Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Duke of Erle

On the Rap Sheet J. Franklin Pierce recommends a Salon site called Re-Viewed. Jeff particularly likes (with one exception) a piece on the Perry Masons by Louis Bayard.

"Leaving aside his criminal misrepresentation of Mason creator Erle Stanely Gardner as a “bad writer” (he wasn’t that at all--Gardner was an author who understood what his audience wanted, and that was punchy prose, thoroughly twisted plots, and dialogue filled with the gams-and-gats slang-speak of his era), Bayard nicely captures the dramatic appeal of Perry Mason, which ran originally from 1957 to 1966. He writes:

"The episodes chosen for the 50th anniversary DVD release boast early appearances by star-hatchlings like Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds and Ryan O’Neal, as well as a bizarre guest-lawyer performance by Bette Davis at her herky-jerkiest. But the shows themselves are still the attraction. Watching them, you may be surprised at how gore-free they are--virtually every murder takes place off-screen--and how unafraid the writers were of boring us with complicated points of law. But there’s a larger and subtler surprise: A show conceived in the Eisenhower era is, for all intents and purposes, a harbinger of 1960s counterculture, the kind of anti-law enforcement, pro-Bill of Rights template that Abbie Hoffman might have scripted."

For the rest of the piece log on to the Rap Sheet and while you're there check out Jeff's own piece on Gardner, one of the finest, smartest assessments of The Man ever written. http://therapsheet.blogspot.com/2007/07/defense-never-rests.html

My own favorite Gardners are the A.A. Fairs and the pulp western-mysytery novelettes known as The Whispering Sands collectively.

Ass I mentioned to Jeff until recently I was able to wrap up my day by watching the early Perry Masons at nine every night. Relaxing and fun. But now some moron has replaced them with a moronic sit-com.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Rogue Cop; I just wanna thank ya honey

TCM ran Rogue Cop the other day. I'd seen it a long time ago and hadn't much liked it. I didn't like it any better this time. Robert Taylor out grew his pretty boy looks but with one exception--Devil's Doorway directed by Anthony Mann--he was always pretty much a mannequin. Here he looks old and tired as the bad cop forced to turn on his mobster friends in order to save his innocent brother.

In the William P. McGivern novel there's a Graham Greenian undertow of Catholic sin and Catholic redemption. There's also a fury in the pace and the rock hard prose.

Here we have a dozy performance by George Raft whose every utterance is a cliche. And who is surrounded by bad guy actors who would have been bounced from old Republic serials.

I read the novel afterward and I'll say again what I've said before--McGivern was a major writer of crime fiction. That he is so utterly forgotten astonishes me.



From Page Six this morning:

"A less polite crowd was across town at the Newseum, where actress Rosario Dawson hosted Jason Binn's Capitol File magazine after-party. We heard that the event DJ, Fall Out Boy Pete Wentz, kept it classy by shouting, "I just want to thank my girlfriend's vagina!" before he started spinning, referring to his new fiancée, Ashlee Simpson."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

They don't make `em like this no more--thank God

Back when I was editing Mystery Scene one of the most valuables pieces I could come by was a Bill Pronzini profile of a writer or his take on some aspect of publishing past. With Gun In Cheek and others Bill has proven himself to be a man who knows how to have a good time with bad writing.

Sometimes I Google Bill's name to reread some of the finest pieces he's published various magazines over the years. Here's one of my favorites, this time from Mystery-File.


The Saga of the Risen Phoenix
by Bill Pronzini

Norma Goold was the most beautiful corpse Allen Starke had ever beheld. When he had seen her, lithe and young and magnetically compelling, doing her number at The Gayety burlesque house a few hours previously, he had understood his friend Paul Cloud’s infatuation with her. And even in death the power she had over men continued.

Paul Cloud, and his whole family with him, was drawn into the net of suspicion spread as a result of Norma’s violent demise. So was Paul’s fiancée, and the playboy backer of The Gayety, and an Italian gambler who had known La Goold when her name had been plain Marcella Cadorna. And before it all ended, Allen wished he had never left Kentucky’s peaceful blue grass for New Orleans.

– Jacket blurb for Death for the Lady, by Stewart Vanderveer, Phoenix Press.

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of New York, there was a publishing company called Phoenix Press.

Like many others born during the Great Depression, Phoenix was a lending-library publisher, which is to say that it grew up in a very tough and competitive neighborhood and was often forced to fight for survival with other lending-library publishers –Godwin, Greenberg, Arcadia – that operated in the same ghetto. Phoenix’s parentage is unknown. Perhaps it had no parentage in the conventional sense; perhaps it simply sprang from the ashes of some defunct flapper-era publisher, youthfully alive and functional, read to do battle in the marketplace. Such is the stuff of legends and fairy tales.

But Phoenix Press was stronger and more dedicated than the other lending-library publishers, and soon it surpassed them all to become the strongest in the kingdom. Guided by the keen eyes and iron hearts of its two chief editorial wizards, Emmanuel Wartels and Alice Sachs, it produced more mysteries, Westerns, and light romances during the thirties and forties than any other house. It was surely the monarch of all lending-library publishers everywhere.

This, however, was not its greatest distinction. Rather, it is the fact that in less than twenty years, Phoenix published almost as many wonderfully bad novels as all the other publishers combined.

The reason behind this remarkable achievement was an unstinting devotion to the principles of capitalistic free enterprise. Or to put it another way, it was a matter of greed. Phoenix published a large quantity of books and yet paid absolute minimum royalties to its writers. In an article for the Writer’s 1941 Year Book, novelist and screenwriter Steve Fisher says that he received the handsome sum of $125 for all rights to his first novel, Spend the Night, in 1935. Rates escalated dramatically to $300 for all rights – and even to $500 for some of Phoenix’s more prolific contributors –in the late thirties; where they remained for many years to come. This policy of paying rock-bottom prices allowed Phoenix to buy manuscripts that had been rejected by the major publishers and by some of the other lending-library outfits as well. And the preponderance of these manuscripts were, to put it in charitable terms, only marginally publishable by most standards. Thus, by a combination of design and accident, were so many classics given life in the kingdom.

for the rest go here http://www.lendinglibmystery.com/Phoenix/Pronzini.html

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bill Schafer; Vince Keenan

Once in awhile the good guys win one. I've probably known Subterranean Press founder (along with his partner Tim Holt) Bill Schafer for fifteen years. He's been a good loyal friend, a bright, honorable guy who through savvy, hard work and relentless enthusiasm for good writing has turned his Press into one of the most successfull of all small publishing houses. I'd like to congratulate Bill and Tim on their astonishing showing in the new Locus nominations. From Galleycat:

Friday Apr 25, 2008
Subterranean on top in Locus Awards

Subterranean Press - and works published by them - have made the final list in no less than five different categories for the Locus awards. Including best Magazine and Publisher. The winners will be announced at the Locus Awards Ceremony in Seattle, June 21st.
In today's mailbag I received a few upcoming titles from Subterranean including: The Best of Michael Swanwick (Swanwick is nominated for best short story and collection) along with Muse of Fire by Dan Simmons (best novella).

