I hope it doesn’t come as a shock to anyone that I’ve long taken an interest in Joe Eszterhas’ career. The churner-outer of some of Hollywood’s shlockiest shlock shares an alma mater with me, and one of the most wonderful days I had at Ohio University was in my Mass Media and the Law class, senior year, when we studied the case that put Joe Eszterhas — yes, the writer of “Showgirls” — into journalism-law history (and out of the OU j-school’s Distinguished Alumni honor roll).
Eszterhas doesn’t talk about this case. After he became a success, he always said his career at the Cleveland Plain Dealer foundered on the fight he had with his editors there, over their refusal to publish photos of a then-unknown Vietnam atrocity at a village called My Lai. Never a word about Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing, which led to a landmark ruling that established invasion of privacy as a cause of action in defamation cases. (I think; it’s been a while.) What I most recall was the professor’s deadpan delivery of certain purpley portions of Eszterhas’ narrative, contrasted with the testimony at trial, all of which added up to: He made an awful lot of it up.
“Eszterhas has recently launched a career as a Hollywood scriptwriter,” the professor said. “He seems well-suited to fiction.”
So anyway, it’s always been my pleasure to take note of where Joe is at any given moment, and sometimes these updates are almost too coincidental, like the time, summer before last, when I took Kate to Cedar Point, and the woman at the next table in McDonald’s discarded her copy of the Plain Dealer features section — the one with the story about Joe’s relocation to Chagrin Falls and his change of heart about tobacco products. He confessed that he always included cigarette smoking in his movies as a big f-u to the forces of political correctness, and now he was real sorry, and he was going to make up for it by…I dunno. One hopes he’d make a good movie that featured no smoking, but you can’t have everything.
In any event, now he’s published a memoir — with the unsubtle title “Hollywood Animal” — and the New York Observer has a pretty fair interview with the guy this week:
In the 80’s and much of the 90’s, Mr. Eszterhas was Hollywood’s best-paid screenwriter, sometimes receiving more cash for a script than the film’s director, who would usually find himself in a back-alley brawl with Mr. Eszterhas over their unshared vision. Some of these movies were hits. Some weren’t. One could count on seeing cartons of militantly smoked cigarettes, plenty of on-the-job hanky-panky and, in his late-period panty movies, ruttish lesbians and multiple grand-mal orgasms. “You like to play games, don’t you?” was a line that Mr. Eszterhas wrang out of his Olivetti manual more than once. Plots usually twisted around people who were not what they appeared to be.
That’s OU’s bad boy in a nutshell, isn’t it?
A good read that doesn’t disappoint. Enjoy.