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David Mamet Names the Books That Explain the Real Hollywood

What’s the last great book you read?

“A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States,” by Frederick Law Olmsted. Also note: “The Life of George Brummell, Esq., Commonly Called Beau Brummell,” by Captain Jesse, and “A Diary in America,” by Frederick Marryat. Enjoy.

Can a great book be badly written?

If it were badly written how could it be a great book? Perhaps if it contained Great Ideas? According to whom? The writer? Who died and left him boss? In the estimation of the reader? If I am he, nope, for why should I credit any ideas of a lox who didn’t realize he couldn’t write? Reading great prose is one of my chiefest joys. When I find myself rewriting the book I’m reading, I not only throw it away, I do not recycle it.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

“The Wallet of Kai Lung,” by Ernest Bramah.

Which novels or novelists do you admire for their dialogue?

George V. Higgins.

Which books best capture Hollywood and the challenge of making movies?

The best book about Hollywood is my “Everywhere an Oink Oink: An Embittered, Dyspeptic and Accurate Report of Forty Years in Hollywood.”

Here please find its like:

  • “A Girl Like I,” by Anita Loos. She was the first of the great Hollywood screenwriters, and in it from the days of the silents. Her “Lorelei” stories became “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

  • See also “The Honeycomb,” an autobiography of Adela Rogers St. Johns. She started in journalism before writing for silents, and wrote many of the great “women’s” pictures of early sound.

  • Jim Tully was a “road kid,” riding the rails, and washed up in Hollywood, where he worked, in various capacities, for Chaplin, of whom he wrote a short unauthorized biography. Also please read his “Jarnegan,” a roman à clef about a thug and criminal who comes to Hollywood, and becomes a great director.

  • Another must read is Ivor Montagu’s “With Eisenstein in Hollywood.” He and Sergei wandered in, in the 1930s. They were flogging a screenplay for “An American Tragedy” and a gold rush drama, “Sutter’s Gold.” They had a few drinks, and had their lunch handed to them, and went home.

  • Bob Evans, once head of Paramount, wrote “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” which is a laugh a minute, but one must read between the lies (sic).

  • Scotty Bowers, a fixer, wrote “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars” with Lionel Friedberg. Are his accounts true? He only “outed” the dead, which indicates his intelligence, but gives no clues to his veracity. Hollywood has always been about sex, until just recently. Now it is about Attack-Decency; and, as with anything, those who know don’t tell, and those who tell don’t know.

A note to those who might buy my book. In it I recount a talk I had with my old friend Noma Copley. She worked for Disney in the late 1940s, and told me, at their first meeting, he invited her into his inner sanctum, which was covered with murals depicting his characters in an orgy, and said, “Call me Walt.”

What book would you most like to see turned into a movie that hasn’t already been adapted?

The only book not adapted to the screen is the phone book. I tried, but only got as far as the title: “Funny Names, No Plot.”

What’s the last book you read that made you laugh?

“The Berenstain Bears Get Cancer.”

The last book that made you cry?

“Bambi.”

The last book that made you furious?

“The Wealth of Nations.”

Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?

My wife once threw a book at me.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Great work is a mystery to us, and, as it’s mysterious, we have no vocabulary for discussing it, really, let alone discussing it with its creators. The fortunate ones are dead, so that, for example, we could not ask of Winslow Homer, “What induced you to put that shark there…?” The best thing I could say to a writer is the best thing he or she, or you, could say to me: “Pleased to meet you.”

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