The Day of the Locust
Nathanael West is one of America’s most brilliant purveyors of prose but his most famous and infamous novel is the result of time spent as a screenwriter that failed to produce the cinematic equivalent of his literary output. “The Day of the Locust” tells the inside story of what it takes to be a scenic designer for movies while expanding its focus to reveal the grotesque world that surrounds the industry. The climax is one of the greatest riot scenes ever described on the page. The most interesting bit of trivia for 21st century readers may be stumbling across an important character named Homer Simpson who is played by Donald Sutherland in a movie version that is surprisingly faithful.
What Makes Sammy Run
Budd Schulberg is the opposite of Nathanael West in that he enjoyed great success as a screenwriter before utterly destroying his credibility by joining his rat fink collaborator Elia Kazan in naming names before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The stink of that betrayal undermines the outrage any reader could possibly feel about the overriding theme of “What Makes Sammy Run” which is that the businessmen who run studios don’t care about art. The titular character, Sammy Glick, became synonymous with backstabbing ambition. Something with which Budd Schulberg was intimately familiar, obviously.
James Robert Baker committed suicide at least somewhat due to an increasingly inability to find the success he desired as a writer. Before he reached this tragic end of the road, however, he managed to put out one of the most recently published novels to brilliantly take on the world of Hollywood and the movie industry. Indeed, “Boy Wonder” is more of a novel about Hollywood than the others on this list. Presented in the format of an oral history, the reader traces the life of young cinephile that rises up the ladder from nobody to B-movie legend to the stage of the Academy Awards. Few novels about Hollywood address the world of low-budget B-movies with the feeling of authenticity of “Boy Wonder.” You get the feeling that the book is just a little too on the nose to ever become a film itself.