Joe Eszterhas Hollywood Animal

ISBN 13: 9780375718953

Hollywood Animal

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9780375718953: Hollywood Animal
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Joe Eszterhas had everything Hollywood could offer. A combination of insider and rebel, he saw and participated in the fights, the deals, the backstabbing, and all the sex and drugs. But here, in his candid and heartwrenching memoir, we see the rest of the story: the inspiring account of the child of Hungarian immigrants who, against all odds, grows up to live the American Dream. Hollywood Animal reveals the trajectory of Eszterhas's life in gripping detail, from his childhood in a refugee camp, to his battle with a devastating cancer. It shows how a struggling journalist became the most successful screenwriter of all time, and how a man who had access to the most beautiful women in Hollywood ultimately chose to live with the love of his life in a small town in Ohio. Above all, it is the story of a father and a son, and the turbulent relationship that was an unending cycle of heartbreak. Hollywood Animal is an enthralling, provocative memoir: a moving celebration of the human spirit.

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About the Author:

Joe Eszterhas is the author of American Rhapsody and Charlie Simpson's Apocalypse, which was nominated for the National Book Award. His fifteen films include Basic Instinct, Flashdance, Jagged Edge, Telling Lies in America, Showgirls, Sliver, Jade, Music Box, Betrayed, F.I.S.T, and An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn. He lives in Bainbridge Township, Ohio, with his wife and four sons. He is also the father of two grown children from his first marriage.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER 1

The King of Point Doom

KARCHY
I wanna show off the car. I wanna show you off.

DINEY
Why do you have to show off all the time?

KARCHY
I ain’t got that much to show.

Telling Lies in America

I

My great-grandfather grew up a poor kid in a tiny village in Hungary. He was about to be drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army and he fled to America.He worked as a miner in Pennsylvania for a while but didn’t like the work. He went out to the American West and became a stagecoach robber.He became wealthy.He rode with Black Bart and Jesse James.

I grew up a poor kid in the refugee camps of Austria and on the West Side of Cleveland, Ohio. I worked as a furniture mover, a disc jockey, and a newspaper reporter, but I didn’t like the work. I went out to the American West and became a screenwriter.

I rode with a whole lot of famous hombres.

I sold screenplays in Hollywood for record amounts of money.

My agent, Guy McElwaine, referred to these sales as “bank heists.”

My wife, Naomi, wore a leather strap of silver bullets around one of her cowboy boots when I met her.

And when she knew she had fallen in love with me, she gave me the strap of silver bullets and tied them around one of my cowboy boots.

The day I married her, I wore her silver bullets.

. . .

My great-grandfather took his fortune and went back to the village in Hungary where he had grown up.Old crones wearing black babushkas said they saw him through the cellar windows of his castle playing cards by candlelight with the devil.

He had sold his soul to the devil in the American West and was trying to win it back now.

When I was a screenwriter in Hollywood, the Los Angeles Free Press wrote that I had sold my soul to the devil.

A columnist in South Dakota wrote that I was “in the devil’s employ.”

A Canadian magazine wrote that I was “a devil living in Malibu.”

My hometown newspaper, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, wrote about me with a headline that said, “Eszterhas — Ordinary Joe or Satan’s Agent?”

A cartoon in Entertainment Weekly showed the devil’s hand on my shoulder and these words: “December 31, 1999 — The Devil Takes Formal Possession of Joe Eszterhas’ Soul.”

A secretary at Paramount who liked to wear Blessed Virgin Mary T-shirts had a vision of me.

I was ascending from the putrid steam of a black-water pond.

And shortly after her vision, during the making of the movie Sliver, the actor Billy Baldwin and I were walking down Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles heading into a bar owned by the actor Tony Danza’s brother.

A bag lady approached us, took one look at me, made the sign of the cross, and turned around and ran in the other direction.

“Wow!” Billy Baldwin said, “maybe you are the devil.”

That secretary who liked to wear Blessed Virgin Mary T-shirts and said I was the devil worked for the producer Robert Evans.

My friend Robert Evans, as everyone in Hollywood knows, really is the devil.

Evans, the producer of Sliver, liked my Sliver script so much that he sent a voluptuous redhead wearing only a mink coat over to my hotel. She pulled a note out of a certain intimate body part.

“Best first draft I’ve ever read,” the note said. “Love, Evans.”

The note smelled fantastic.

That mink coat she wore, I later discovered, belonged not to her but to Evans. He dressed all the girls in that same mink coat on the occasions when he was dispatching them as fragrant human telegrams.

II

Our house in the part of Malibu known as Point Dume overlooked the sea.

Wolfgang Puck’s Granita, just down the road on the Pacific Coast Highway, catered our dinner parties. We bought our air-shipped white truffles at the TrancasMarket, where TomandNicole shopped. We bought clothes for our four boys at Ninety-Nine Percent Angels, where Demi roamed with her team of nannies.

