Moneywood by William Stadiem (St. Martin’s Press, $31)

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moneywood

By Andreas Kessaris for Curtains Up

Hollywood has long been divided into different “eras” or “ages” often referred to as “Golden” or “Great.”  It is probably Hollywood itself that created those names in order to sell movie tickets and create interest in and increase the value of film their vast film vaults.  I came of age during the Regan administration, the “I’ve got mine you get your own” decadent and superficial 80’s, and naturally the films at the time reflected the moods and values of the society they were made for.  That is the subject of Moneywood by Tinsel Town fringe player and author William Stadiem, a Harvard JD-MBA whose credits include the screenplay for the film Young Toscanini, and the best-selling books Marilyn Monroe Confidential and Mister S:  My Life with Frank Sinatra.

Moneywood revolves almost exclusively around the behind-the-scenes executives and producers who ran the commercial American film industry and created iconic 80’s fare like Top Gun and Beverly Hills Cop; when it was more about how much money one could make and who was on top than the quality of the pictures.  That was the era when films went from being “art” to “product” and the true creative visionaries were the ones who figured out how to exploit the foreign markets for profit; the time films became “high concept” (i.e. they could only be made if the entire premise could be explained in one line).  The age that gave rise to the likes of Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel (one of the few women to become a key executive), Peter Guber & Jon Peters, action mainstays Don Simpson & Jerry Bruckheimer, and shlockmeisters Menahem Golan & Yorum Globus.

Throughout Moneywood Stadiem endlessly weaved a web of people so complex and who they went to school with and who they married and who they cheated on and where they worked that at times I found myself reviewing pages to make sure I understood it properly (I seriously thought at one point of making a score card to keep track).  It was like:  This person married this person’s daughter who ran this company and their cousin went to this school in this town and was this religion from this city whose friend’s aunt’s uncle’s cousin knew this guy from this neighbourhood and attended this university….  He introduces players at a machine gun pace and gives short, paragraph-long biographies and backgrounds as we learn what makes them tick and why they did what they did. While Stadiem is no Bill Bryson in quality and ability when it comes to rapid-fire facts, he does keep it interesting and candid, exposing the sleazy underside of the show business elite.  That is probably why Stadiem’s delivery is more akin to a Raymond Chandler-like gritty, cynical L.A. detective story, with wise cracks, wry comments and sarcastic asides, a few of which some readers may find insensitive or politically incorrect, (although I feel Stadiem’s barbs are intended more as humour that hatred).

I personally love behind-the-scenes show business stories, but more on the creative side, like why a particular camera angle or edit was used, or how the writer came up with a certain line of dialogue, but make no mistake, Moneywood is not in the least about the creative or artistic aspect of making movies, (most names of big-time actors and directors are dropped matter-of-factly), but rather exclusively the business side of the film industry.  It is about the deals, and the over-the-top personal lives of La-La Land’s top industry people, including their propensity for expensive cars, private jets, cocaine and prostitutes.

However Moneywood’s weakness lies not in its author’s style or subject (the business side of show biz is ridiculously strange and endlessly intriguing, more so than many of the banal, cookie cutter action movies they produced), but rather the content, which on multiple occasions repeats itself (like how Hillcrest Country Club’s working oil well is mentioned in consecutive chapters).  Stadiem could have used a good proof-reader, and editor as well; he often employs unnecessarily long words that add nothing to the book, artistically or otherwise.  They seemed unnaturally and randomly dropped into the text just to show off.  Someone should have informed Stadiem that he is no Christopher Hitchens.

Also Moneywood contains some of the worst, groan-inducing puns, including chapter titles like Hair Apparent (about hairdresser turned producer Jon Peters) or Murphy’s Lawyer (about actor Eddie Murphy’s manager Robert Wachs).  The book itself was not particularly witty or creative, but at least it was superior to the atrocious autobiography Hollywood Animal by the equally atrocious Joe Esterhaus.

Still Moneywood is never boring, and seems more honest than most inside industry books, probably because the author is not one of the main characters, but more a fly-on-the-wall observer who, although somewhat bitter by his experience, is for the most part (unlike the aforementioned Mr.  Esterhaus) without a serious personal axe to grind.

Other books I would recommend in this genre are Shoot Out by Peter Bart & Peter Guber and Rebels on the Backlot by Sharon Waxman.

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