From Vince Keenan - Sleeping Dogs

With the last major primary out of the way and the Democratic party’s electoral future clear – sweet Jesus, this campaign is gonna go on forever – this seems like an ideal time to recommend Sleeping Dogs, the latest from friend-of-the-site Ed Gorman. Ed, an immensely talented writer who’s done some time in politics, knows the territory and covers it well.

Political operative Dev Conrad steps into an Illinois Senate race in the closing stages. The incumbent, a good-enough pol with only a minor history of bimbo eruptions, finds himself in a pitched battle with a downstate “nut job ... (who’d) gone to sanity school recently.” Dev has to deal with campaign sabotage and the suicide of the man he’s replacing, not to mention his own doubts about the candidate he’s working to reelect. The action, as always with Ed, goes down smooth, and is punctuated by his bittersweet observations about life and culture.

Don’t just take my word for it. Bill Crider, Lee Goldberg and James Reasoner like the book, too. I might steer you wrong, but those guys? Never.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Jack O'Connell

Fine article on our friend Jack on Galleycat today:

The (Long-Awaited) Return of Jack O'Connell by Ron Hogan

One of the first questions I had for Jack O'Connell when we sat down to lunch last week to talk about his new novel, The Resurrectionist: "Where the hell did you go?" I fell in love with his writing when I was a bookstore clerk at Dutton's Brentwood Books, and we handsold the heck out of Box Nine and Wireless, but somewhere in the late '90s I lost track, and then when I saw his name in the Algonquin catalog a few months back, I knew what I was going to be reading, well, right about now.

"The first answer is that Word Made Flesh [his 1999 novel] is a really dark book," O'Connell explained, admitting that he's been getting this question a lot. "By the time I finished, I had a couple young kids, and I didn't want to go back into the dark." So he spent years working on a light road novel, which he described as "Mike Ovitz and Britney Spears do Kerouac," and though he liked it a lot, "my agent strongly felt that whatever readership I had built up, I would probably derail." He set the manuscript aside for three months, took another look, and agreed. So then he came up with the idea for The Resurrectionist, which he was sure he could bang out in six months. It took five years.

For the rest go here http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/authors/the_longawaited_return_of_jack_oconnell_83119.asp#more

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Dogs of Summer

New York Magazine ran this article about which superhero movies might be superbad and why:


Playing Super-Devil's Advocate: Which Superhero Movie Will Suck?
Courtesy of Paramount, Universal, and Warner Bros.
Usually as the summer approaches, it's easy to tell which blockbuster movies will be great and which ones will be lousy. But in the case of this year's four big superhero franchise movies, the Hollywood hype machine has done a remarkable job. As of today, anyway, the buzz on all four movies – Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight, and Hellboy 2 – ranges from fairly positive to overwhelmingly positive. But long, bitter experience with summer moviegoing assures us that there's no way all four of these films will be as awesome as everyone currently thinks they will be. So which one will overcome its great trailer, smart casting, and expensive action to be a total dog? Vulture makes the case for each, after the jump.

Why Iron Man might suck:
We've been told over and over again how perfectly cast Robert Downey Jr. is, but what if his smug snappiness makes Tony Stark completely hateable? More than that, the character himself doesn't inspire a lot of sympathy; kidnapping-inspired turnabout aside, is America really ready to identify with a billionaire arms dealer, no matter how many little old ladies he saves? As for the film's presumed box-office triumph, no amount of marketing muscle can change the fact that even though Iron Man's a crucial character to comic-book aficionados, to the general public he has nowhere near the Q-meter rating of Spidey or Supes.
Odds it won't be super? 5:1.

Why The Incredible Hulk might suck:
Lou Ferrigno's appearance at Comic-Con aside, there's been plenty of behind-the-scenes drama this spring involving the big green guy. Star Edward Norton reportedly has been unhappy with the direction Marvel's taken the movie, and the initial trailer made the movie seem exciting but shallow and somewhat humorless. And if a legitimately great director like Ang Lee can't make the Hulk story into a good movie, what chance does Louis Leterrier (previous credits: The Transporter, The Transporter 2) have?
Odds it won't be super? Even money.

for the rest go here http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2008/04/which_one_of_this_summers_supe.html

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chase; Shrinking; Sleeping Dogs

Two items from the Los Angeles Times today:

Today, the Writers Guild of America, West, holds its annual honorary awards luncheon at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, and the "Sopranos" creator is set to receive the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television.


Though Chase always wanted to be a film writer-director, the 62-year-old earned the first of his seven Emmys 30 years ago for writing and producing "The Rockford Files." But it was his sprawling saga "The Sopranos," launched in 1999, that became a cultural touchstone and expanded writers' and viewers' expectations of what television could achieve.

But Chase, who invested the complicated psychology of his characters with the truths of his own emotional life, isn't so sure that he sees the sea change in TV that many people claim his show brought about.

"There seems to be a huge interest in writing about people out there -- perps and cops, criminal syndicates and FBI, politicians and forensic labs, and things like that," Chase says. "Therefore, I think the personal is still missing. People don't write about themselves."

Ed here: Couldn't agree more about the "personal" disappearing in all these pre-fab wanna-be bestseller type books. America is rich with stories and so few of them are told in crime fiction these days.

Say it Ain't So:

The 'Incredible Shrinking' idea

Last week, news broke that Brett Ratner was talking to producer Brian Grazer about possibly directing a remake of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" with Eddie Murphy starring for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment. Hot comedy team Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant ("Reno 911!: Miami") have written the most recent draft of the screenplay, adapted from the Richard Matheson novel.

Ed here: Yeah and I'm Murphy will give us plenty of Norbit-s in the role. Can you spell disaster?? And you thought the Lilly Tomlin version was bad.

From Pattinase by Patti Abbot

Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman

Yesterday I mentioned this book in a meme. Last night, I decided I wanted to say more about it than the five lines that challenge allowed.

Most books about politics tend to be thrillers. A quiet, incisive meditation on the seductiveness of political power, the people it attracts, and the way it all plays out is unusual. But Sleeping Dogs by Ed Gorman is exactly that. No plots to blow up the White House unfold; no bio-terrorists loom. Instead, this novel looks at an Illinois Senate race from the perspective of political consultant, Dev Conrad, an operative who’s realistic about what politicians are like. Dev stays in the game though it often sickens him. He’s good at it, and on some level, he likes the political arena, always hoping to find a politician he can promote for more than a paycheck.

Sleeping Dogs has a cast of characters that turns out to be multifaceted and complicated. No one is exactly what he/she first appears to be. In Sleeping Dogs, the actions are in proportion to the actors, each scene inexorably follows the one before it.

