to maintain a loving relationship with his father, who may have been lying to him his entire life about his allegiances while they were in Hungary.
What makes this book so engaging, apart from all of the sleazy Hollywood stories, is Eszterhas's ability to take a step back from his own life and admit to his excesses and learn from his mistakes. He knows what people must have thought of him selling his movies for millions of dollars and then throwing a fit if anybody wanted to change a word of his scripts. Don't get me wrong, he does a ton of trash-talking along the way, and I'm still not sure how much of what he says about other people is true, but he certainly trashes himself as much as anybody else in this book, and points must always be given for honesty about oneself, if not about others.
September 26, 2004