Sean Penn and Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez and Jan-Michael Vincent used to hang out at our neighborhood bar, the Dume Room. A few blocks south of us was a ramshackle little seafront house where William Saroyan once lived, collecting stones. So many stones that when he moved away, he needed two houses to store them.

Naomi and I and our little boys lived in our house by the sea. We had a swimming pool behind the house, a hot tub, a guesthouse.

We lived right across the street from Bob Dylan’s house. Bob’s roosters woke us each morning. His mastiffs left great heaping mountains of dog doo in front of our gate.

Buzz magazine picked Naomi and me as “two of the scariest people in Los Angeles” and as “the scariest couple in Los Angeles.” Other “scariest people” were Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand, Val Kilmer, Heidi Fleiss, John Tesh, and my producer pal Robert Evans. There were no other “scariest couples” nominated. Naomi and I won that category unanimously.

Naomi is part Polish and part Italian. She is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. She is also the smartest. She told me she will “hunt me down and kill me” if I ever cheat on her.

I will never cheat on her because she is my best friend and my wondrous lover. Also because I love her more than my children and I love my children more than anything in the world.

Naomi and I have four little boys: Joey, nine, Nick, six, John Law, four, and Luke, two.

“Dicks,” Naomi said to me recently. “I wake up in the morning and all I see in every direction I look are dicks.”

I have two grown children from my first marriage — Steve (also known as LaMon, also known as D. J. Rogue) is twenty-eight. He’s a white African-American. He’s the only white African-American member of the family, although Suzi, twenty-six (also known as Mo), spends a lot of time in Africa, photographing wildlife.

I think Suzi prefers wildlife to human beings.

I think she felt that way even before I left her mother, Gerri Javor, my first wife.

. . .

Even before we met, Naomi had spent months studying my face. She was a talented graphic artist and her boyfriend had given her a photograph of me and asked her to make a drawing of me as a Christmas present.

I thought her pencil portrait remarkable, especially my eyes. Naomi had drawn me with sad, wounded eyes.

You must understand why Naomi is the love of my life.

She grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, an hour away from Cleveland, where I grew up.

She was a cheerleader in high school, a Ramette — “a Ramit” is what they called them in Mansfield — who got straight As. She reads. She adores Edith Wharton and knows all of Prufrock by heart.

Her favorite meal in the world is McDonald’s French fries.

She was voted “class tease” in high school.

Like me, she was a journalism major in college.

For many years she worked in public relations in New York for Time Warner and American Express.

Her specialty? Damage control.

An American friend of my father’s drove me to Naomi’s hometown,Mansfield, Ohio, from Cleveland when I was eleven years old. We visited the museum — home of a famous dead American writer named Louis Bromfield. The house was the biggest and most beautiful house I had ever seen in my life.

My father’s American friend explained that if I, too,worked and studied like Looey Bromfield had worked and studied, I, too, could be a famous American writer one day and own a house as beautiful as this one.

After I met Naomi, I read a book about Looey Bromfield’s life. Born in Mansfield, Looey left his hometown and spent many years in California and abroad, writing many best-selling books and Hollywood screenplays.

Approaching sixty, he then returned to Mansfield, Ohio, and bought the property that he called Malabar Farm. His friends Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall got married there.

He never wrote any other best-selling books or big-buck screenplays and drank himself to death, dying in the ambulance on the way to the hospital in Cleveland.

There was a little hill on Malabar Farm called Oh Jesus Hill. Looey had named it that because he’d made love to the wealthy heiress Doris Duke on that hill and had said “Oh, Jesus!” at a certain moment.

Naomi’s only visit to Malabar Farm was when she and her boyfriend visited it in high school.

Naomi claimed not to have visited Oh Jesus Hill but . . . Oh, Jesus! . . . I’m not sure I believed her.

I don’t mean to sound insufferable, but . . .

I realized reading about Looey Bromfield that I’d written more successful screenplays than he and while he’d written many more best-selling books than I, I’d gotten a much bigger advance for my best-selling book than he’d gotten for any of his.

I also realized that my houses in Tiburon and Stinson Beach and Malibu were all bigger and more beautiful than the house I’d been so razzle-dazzled by as a child . . . Looey’s relatively rinky-dink Malabar Farm in Mansfield, Ohio.

I had worked and studied like Looey Bromfield had worked and studied and had become a famous American writer like Looey . . . but I owned much bigger houses than Looey.

I was a Great American Success Story.

I had out-Looeyed Looey!

III

I was a militant, fanatical smoker. I smoked three to four packs of Salem Ultra Lites each day. I’d started smoking when I was twelve years old, thinking that those who smoked in the movies I liked so much — like High School Confidential! — with Jerry Lee Lewis — looked cool.

Now I was writing smoking into my movies, combining smoking with sex as in Basic Instinct, because I still thought smoking was cool.