I hope we run into Dev Conrad again, working for a politician he can like. One of the most interesting questions posed in the novel was this: what do you do if you like the voting record and the political stance of a candidate, but not the person him/herself? That’s a question we need to think about. This was a terrific book.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Great Christopher Lee

From Cinema Retro tonight:

Legendary British actor Christopher Lee has confirmed to Cinema Retro that he has just signed for one of the most important and prominent roles of his career, co-starring with Colin Farrell in a new film.. Lee never likes to reveal specifics about his forthcoming projects, but said much of the film will be shot in Spain. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie is titled Triage and additonal scenes will be shot in Ireland. The film focuses on the real life experiences of a photographer who witnessed the massive genocide that took place in Bosnia in the early-to-mid 1990s. The movie will be directed by Bosnian Danis Tanovic, who won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2001 for No Man's Land. Filming starts next week, but Lee will be joining the company later as he has just started production on another major film in Scotland. Sources say the film is titled Cowboys for Christ and is said to be a long-awaited reimagining of the classic 1973 movie The Wicker Man. At age 85, Lee told Cinema Retro he is grateful for the fact that he is in demand more than ever.

McCain's VP candidate

X-tina's 'Daddy' Drama NY Post
Posted by Jarett Wieselman at 02:39 PM on April 18, 2008
Wrapped under: Scandal

Christina Aguilera is being sued by her father! Actually she's being sued by some "nut job" who thinks he's her dad. The man, named Michael Dunlap, is also under the impression that his children include: Corey Feldman, Hayden Panettiere, Vanessa Williams, Hilary Duff and Matthew Broderick.

Isn't it nice to see your tax dollars at work, pushing these valid lawsuits through the court system! In any case, "Crazy McUnstable" is suing Christina for loss of property, loss of earning capacity and damages that include harassment, lies and slander. Isn’t that so like Christina, going around lying about some guy she’s never met and constantly sitting under his window with binoculars, totally bothering him. Seriously Christina, get a job why don’t you!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Tony Curtis

Over the past few days several entertainment websites have been running a photo of a heavy-set, bald Tony Curtis in a wheelchair. The simple fact of aging that can startle even those of us who are getting on in years.

Back in the early 90s when I was with the William Morris agency our respective Morris agents brought me and Curtis together to develop a series of mystery novels. I'd done some deep cover books with celebrities before and Tony's new autobiography was just then being published.

Over a month or so we exchanged several phone calls, a couple of them fairly long. He had very good ideas and he was the most gracious star I'd worked with.

And I mean star. Not just a celebrity. If you grew up in the Fifties you know what I mean by that. He was major league in every sense. And in The Sweet Smell of Success he proved that he had great chops.

His autobiography didn't live up to publisher expectations so our mystery series came to naught. But for an almost innocent enthusiasim, humor and a charming vulnerability he impressed me as one of the most decent people I'd ever worked with.

Here's to you, Tony. Thanks for all the many, many hours of pleasure your movies have given me. And it was an honor to work with you, however briefly.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Money Trap

I've always enjoyed cops turned bad novels. These days when they go bad they automatically become killing machines. I prefer the older style where one murder will do and the book focuses on the mental and spiritual disintegration of the cop. Bad Lt. is the greatest example even though it's certainly modern.

I mention this because last night I read Lionel White's The Money Trap and realized that just about everything I like about genre fiction is packed into that novel. Compelling characters, an extremely cunning storyline and a believable if bitter love story that is truly adult.

Two cops cover a crime scene in which a wealthy doctor claims that he caught a burglar in his bedroom and shot him in the back. The doctor's prestige saves him from any serious scrutiny. But before the intruder died he told one of the cops something about the contents of the wall safe where the doctor hid an illicit one million dollars.

Though the narrator has to be dragged into it, he joins his fellow cop in figuring out how to seperate the doctor from his million. Paralleling this is the story of his disintegrating. For anybody who's ever drunk his way through a bad marriage some of the scenes are pretty grim.

White was a master of the multiple viewpoint caper novel. But I wish he'd written more intimiate I-narratives like this one. He wrote a few others but this was the best.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tuska; Tone

One of the books I pick up two or three times a year is The Detective in Hollywood by Jon Tuska. Because I'm a big fan of stories about the B movie factories of the Thirties and Forties this is nirvana between covers for me.

The book is packed with biographies of everybody from Rex Stout to some of the actors you saw in virtually every Monogram film ever made. The writing is respectful and never giddy and wise instead of wise-guy. Each person from grips to would be geniuses gets his or her due.

Tuska makes even Philo Vance interesting. Not as a character of course but as the name around which a very successful series was run. In the course of a long chapter there's more hard information about running a B movie series than in most full-length books I've read on the subject.

I've mentioned before the story of Leslie Charteris' contention that the B series Saint would become a smash A series if only RKO would convince Cary Grant to take it over. Right Cary Grant. Then one of the top two or three box office draws in the country. Charteris nagged them about this and other matters until they finally dumped the whole series along with Charteris himself.

I've never been sure why this book never got its due. This should be a staple in any crime library. From the sad story of Tom Conway to the tale of the resilient Boris Karloff to long choice overviews of Hammett, Chandler and even Hemingway...this is a fine companion for rainy nights.


Speaking of Bs...TCM ran this movie this afternoon:

Straight is The Way (1934)
A small-time gangster wants to go straight until he loses his girl to a rival hood. Cast: Franchot Tone, Karen Morley, Gladys George. Dir: Paul Sloane. BW-60 mins, TV-G

Ed here: It's always been said that Franchot Tone quickly tired of playing the smooth sophisticate and longed for more imposing characters to play.

He was a solid actor and generally an interesting presence but playing a hard-boiled gangster...I don't whose choice it was to have him grin and smirk knowingly throughout the entire movie--showing that he wasn't afraid, showing that he would triumph in the end--but the effect was irritating and ridiculous. Wow. A stunningly bad performance.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I don't want to live in a world where you can't trust rappers; Lee Goldberg


Rapper Akon, known for his songs "Don't Matter" and "Lonely" and for hurling a fan off of a stage, has been revealed as a huge faker by The Smoking Gun. He has built his reputation largely on the back of his criminal history, talking about his years in jail and his lengthy rap sheet. His album was even titled "Konvicted."

But, Akon's criminal history isn't not so:

Police, court, and corrections records reveal that the entertainer has created a fictionalized backstory that serves as the narrative anchor for his recorded tales of isolation, violence, woe, and regret. Akon has overdubbed his biography with the kind of grit and menace that he apparently believes music consumers desire from their hip-hop stars.

While the performer's rap sheet does include a half-dozen arrests, Akon has only been convicted of one felony, for gun possession. That 1998 New Jersey case ended with a guilty plea, for which the singer was sentenced to three years probation. Another 1998 bust, this one in suburban Atlanta, has been seized upon by Akon and transformed into the big case that purportedly sent him to prison (thanks to his snitching cohorts) for three fight-filled years. In reality, Akon was arrested for possession of a single stolen BMW and held in the DeKalb County jail for several months before prosecutors dropped all charges against him.

So there was no conviction. There was no prison term between 1999 and 2002. And he was never "facing 75 years," as the singer claimed in one videotaped interview.


