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The Hollywood Novel: A Personal Take
The “Hollywood novel,” as a literary sub-genre, just fascinates the hell out of me, no doubt an outgrowth of my long-standing personal and professional interest in the historical folkways of “this town.”  From an historical p.o.v., it's a little too easy to dismiss many of these books as worthless: clumsily-plotted, cliché-ridden, a decidedly lower form of popular fiction.  (Obviously this is a broad-brush generalization, with numerous exceptions.  It's like the old saying (I think it's an old saying, although I couldn't tell you how old or who said it): 90% of everything is crap.  The challenge is to identify the other 10%.)  But yet, somehow, they have grabbed me and won't let go.
Before I go any farther, I should clarify the parameters of my obsession with these novels.  The main thing to know is that I pretty much limit my focus to books written and published before 1970.  It's not that I don't care about more "modern" entries in the genre; to be honest I'd have to admit that some of the very best books in the genre, in terms of literary quality, are of more recent vintage.  So wherefore my 1970 cutoff date?
I think it has something to do with the fact that it was during the mid- to late-1960s that the Hollywood novel threw off many of its old restraints (while retaining many of its tropes), and began depicting Cinemaland's behind-the-scenes goings-on in much more graphic and explicit detail than in previous years.  (This, of course, was true across the board in American literature, so I'm not necessarily making any special claims for this particular sub-genre.)  Whatever you may think of Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls (1967) or Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1968) -- and I love them both, for very different reasons -- it's impossible to deny that neither could have been published in America ten years earlier, prior to the judgments in the various obscenity trials centering around such books as Lady Chatterley's Lover and Tropic of Cancer in the early 1960s.
And because "the New Hollywood" was struggling to emerge at this time from the convulsions of the increasingly-moribund studio system, we should perhaps also speak of the New Hollywood Novel as a different kind of animal from its predecessors.  For one thing, as the Seventies, Eighties, etc. progressed, everybody started getting in on the Hollywood-novel action, to the point where it seemed like every personal assistant, gofer and wannabe screenwriter now believed (and believes) that their unique Tinseltown experience has given them the material for a novel (or a memoir, but that's another discussion).  Then, too, there have been various offshoots of the genre, mostly notably what we might call the Retro Hollywood Novel.  These books, the appetite for which has been fed by the ever-growing nostalgia for the "old Hollywood" (which, again, really kicked into high gear in the 1970s), include such mystery-series entries as Stuart Kaminsky's Toby Peters capers (beginning with Murder on the Yellow Brick Road in 1977) and George Baxt's [Famous Movie Star] Murder Case series, both of which bring a modern film-buffed sensibility to fanciful but plausible plots populated by the iconic figures of Hollywood's Golden Era (Mae West, Humphey Bogart, Greta Garbo, Alfred Hitchcock, et al.), as well as numerous one-offs like Christopher Bram's Father of Frankenstein or Jerry Stahl's I, Fatty.  Major literary figures have gotten in on the act as well -- Gore Vidal's Hollywood and Joyce Carol Oates's Blonde come easily to mind.  There are also the meta-novels, such as the critic David Thomson's wonderful Suspects and Silver Light, which weave kaleidoscopic narratives based on invented backstories for some of the movies' most familiar on-screen characters.
And so many more!  The point is that in the "modern" era (defined here as post-1970), there have been more Hollywood novels than you can shake a stick at -- and although I won't claim to have read more than a handful of them, my impression is that the "90% of everything" dictum is holding up pretty well.  And to be completely frank, I just don't have the bandwidth to keep up, or to care.  So come with me, back to the days of the Old Hollywood Novel.
I think the ultimate source of my fascination is my belief that many of the "old" Hollywood novels represented their authors' attempt to give readers a kind of back-door or side-window view into the "real" Hollywood -- a sub rosa counter-narrative to the public image of Hollywood as promulgated by the studios' publicity departments, and disseminated to much of the world via the fan magazine industry, and to much of the industry itself through the trade press.  In that Hollywood, the stars were as happy and healthy as they were beautiful, everybody behind the camera was a consummate professional, the children were (like in Lake Wobegon) all above average, and nobody, but nobody, was stupid, or gay, or mean, or a criminal.  Let's not lose sight of the fact that film history, as a serious discipline, has labored long and hard to get out from under the shadow of this mythology.  Until primary source materials began to become available to scholars and biographers, and before so many older films could be viewed (or re-viewed) as readily as they can be today, too many film histories and biographies were essentially cut-and-paste jobs, cobbled together out of old clippings and magazine articles and informed (if that's the word) by faulty, self-serving, un-fact-checked memories of the movie people themselves -- not a few of whom had come to believe (or at least to prefer) the studio-publicity versions of their own lives. 
By contrast, it seems to me that many of the Hollywood novelists (the better ones, at any rate) were determined to engage in some truth-telling, albeit in fictional guise -- to give us "the real dope" on what was going on when the cameras weren't rolling.  This isn't to say these writers weren't engaging in various forms of obfuscation -- of course names had to be changed ("you'll never work in this town again" was a real thing, especially in the days when the studios dominated the local industry), characters invented or composited, annoyances ginned up into crises for dramatic effect -- but I would still contend that in many instances, a large measure of truth is to found in these books, even if you have to dig around between the lines to uncover it.
Here’s a helpful way to think of it: the “real” Hollywood community resembled the image of the town that was fed to the press and public by studio flacks about as much as the real world (with people saying bad words, married couples sleeping in the same bed, and real blood flowing from real wounds) resembled the on-screen world brought to us by Hollywood via the Hays Office. 
So where does this leave the “Hollywood novel”?  I think that it's a fascinating genre precisely because it was always sub rosa.  These books were there (their blurbs insisted) to tell us “the story that couldn’t be told,” to blow the lid off “the real Hollywood,” to traffic in the shocking down-and-dirty details about life in Tinseltown that the Powers That Be wanted to (and did) keep swept under the rug.  And the reader, I’m convinced, understood the compact: these were real people being written about, but the only way the authors could “get away with it” was to fictionalize them.  (Or, to put it a little more precisely: the deeds depicted were real, but the names had been changed to protect the guilty.) 
Well, there I go with another wild generalization, in which you may poke holes if you wish.  I'll poke one myself: while plenty of novels about life in the movie colony were written by folks who had observed it up close and personal (like Budd Schulberg. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Horace McCoy, to cite just a few obvious examples), there were also a whole bushel basket full of books that were made up out of whole cloth, by people who had never been within a thousand miles of Southern California. All such  writers knew about "Hollywood" was what they read in the newspapers and fan magazines, which as noted, was pretty much fiction to begin with -- so their books were truly works of the imagination!
[To be continued -- I'm just gettin' warmed up!  In the meantime, enjoy the accompanying gallery of Hollywood Novel covers, from my personal collection -- not, at this point, for sale.]
Remember Valerie March
(More photos to follow; still working on this page.)