Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Forgotten Books: No Way To Treat a Lady
I remember picking up the first edition of No Way to Treat A Lady by one Harry Longbaugh. The year was 1968 and everybody I knew was pretty much booze-and-drug-addled. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were dead, LBJ was stepping down and Tricky Dick's star was once again rising. The much-overrated (to me) Bonnie & Clyde was filling theaters and Hair was the subject d'jour for the mass media.
And man, did William the writer behind the Longbaugh pen-name, ever do it.
All you had to do was scan the layout of the pages. The story was told in newspaper headlines, partial newspaper stories, long stretches of dialogue, and the demented but hilarious monologues of the killer.
And this was no ordinary killer. Oh, no, as later envisioned on the screen by Rod Steiger, we have an overweight mama's boy who loves to put his victims at ease by disguising himself as various trustworthy people, including a priest. Who said killers can't be kind?
Reflecting some of the same mama's boy problem we have the detective Morris Brummell (on screen played by George Segal) whose own mother constantly rags him about getting a more respectable job like his brother.
And then there's a love interest for Morris Brummell, whom Mom, in her endearing way, may not accept.
Unique, original, one-of-a-kind, unduplicatable...however you care to describe it No Way To Treat A Lady holds up almost fifty years later. The book is superior in every way to the movie, which gets too self-indulgent (for me) with Steiger's hamminess.
William Goldman has had one of the most successful Hollywood runs of all time. The Princess Bride is the only novel of his to stay constantly in print. But he's written numerous masterpieces, including Lady, which is perfect example of taking apart the standard tropes and shocking your readers with your reconfiguration.
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One of my favorite books by a favorite writer. Amazing stuff. And the use of the Sundance Kid's name for the pen-name is wonderful.
Because I couldn't get through the movie because of Steiger, though he's been wonderful in so many others, I've since known I have to read the book. Thanks for the reminder.
Goldman's nonfiction about Hollywood will have a long afterlife. My favorite line on Steiger came from Sidney Lumet, who directed him in The Pawnbroker: "For a nickel, he gives you too much."
Wow, I didn't know this was Goldman! I'll have to track it down.
Well, Steiger isn't the only thing wrong with the film, and yet I found it strangely interesting when I stumbled across it one day on cable, and wondered why it had so little (not so much poor as nonexistent) reputation...
I've read all of William Goldman's books. The man is a true professional.
Goldman is one of the reasons I write books. He and Westlake are my gods.
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