Lee Goldberg was nice enough to review my new novel on his website A Writer's Life today:

You Can't Tell a Book By It's Cover

SLEEPING DOGS by Ed Gorman proves the old adage that you can't tell a book by it's cover. He has been stuck with the ugliest St. Martin's cover since my book, BEYOND THE BEYOND. It's a damn shame, because his book deserves more thoughtful packaging-- a LOT more. It's a biting, fast-moving, darkly funny mystery set inside a Senatorial campaign. The hero is Dev Conrad, a political consultant who knows how to play the game and is growing increasingly uncomfortable with the lies, hypocrisy, and self-delusion inherent in his job.

Ed not only gives us an inside look at the dark side of campaigning, he also offers a good puzzle, too, where the "bad guys" are fully fleshed-out characters who aren't that much different than the "good guys." And after countless books about tortured cops, PIs and forensic scientists...not to mention an endless number of amateur sleuths...Dev Conrad is a fresh, unconventional protagonist. The timing for this book couldn't be better...but, based on the cover treatment, I fear the publisher isn't in a position to take advantage of the opportunity.

As an aside, I am awed by Ed's versatility...he writes westerns, whodunits, thrillers, procedurals and now political novels...all with equal skill. I wish I was that flexible.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Plugs Gone Wild

This Saturday afternoon from 2:00-4:00 p.m. romantic suspense novelist Roxanne Rustand and I will be signing books at Mystery Cat Books 112 32nd St. Drive SE Cedar Rapids IA 319 363-2179 It'd be great to see anybody in the area. This is a very well-stocked bookstore and Ruth and Todd Myers are excellent folks.

One of the books I'll be signing is the newly re-issued The Night Remembers. This can be ordered on line from Ramble House Press http://www.ramblehouse.com/index.html

Bill Pronzini was gracious enough to introduce it. Here are a few of the things he said:

"Written with wit and real feeling, in a lean and understated style, Night is arguably Ed’s most emotionally charged work -- so much so that the mystery, even though it revolves around a major topical theme, is secondary throughout to the intensely personal backstory: narrator Walsh’s agonized involvement with the health issues faced by his young girlfriend, Faith, and the fate of her (and perhaps his) infant son. Walsh may have been inspired by “Nameless,” but he’s anything but a “Nameless” clone. He has his own unique voice, outlook on life, methods of detection. In his fifties, a part-time private investigator who supplements his income by managing a rundown apartment house, he’s a man who yearns for the simpler days of his youth, an outsider trying to make his peace with the world, and a model of compassion and sensivitity.

"All the other characters, primary and secondary, are equally well depicted -- living, breathing human beings instead of the two-dimensional cardboard figures of so much contemporary fiction. Faith, baby Hoyt, the partner’s widow Irma Ozmanski, the Pennyfeather family, the disparate Heckart brothers, the mad racist preacher, Bainbridge, and the overweight alcoholic seductress, Terri Jankov, are all memorable creations."

Review quotes:

“Subtle, ironic, never flashy (THE NIGHT REMEMBERS introduces Jack Walsh)…the kind of sleuth forever dogged by somber truths and bitter ironies. He grows on you, and so does Gorman.”

“Gorman’s sixtyish sleuth Jack Walsh, tough as the job demands but as compassionate as the circumstance permits, is a gem and Gorman surrounds him with an ingenious story and a solid supporting cast.”
--Robert Wade, San Diego Union

“Character and a sense of place (Cedar Rapids) are the strengths of this taut who-really-dunnit.”
--Publisher’s Weekly

“THE NIGHT REMEMBERS is some of the best work Gorman has ever done. Walsh deserves a long life and an extensive literary life.”
--Library Bulletin

“Characterization is Gorman’s strong suit…The sometimes awkward, sometimes silent relationship between Walsh and his troubled lover is uncomfortably true to life.”
--Ted Fitzgerald, THE DROOD REVIEW

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I waste my time

I'm not a bad movie fan. The only time I ever watched bad movies was when they appeared on Mystery Science Theater and then only because the commentary was so funny.

I know it's just me but sitting through even fifteen minutes of a crummy movie just for a few giggles strikes me as a waste of time.

However, as we all know, all such hallowed truths have their exceptions.

On the treadmill this afternoon I was racing throgh the channels when I came to TCM and saw Chubby Checker entreating a supposedly upscale NYC dinner club of middle-aged folks to get up and twist.

For the next twenty-five minutes I was pole-axed by some of the worst writing, acting, set designing and exploitation I've ever seen. The two storylines concern a "network exec" looking to save his job by finding something new and exciting (or something). He ain't having much luck. This guy is from the BIg Lug school of acting. God is he bad.

But Marie Blanchard is even worse. She plays a fashion designer whose recent line was dumped on a by hoity-toity "fashion critic" who looks a bit like Aunt Bea from Mayberry. Blanchard overacts to the point that she gives Vampira a run for her money (I ain't kidding). She won't marry Big Lug because she's in love with her career. He's walking so she tries to save the day by inviting him to her "lodge" (which looks a whole like like a ranch style house).

They get invited to this teen dance and there by God he finds the solution to his network problem and she to her dress design problem. The Twist! These fantastic kids at the dance (the main dancers look to be pushing twenty-five easy) will appear on the network and she'll design dresses for Twisters of all ages (her brainstorm--take your standard tight cocktail dress and put shimmy-stuff on `em). Ah but the kids won't dance (true facts) unless any money they make goes to the orphanage they're suporting. Guess how it ends.

Chubby Checker is good in his sweaty overenthusiastic way (for some reason I always felt sorry for him, knowing I guess that when it was all over he'd be living in a trailer somewhere); Gene Chandler proves that he IS The Duke of Earl; and The Dovells with their Bristol Stomp demonstrate the power of good doo-wop.

There are other acts including Vic Dana who sings one of the strangest pop songs I've ever heard "Little Altar Boy." He's praying to an altar boy because he's so sick of what he's become. Holy shit--a forerunner of Christian rock? Dana also does some "acting." Even the Big Lug looks stunned by how bad it is. And that, friends, is saying something.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Recent Reads

THE WORLDS OF JACK WILLIAMSON (Haffner) is a massive handsomely made book that is a centennial tribute to the writer Arthur C. Clarke put on a level with both Asimov and Heinlein. The book is also a tribute to science fiction and fantasy as well because by the he passed at age 98 in 2006 Williamson's history was the field's history. He did everything from the Gernsbackian "scientifiction" of the Thirties to comic strips to juveniles to adult novels that set standards for decades to come. Here you'll find one of his swashbuckling Legion of Space tales; an example of his more thoughtful and elegant work "Afterlife"; and, my favorite, the short novel version of Darker Than You Think, a stunning dark fantasy later turned into the novel of the same name. A novel as strange and compelling as it was back in the Forties. With essays on aspects of Williamson's work, appreciations by Fredrik Pohl and James Gunn, this book is a graduate course in the history of science fiction. And a great read as well.