Through the years, I’d smoked Marlboros and Gauloises and Luckies, even smoked a pipe for years, and then discovered menthol cigarettes, cool with a K. I’d worked my way down to Ultra Lites and didn’t even have a smoker’s cough in the morning.

My mother, a chain-smoker, died of cancer when she was fifty. Her mother, a chain-smoker, died of lung cancer at forty-five.

Naomi begged me to stop but her parents had been heavy smokers, too.Her father died when he was seventy-eight of complete respiratory arrest. Her mother’s death was not smoking-related.

“Don’t worry,” I’d say to Naomi, “I’m going to be that little old guy you read the stories about, the one who’s puffing away at a hundred and two.”

A half hour before my mother died, she smoked her last cigarette. She was fifty years old.

I held it to her lips because her hands trembled so badly she couldn’t hold it.

When she was finished smoking that cigarette, I left her room and went outside and smoked a couple of cigarettes myself.

Then I went back inside and held her hand.

She died holding my hand.

My hand was bleeding from how hard she had dug her fingernails into it.

My mother smoked Herbert Tareyton filters and then Viceroy filters, but only after she “purified” them.

She took each cigarette out of the pack and sliced the filter off it. Then she put the cigarettes back into the pack and took them out all day and smoked them that way.

I asked her why she didn’t simply smoke unfiltered cigarettes but she said the unfiltered ones were too strong and filled with poisons.

She said the people at the cigarette factories purified their cigarettes in the process of putting filters on them and all she was doing was purifying them twice by slicing the filters.

That’s why, my mother said, she didn’t even have a smoker’s cough in the morning.

Naomi’s father, Barney Baka, smoked Viceroys, too, like my mother, but he didn’t razor the filters off them.

After a lifetime of smoking, he never got cancer.

But he couldn’t laugh.He coughed instead of laughing.He had a good sense of humor, so he coughed much of the time.

The morning my mother died, a hearse from the John J. Hriczo Funeral Home in Cleveland came to take her body away.

The two men from the funeral home had just gotten her body into the hearse and were ready to go . . . when the garbage truck came by for the weekly pickup.

The hearse had to stay in the driveway with my mother’s body inside it as the garbagemen emptied out one garbage can after another.

For many years afterward, I dreamed about the hearse waiting for the garbagemen to empty the garbage cans.

The day my mother died, the roses she had so carefully cultivated at the back of our house in Cleveland Heights died as well. The roses in all of our neighbors’ yards were alive and blooming.

After the worldwide success of Basic Instinct, a tobacco company released Basic cigarettes, no doubt inspired by the sex/smoking scenes in the movie.

Thanks to me, even more people in the world would be smoking.

Thanks to me, more people would die.

IV

Here are some other reasons why Naomi is the perfect woman for me:

1. She rolls the best joints of any . . . of the very many . . . that I’ve toked.

2. She used to work pumping gas at the Sohio station on Crider Road in Mansfield.

3. She’s hell on wheels on roller skates.

4. When she was a little girl, her mother addressed her as “The Little Devil.”

5. In high school, she went to parties dressed as Marilyn Monroe.

6. She loves Madonna, and calls her “Madoo.”

7. She keeps a journal.

Madonna almost played the part of Cristal in Showgirls, but Paul Verhoeven, the director, didn’t like Madoo’s script ideas.

Had Paul liked Madoo’s ideas:

1. Then the critics would have liked Showgirls better because it would have been Madoo’s script, not mine.

2. Then Showgirls may not have been one of the greatest clinkers of all time.

Besides Madoo, Paul Verhoeven nixed both Drew Barrymore and Sharon Stone for Showgirls.

Had Showgirls starred Madonna and Drew Barrymore instead of Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkley . . .

The script would have been very different, thanks to Madoo.

The acting would have been very different, thanks to Drew.

And it’s just possible that Showgirls would have been a hit movie!

If the script had been Madonna’s, then I probably wouldn’t have called it “a deeply religious message.”

Had I not called it “a deeply religious message,” I probably wouldn’t have issued a press release telling teenagers to bring their fake IDs to see it.

Had I not told teenagers to bring their fake IDs, I would have avoided making a colossal asshole of myself.

A hit movie! Showgirls! A hit movie!

You have no idea how happy that would have made me!

Because I had done something else tragically foolish, too.

I had named the lead character of Showgirls “Nomi” . . . Nomi . . . Naomi’s childhood nickname . . . Nomi . . . the name I loved and was always going to call her in our most intimate moments.

Until the movie came out and disastered and turned my true love’s childhood nickname into a national joke.

No more “Nomi”!

Now I never call the love of my life “Nomi” anymore!

For the record . . . what I was thinking by saying Showgirls has “a deeply religious message” was this:

At the end of the movie, Nomi Malone turns her back on stardom and leaves Vegas because of the amorality she has seen and experienced there.

She has become a star as the result of participating in that amorality . . . but rejects her stardom . . . and that amoral world . . . and gets back on the road, hitchhiking ...

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