CRUCIFIXION RIVER (Five Star) is the first time Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini have collaborated on a western. A powerful story of a confrontation at a stage station where passengers are holed up because of an impending storm, the short novel is told in brief segements by various travelers. This has the deep emotional truth of a classic Ernest Haycox piece and yet is is enriched and improved by the superb talents of Muller and Pronzini. Revenge was never so chilling. And don't just take my word for it. The short novel won the Spur for best western story this year. Several other stories ranging from traditional westerns to appearances by Sharon McCone and the Nameless Detective fill out this fine collection that needs to be in every library, home and public alike.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS by Margaret Locke (Juno) is more proof that the publisher has its own special take on supernatural and urban fantasy. This is a haunted house whodunit that works on both counts--the special effects are creepy, the mystery's a good one. Locke can write. The prose is nimble, the people real. With all the same old same old going on in mass market supernatural fantasy these days, it's refreshing to hear a new and different voice and to get caught up in wry tale ably told.

Sunday, April 13, 2008



Very good Levitation Man (Iron Man) trailer on You Tube. A witty extended sequence with Robert Downey. This may be one of the few comic book book movies I like.
Alberto Gonzales on food stamps? The LA Times reports that no law firm wants to hire him. How would you feel if you were told that the attorney in charge of your case was Alberto Gonzales? I'd think he could hire out as a lap dog. He's had plenty of experience at that.
Watched one of my all-time favorite films The Driver this afternoon and almost wish I hadn't. I carried it for years in my mind as a perfect work of B movie art. Maybe it was my mood but I had a hard time getting past the ridiculously arch dialogue and the straight lift from Point Blank where Ryan O'Neil demolishes a car in a parking garage.
Roger Ebert writing film reviews again. I didn't know until today that his last cancer surgery left him unable to speak.
Though I never cared much for his acting when TCM reran a Robert Osborne interview with Heston I found him smart, charming, funny and loaded with interesting industry gossip.
J. Kingston Pierce was kind enough to make my novel Sleeping Dogs-Pierce's Pick of the Week

Unleashing a new series, Gorman gives us political speechwriter and sleuth-by-necessity Dev Conrad. He’s just signed onto the unexpectedly troubled re-election campaign of a U.S. senator, and must deal with dirty tricks, campaign sabotage, a suicide and his increasing suspicions about the very man he’s supposed to be helping stay in Congress.


Friday, April 11, 2008

John D. MacDonald

Tonight Martin Edwards on his fine blog talks about the facts that 1) He's never read anything by Joh D. MacDonald or Ross Macdonald 2) That's he's reading a book about JDM written by Hugh Merrill called The Red Hot Typewriter. He's also reading David Geherin's book about JDM.

"The Red Hot Typewriter is the rather good title of a book published eight years ago by Hugh Merrill, an American journalist. It’s a study of the life and times of John D. Macdonald, of whom we are told: ‘He was a crime writer who managed to break free of the genre and finally get serious consideration from critics. Seventy of his novels and more than five hundred of his short stories were published in his lifetime. When he died in 1986, more than seventy million copies of his books have been sold.’


"Coincidentally, I’ve also picked up another book about JDM – this time by David Geherin – which again emphasises the author’s views on the way mankind threatens the natural world. He suggests that JDM was something of a polemicist, and I tend to think that using your books as a vehicle for expressing your opinions is tricky territory, unless you remember at all times that your first duty as a writer of commercial fiction is to please the reader. All the same, I’m keen to give Macdonald a try. It’s obviously long overdue."

Ed here: From what I can see JDM's career is falling into shambles. Or already has fallen into shambles. The McGees are among the few of his books to be found in the chains. The much better stand-alones have just about vanished in new editions.

I've mentioned here before that a few years after his death I put together a Collected Stories proposal with the help of his friend Walter Shine. Kent Carroll, then at Carroll and Graf, was very enthusiastic about it. He offered $25,000. I took this to his agent--a guy I like a lot actually--but he wasn't interested. For reasons I've never understood, JDM chose a movie agent to handle his estate. I'm pretty sure that to a movie agent 25K doesn't sound like big money. I contacted John's son, another guy I like based on a few brief letters, but he left it up to the agent.

I think the massive story collection Walter and I had in mind would have gotten JDM some serious notice. Reviewers need to remind their readers that he was a masterful storyteller. And he as as good if not better a short story writer than a novelist.

Given all the dead people whose new books are being ghosted (there's a Twilight Zone episode in there somewhere) John stands tall. He would have allowed no such foolishness. Just how many notes for future novels did V.C. Andrews leave behind anyway?

As for the two studies of JDM that Martin mentions, for me the Geherin is far superior to The Red Hot Typewriter. Better organized, better written and far more interesting as a take on the man's career.

Serious books about popular writers can be written and written well. The brilliant study of Ross Macdonald by Tom Nolan is the best example. JDM wasn't in the same league as Macdonald but I think his books had more of an impact on popular culture.

Any of you biographers out there care to write the book John deserves?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Stanley Kamel; Day Keene

From news.obits@latimes.com

Stanley Kamel, a veteran character actor who appeared most recently in the USA television network series "Monk" as detective Adrian Monk's psychiatrist, has died. He was 65.

Kamel was found dead of a heart attack Tuesday at his Los Angeles home by his longtime agents and friends Donna Massetti and Marilyn Szatmary, publicist Cynthia Snyder said Wednesday in a statement.

Often cast as unsavory characters in TV dramas, Kamel got attention as the suicidal Bruce Teller in the Fox prime-time soap "Melrose Place" in 1994, Dylan McKay's scheming father-in-law Tony Marchette in Fox's "Beverly Hills, 90210" in 1995 and creepy psychiatrist Dr. Graham Lester in the ABC crime series "Murder One" in 1995-96.

He also had a memorable role as Mark Gilliam, an activist attorney with AIDS, on "L.A. Law."

more on news.obits@latimes.com

Ed here: Mr. Kamel was one of the great pleasures of our favorite TV series, Monk. He played Monk's shrink--a thankless task--and he played him believably. Even Gabriel Byrne's great talent can't lift his HBO shrink out of the suds of the scripts: One Life To Live Goes Freudian. Kamel's shrink was professional, warm and sometimes agreeably frustrated with his difficult client. He was a small but vital part of the show's succes. So long, Mr. Kamel.


Day Keene

Last rainy night I was looking through some old books and found a copy of a 1960 Gold Medal called Take A Step To Murder by Day Keene. I hadn't intended to read it but I got hooked after two pages. I've got about thirty pages to go and what's remarkable is that its energy never lags. The reader (and writer) gets all his daily essential storytelling vitamins in one short book.

Back when I did my long piece on paperback writers I think I undervauled Keene. He wasn't of the first rank but in books like this he showed that he offered one thing many first-raters didn't--you didn't read his books, they assaulted you. He was in touch with his inner loser, he turned place description into character and he mananged to comment wittily on his times without slowing the story. Are you listening Travis McGee?

Much more of his work should be in print.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Only Two Can Play


"This is a terrific example of a number of little English gems that Sellers made before his international stardom as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther. The writing and directing are wonderful as is the great black and white cinematography that captures a dismal Welsh mining town. See it if you can find it."

The movie here is Only Two Can Play starring Peter Sellers and Mai Zetterling. I remember seeing this way back in `62 and was curious to see how it held up. Well, the film holds up a lot better than I have.

Sellers plays a small-town librarian who feels saddled with wife and children (one critic describes him as "henpecked" but since the worn but pretty wife is trapped with two squalling kids in a three room flat I don't think her irritability is unjustified). Zetterling plays the glamorous (and she is glamorous) wife of a local futzy pol who is just as bored as Sellers. The difference seems to be that she frequently does something about her boredom.

The interesting thing here is that for all the merriment--the suspense is provided by frequent situations in which the two would-be lovers are nearly caught at it--there is an undertow of the kitchen sink realism for which British movies were then known. A few scenes could have come straight from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Look Back In Anger.

You can sense Seller's talent getting ready to explode internationally. He doesn't play his librarian quite as broadly as he did some of his later and more famous characters but that wouldn't work here. Humbert Humbert remember was a mystery man. Our librarian is all too familiar--all of us who've felt trapped in our twenties and thirties and set about trying to amuse ourselves.

The only thing that bothers me is the image of the wife and kids in that grim little flat while Sellers is out rolling around with the sumptuous Ms. Zetterling. In my twenties this was all great fun to see. Now it looks sad to me and I like the Sellers character slightly less for doing it.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ruth Jordan; Thomas Cook

Thanks to Sarah Weinman's Confessions of an Indiosyncratic MInd

Central Crime Zone
An extension of the Crimespree Magazine website this is place for us to put extra stories and reviews related to the magazine. We are happy to hear your thoughts and comments.

Ed here: A wise column by Ruth Jordan

Apr 2, 2008
Sometimes the words come and sometimes they don’t. sometimes the narrative passages are there and sometimes they aren’t. Just tonight I heard the comment “Michael Chabon was nominated for an Edgar Award because the M.W.A. wants credibility. They want their award to be a literary award”.

Pfui, as a certain cerebral detective used to comment. Much has been made of what is and isn’t on this year’s Edgar Award list. The fact that I did at least 30 “happy dances” while reading the award nominations says a lot. The fact that when people began pointing out who didn’t make the list, I began to question, means perhaps even more. This isn’t about the judges. This year’s Edgar Awards embrace everything I covet within my own little realm of mystery. I know the judges this year are all readers. You can tell from the lists of nominees. But the comment, off hand and uttered amongst true fans, bothers me a little and worries me a lot.

For, and I’m saying this with a straight face, we are snobs!! Reverse snobs and so, therefore worse. Can someone just send me back to a John Hughes movie please. What am I talking about? I’ll give you two instances of recent “Jordan” conversation along with a recent posting thread on 4MA and ask you think about this. Talk about it, blog about it and if you post a response to this blog, this is one time when I will respond (usually I just cut and run)

Time and time again you hear the genre versus literature argument. Time and time again, I myself have said it’s a good two hours but no …. (plug in fav “literary” or “mystery” author here). Frankly I’m bored and a little disappointed in both sides. This is a world where the person who reads 300 books a year is reading the same percentage of published books as the person who reads two, and by that I mean 1% of all published novels. It’s about time we get off our high horses here. Because, for a book to be noted as literary it has to continue to be read. This applies to all novels, no matter how they are originally branded by the marketing departments that release them. Did anyone really imagine we’d still be reading about Holden Caulfield who read the first print run of CATCHER IN THE RYE? That the ophthalmologist billboard in THE GREAT GATSBY would resonate to this day?

for the rest go here http://centralcrimezone.blogspot.com/2008/04/glass-ceiling.html

Ed here: A serious and seriously entertaining mystery writer

Master of Crisis and Crime
by Jordan Foster -- Publishers Weekly, 4/7/2008

Thomas H. Cook, the prolific crime writer, says that he’s always believed that crime writing “can be meditative. It’s all about resonance.” Cook’s work—from his breakthrough 13th novel, Edgar-winning The Chatham School Affair (Bantam, 1996), to his 22nd, and latest, Master of the Delta, coming this June from Harcourt—explores moral dimensions that reach far beyond the crime. In fact, he often makes use of dual story lines that enable a character to look back on a past traumatic event in order to sort out the ethical implications.

“When you have a character looking back, you’re not talking about the action anymore,” he says. “You’re talking about the consequences of that action in the moral universe that the person continues to occupy. That’s what happens in Master of the Delta.”

Talking about his earlier work, Cook looks almost apologetic when reminded of the similarities between 1995’s Breakheart Hill (Bantam) and Master. “They do have similar gimmicks,” he admits, though each book ends with a different—and shocking—conclusion. In fact, many of Cook’s novels end with a twist. Does he know the surprise ending before he begins? “Sometimes I do,” he says, and he cites as example 2005’s Red Leaves (Harcourt). “But mostly I just have an idea. I like classic themes.”

His stories, he says, depend on atmosphere and setting. “I couldn’t imagine Breakheart Hill anywhere but the town I grew up in, and I don’t think Chatham could have taken place the same way outside of New England.” Born in Alabama in 1947, Cook has lived in New York City since his graduate student days in the late 1960s. His New York experience accounts for a good deal of the gritty, urban feel of his work.

Of course, the designation of being a crime writer or mystery writer, no matter how expedient for readers, presents its problems for the writer. When asked about genre, Cook observes, “It’s always a struggle, what you call yourself. I think it can be snooty to define yourself as something other than a crime writer. I’ve written mainstream fiction. But essentially I write about people in crisis, and crime is usually what propels that crisis. So the label doesn’t bother me. It’s a balance.”

for the rest go here http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6547972.html

Monday, April 07, 2008

William Goldman Meets Richard Widmark

From Variety

Widmark left indelible impressions
William Goldman remembers the acting icon

I only met Richard Widmark once, and briefly, a third of a century ago, but I'm not going to forget him.
I was in London, working with the director John Schhlesinger on a novel and screenplay of mine, "Marathon Man." Schlesinger, unquestionably brilliant, had won the best directing Oscar a few years earlier for his work on "Midnight Cowboy." He had also been nominated for "Darling" and "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

And he was, at this time, terrified he was dead in Hollywood. He had finished a movie, "The Day of the Locust," that he was convinced would destroy him. So he accepted "Marathon Man" -- a thriller -- for salvation.

We had a marvelous cast -- Dustin Hoffman, Roy Scheider, William Devane -- and the very great Laurence Olivier.

Who was sick, and maybe dying.

I asked our producer, Robert Evans, if Olivier was set and he replied: "Is he set? Is Oliver set? He's so set you wouldn't believe it." Then he paused, finished up with this: "Of course he isn't set-set."

OK, I am staying at a hotel, working in Schlesinger's house, and I ring his doorbell on this special day, and he answers, looking very surprised indeed.

"Richard Widmark is coming over -- he wants to read for Szell," the Olivier part.

for the rest go here:


Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bill Crider; Richard Matheson; Politics

As much as I like hardboiled I like equally fiction that deals realistically with the everyday most of us face. Realistically is a loaded word of course. One person's realism may sound like fantasy to someone else. But it seems to me that the traditional mystery novel in the right hands is ideally equipped to give us snapshots of life in our time.

One of my favorite traditional series is Bill Crider's novels about Sheriff Dan Rhodes and his travails in Blacklin County, Texas. The latest, and one of the best in the series, is Of All Sad Words. It's a perfect illustration of what I mean by realism. The main storyline is a gripping puzzle about a trailer blowing up following suspicions that it was a meth lab. What was really going on there?

Bill makes the town itself a character with a history, running resentments and large cast of folks who range from the innocent to the murderous.

Bill is a fine writer and an excellent plotter and the investigation keeps you turning the pages. But as always the charm of the series can be found in the very real minutia that real life sheriffs face. In this case one of the problems Rhodes must confront is the commisioners' decision to make him oversee the county website. Wry, sly, pointed these scenes show us my generation at the mercy of computers they can't begin to comprehend. I laughed out loud several times. I recognized myself in Rhodes.

Bill has long deserved major attention. Both in short form and long, he's one of the best storytellers working today. This is novel you'll enjpy and remember. Then read your way back through the entire series. Not a bad book in the bunch.


The Los Angeles Times has an article on Richard Matheson that is well worth reading.



Every once in awhile I feel the need to be directly political. I'm prompted to do this tonight because of two Sunday morning talks shows I caught today.

To dismiss the most easily dismissable figure, Tim Russert, when is he going to start using his "gotcha" tactics on John McCain? I saw them together last week and I had the sense they were holding hands under the table. Today he bully-boyed Governors Rendell and Casey about Hillary and Obama respectively. How dare they take all this money? And how dare the Clintons make so much money?

When he "interviewed" McCain he didn't point out that the senator is one of the biggest lobbyist whores in DC. All eight of his major advisors are full-time lobbyists.. Or how about the speeches McCain gave citing Chalalibi as a great patriot and friend of the US (he was likely an Iranian spy). And remember all those twinky uniforms central casting designed for Chalabili and his soldiers (read looters and child killers). Where were the questions about those topics?

The only show I like much is George Stephanopolous' on ABC. He's a good and even-handed interviewer. The problem I have is some of the pople he invites. If there's a lamer observer of DC than Cokie Roberts I don't know who that would be. She grew up in DC and is political royalty herself. Her fondness for herself is troubling to watch. God knows what she does in front of a mirror.

Today one of the guests was Dan Senor. A very sleazy guy. Senor, who comes off like an excitable college computer nerd, was Paul Bremer's best boy in Iraq for a few years. You remember Bremer. Disbanded the Iraqui army and strangely can't account for NINE FUCKING BILLION DOLLARS that accompanied him to Iraq. He dismissed responsibility for this by sneering "We didn't have time for American accounting." Henry Kissinger recommended Bremer to Bush as the Iraqui due and need I say more?

This morning Senor was even more slimy than usual (not an easy trick). He said that when withdrawls came "the adults had to be in charge" he meant McCain. He claimed that Obama doesn't know anything about "the realities." Then he told us how well the surge is working and what a swell guy Bush is.

One of my real heroes Katrina Vanden Heuvel sat next to him. I was surprised she didn't bitch slap him when he made some of his more outrageous comments. She settled for a lot of sighing and pursuing of lips.

The same with Pat Buchanan. I don't know how many of you read his truly sickening piece about Obama and race last week but it is one of the most racist tracts I've ever read. I was stunned by it.

Buchanan is an anti-Semite and racist of long-standing. Yet there he blithley sits day after day offering his elitist opinions. A writer friend of mine e mailed me after he got particularly ugly with one of my favorite people Rachael Maddow. She said that with Buchanan Rachael lost three different ways--she's a woman, she's Jewish and she's gay. That's exactly right. When he talks to her his contempt is obvious.

Here's Buchanan:

"First, America has been the best country on earth for black folks. It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.

"Wright ought to go down on his knees and thank God he is an American.

"Second, no people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the ’60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream."

Why are people like Buchanan and Senor on TV?

There's an excellent piece on Salon about a new book that discusses the effect of comedians on our politics:

"Topical comedians," says Peterson, "keep finding new ways to tell us what we already 'know' about politicians." And because they harp so remorselessly on candidates' individual quirks -- ignoring the hard, complex, often maddening substance of policy -- they declare, in effect, that every choice is equally bad and that the system itself is "an irredeemable sham." "Election after election," Peterson writes, "night after night, joke after joke, they have reinforced the notion that political participation is pointless, parties and candidates are interchangeable, and democracy is futile."

"There are good and sound economic reasons for this, of course. Someone as focused on numbers as Jay Leno is not about to sacrifice half his viewers for the sake of bringing down George W. Bush's immigration policy. Johnny Carson never even mentioned the Vietnam War. True satire can take root only in the exurbs of cable, where comic pioneers smoke out the vipers in democracy's den. Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert -- in Peterson's cosmology, these are the true heroes of late-night, because they ground even their harshest commentary in "a faith in the political process." And on that score, nobody has ascended higher than the "Lincolnish" Colbert, whose Gettysburg Address coincided with the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association dinner, a normally inane and self-congratulatory affair prodded into fretful life by Colbert's assault. Afterward, the dragoons of the press corps (Chris Matthews, Wolf Blitzer, Richard Cohen) fell over themselves declaring that Colbert had bombed. In fact, he'd been throwing bombs. Right into their laps.

"Here's how it works," Colbert explained. "The president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home ... Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know -- fiction!"

Ed here: I remember the reaction to Colbert's address. He had told the press the truth about themselves and they weren't about to stand for it. But he's right. Most national TV correspondents are way too close to the people they cover. Watch NBC"s Kelly O'Donnell get the vapors when she's interviewing McCain. It's a good thing Mrs. MccCain and her expensive designer suits are along with him otherwise Kelly Might Find Love.

We're about to face one of the most important elections in our history and the mainstream media, for all sorts of reasons, isn't up to guiding us through it. I get my information from people like Josh Marshall and David Kurtz and their staff at Talking Points.com. I recommend you do likewise.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Why God Why

Before we get started this evening let me steer you to my home page. Thanks to the talents (and patience) of Deb Adams there are finally new graphics on the home page and a greatly enhanced Links column on this page. After working with me for some time Deb is now under a doctor's care and resting in a home filled with people who have contracted the dreaded and probably incurable Working On Computers With Ed Gorman disease. Yes, I really AM that stupid. Thanks, Deb.

Why God Why--

--Does the new Entertainment Weekly list four of Richard Widmark's best movies but fail to include Night and The City?

--Did Graham Greene get so much talent and me so little? If you want to read a perfect crime novelette that also happens to be true literature read The Fallen Idol.

--Do people think eBay is so cool when it's inflated prices beyond reson in many cases?

--Doesn't somebody tell Mariah Carey that less is more, that her videos look like direct to video porn with a moderately attractive sex object trying way too hard to the point of parody?

--Does the Amerian working class generally vote against its own economic interests time and again?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

To Die For

I watched To Die For this afternoon, third or fourth time I've seen it. Though I'm not much of a Gus Van Zant fan, I think he created a minor masterpiece with this film. Equal credit goes to the ravishing and psychotic woman played by Nicole Kidman. In fact each time I see it I'm amazed that the entire cast including Matt Damon, Joaquin Phoenix, Kydia Mertz, Illeana Douglas, Dan Hedaya, Wayne Knight are to a person flawless in creating characters who stay in the mind long after the film is over.

From IMDB:

Suzanne Stone (Maretto) knows exactly what she wants. She wants to be a television newscaster and she is willing to do ANYTHING to get what she wants. What she lacks in intelligence, she makes up for in cold determination and diabolical wiles. As she pursues her goal with relentless focus, she is forced to destroy anything and anyone that may stand in her way, regardless of the ultimate cost or means necessary. Written by Tad Dibbern

Ed here: I believe this was one of those films that got Kidman praised as a serious actress. And well it should have. To pull off a deranged but stunningly beautiful woman who manages to function in society despite that the fact that she clearly belongs in psych hospital is a comment on how glamor can blind us to reality. And we welcome being blinded by it.

There's a line that appears two or three times in the film (paraphrase) You're nobody unless you're on TV. This is updating Nathaniel West's Day of The Locust. Getting yourself on screen back then was difficult. But with cable and the net anybody can be a star.

I catch Talk Soup every once in awhile. I like the kid hosting it Joel McHale. He smirks just the right way about the material. My favorite segment is his roundup of clips from reality shows. The one he seemed to think deserved Sleaze Hall of Fame status today was when two girls argued about which of them had showed her vagina to the TV camera (I believe they got snockered on couldn't remember). One of the battlers (they started physically attacking each other eventually) said that it wasn't true and she didn't want her parents to ever hear it (guess she didn't realize that when you're on TV PEOPLE ARE WATCHING).

Nicole Kidman is elegant, sexy, refined and would never think of flashing. Still and all she's the godmother of all these sad low rent people who just wanna be on the tube.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Writers as celebrities

As I remember it John D. MacDonald once spent five grumpy minutes at the tail end of a Johnny Carson show complaining that writers like himself should be given more time than they received. He was never on Carson again. Of course.

Tales of TV and writers abound. My own relates to the time Barry Gifford hauled my then current novel on to the Today show where he was guesting as the screenwriter of Wild At Heart, a very hot film at the time. I could glimpse my book resting on a table. And just before commercial I knew that the next small segment would see my book held up to the millions who would make it a bestseller. Well, Al Roker, windier than ever, ran long and when the interview was resumed basically all that was said was goodbye.

Barry did very well on the tube. Al Collins does very well. So did Evan Hunter. But face it folks most of us just aren't that exciting or even interesting to the masses because the masses don't read books. If you wrote your book in a whorehouse; or while driving a Nascar; or while having sex with a starlet--then maybe you'd be ready for TV. Otherwise forget it.

I thought of this tonight when I read Ruth Jordan's excellent piece on John Ball in Crimespree #16. In The Heat of The Night had an impact few genre novels ever have. And Ball would have been great TV because as Ruth details the guy packed enough occupations into his years to make you wonder if he wasn't four different people.

That's why non-fiction writers are in demand in radio and tv. They come with hooks. You know, how to lose weight, how to cheat your business partner without him knowing it, the real secret life of Dick Cheney (God spare me the details).

About fifteen years ago a Japanese magazine did an article about my Jack Dwyer novels. Big splashy full color magazine. The woman who wrote the piece even flew to Cedar Rapids to spend a day with me. She did a very nice job and I was thankful that she made me seem a lot more interesting than I am.

The one thing we laughed about was my life history. I wish I could've come up with a few years of mountain climbing and cancer research and having an affair with Princess Di. But as I told her except for four years when I wrote and produced commercials and documentaries all I've done with my life is sit in a variety of rooms and type.

And that sure ain't gonna get you on the Today show.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bullets Over Hollywood; Jim Harmon

When my buddy John McCarty published his fine book on American gangster movies I gave it twenty-seven stars. Or maybe twenty-eight. It's packed with intelligent observation, lots of insider stories and a look at how gangster films reflect American reality as much as more mainstream fare.

Now John's done a trailer that's almost as good the book.





Last night I wrote about Robert Bloch's love-hate relationship with Hollywood.

Back in the late Fifties and early Sixties when I was publishing a science fiction fanzine the fans most envied were those who were starting to sell their stories to the professional magazines of the day. Harlan Ellison and Robert Silverberg had made the leap a few years earlier. Several others were slowly walking the path blazed by brilliance of those two.

One of those writers was Jim Harmon. He was definitely one of Us. Fanzine-publishing. Convention-going. And writer of increasingly notable sf stories in the magazines.

He was five years or so older than my group and one industrious guy. He not only excelled at sf he excelled at the soft-core porn of the day--i.e., real novels with prim sex scenes as ballast. The soft-core market coincided with three or four people in my group (Illinois people) heading for Hollywood as their majority approached.

One of those was Ron Haydock, a notable fan, nice guy and talented writer. I lost touch with him after he landed in LA though various fanzines noted that he was getting involved in motion pictures. He also managed to keep his rock band, which got some very nice reviews, in steady work for a time.

Here's Wikipedia's take:

In the Hollywood B-movie industry, Haydock was an actor and screenwriter, working with director Ray Dennis Steckler, and he also worked as a magazine editor. Haydock used a variety of pseudonyms -- Arnold Hayes, Lonnie Lord, Vin Saxon, Don Sheppard, Jerry Lee Vincent. As Vin Saxon, he was the author of adult fiction paperbacks during the 1960s and 1970s. As Arnold Hayes, he wrote graphic stories for Warren Publishing.

Haydock's life came to an end in 1977, when he was struck by a truck while hitchhiking after visiting Steckler in Las Vegas. He was buried without any publicity. Norton Record's Miriam Linna has written extensively about Haydock for liner notes, magazine articles and the book Sin-A-Rama (2004).

Ed here:

I thought of Ron as I was reading the Jim Harmon novels because, published in 1961, they reflect The Dream as it was defined in those days. Harmon is not only a good storyteller and a hipper version of Carter Brown, whom he resembles in these books, he's a pretty funny observer of the Hollywood scene. Easy to imagine Ron and a few of the other fans who disappeared into LA playing out a few of these moments.

The Man Who Made Maniacs and Silen Siren are available in handsome editions with randy covers by Gavin O'Keefe from Ramble House. They're a lot of fun and weirdly nostalgic. Even then La-La Land was a sink hole of sorts but as Art Carney's private eye character Ira Wells says to LillyTomlin in The Late Show about his generation of Hollywood folk, "We did it better back then."