The best novels featuring Hollywood giants as characters

Who am I?

A Southern California-based writer, screenwriter, and journalist whose adventures in and around the film business have led to hundreds of feature stories and film reviews for such magazines as Vibe, Playboy, American Film, Smithsonian, and Movieline. His books include three dedicated to Disney animated classics and a volume on the art of American movie posters. His lovingly satirical book Bad Movies We Love, co-written with Edward Margulies, inspired a Turner Network movie marathon series, his Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho was filmed in 2012. His next non-fiction book will be published in 2024.   


I wrote...

Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho

By Stephen Rebello,

Book cover of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho

What is my book about?

First released in June 1960, Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, forever altered the landscape of horror films. But just as compelling as the movie itself is the story behind it, which was adapted as the 2012 movie starring Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma Reville, and Scarlett Johansson. as Janet Leigh. Stephen Rebello brings to life the creation of one of Hollywood’s most iconic films, from the story of Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein, the real-life inspiration for the character of Norman Bates, to Hitchcock’s groundbreaking achievements in cinematography, sound, editing, and promotion.

Packed with captivating, firsthand insights from the film’s stars, writers, and crewmembers, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho has been hailed as “indispensable and marvelously readable,” “the bedrock on which all Psycho mansions are built,” and “a meticulous history of a single film production. It is a riveting and definitive history of a signature Hitchcock cinematic masterpiece."

The books I picked & why

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White Hunter, Black Heart

By Peter Viertel,

Book cover of White Hunter, Black Heart

Why this book?

Novelist Peter Viertel, an uncredited screenplay contributor to three John Huston-directed movies, wrote one of the great Hollywood-adjacent novels in this 1953 classic backgrounded by the preproduction of a fictionalized film. Hint: it’s transparently Huston’s The African Queen and the "John Wilson" character is clearly John Huston himself. The book dramatizes the hell screenwriter Peter Verill (Viertel, of course) endures when the bigger-than-life director becomes more obsessed with hunting and killing a majestic elephant than in shooting the film he’s been sent to make. 

Funny, marvelously readable, it's also rich with wry and knowing portraits of characters based upon Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and producer Sam Spiegel, the latter of whom says of Wilson/Huston: “In a well-ordered society, he’d be in a straitjacket now.” Clint Eastwood directed and starred in a 1990 movie version. Skip that, watch The African Queen, then read this instead.


Fergus

By Brian Moore,

Book cover of Fergus

Why this book?

In the mid-‘60s, acclaimed Irish-Canadian novelist Brian Moore unhappily spent time grappling with the script problems plaguing director Alfred Hitchcock’s 1966 spy thriller Torn Curtain. In this frankly autobiographical 1971 novel, a Hitchcock-esque producer comes in for knocks when a Moore-like novelist-screenwriter gets lured to Hollywood to work on the screenplay for a famous moviemaker’s next film. (Moore described his brush with Hitchcock as “awful, like washing floors.”) Waiting to learn whether he’s going to be forced to do another script rewrite, the novelist agonizes over his ongoing divorce and his relationship with his new girlfriend. Mostly, though, he’s confronted by the ghosts of friends and family members past, notably his father’s. So sharply funny, painfully honest a book that one almost wishes Hitchcock had filmed it instead of Torn Curtain.


Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption

Why this book?

Screen goddess Rita Hayworth, who bewitched ‘40s and ‘50s moviegoers, isn't an actual character in Stephen King’s 1982 novella or in its acclaimed 1994 movie version. But Hayworth’s fatal allure becomes palpable in King’s depiction of the erotic desires she incites in prison inmates while watching her classic thriller Gilda, leading condemned man Andy Dufresne to hang a poster pinup of Hayworth in a strategic spot in his cell. These events offer beacons of hope and possible freedom to Dufresne, who insists he’s innocent of murdering his wife and her lover. Fans of the movie know that, to mark the passage of decades, Hayworth’s pinup poster gets supplanted by Marilyn Monroe’s, then Raquel Welch’s. But in King's gripping, emotionally punchy novella, the siren call of Hayworth’s seductive aura reigns supreme.


Crash

By J.G. Ballard,

Book cover of Crash

Why this book?

Pornographic and repulsive even by 2022 standards, J.G. Ballard’s mind-bendingly twisted, troubling novel centers on a writer caught up in a cult of self-obsessed "symphorophiliacs" who restage and sexually fetishize famous, especially ghoulish car crashes. Ballard offers an unsparing vision of a future in which humans and machines meld, anything and everything gets objectified, and compulsive sex becomes utterly impersonal. And who should turn up in the novel but screen goddess Elizabeth Taylor with whom the spooky character “Dr. Robert Vaughn” is so enthralled that he fantasizes dying with her in an orgasmic head-on collision? Even boundary-pushing maverick movie director David Cronenberg thought it wiser to drop that little bit of business from his polarizing 2004 big-screen version.


Beautiful Ruins

By Jess Walter,

Book cover of Beautiful Ruins

Why this book?

Jess Walter’s joyfully quirky, bittersweet novel overflows with Hollywood denizens. It’s 1962 in a tiny Italian seaside resort spot near where Elizabeth Taylor (her again?) and Richard Burton are filming Cleopatra. Meanwhile, a blonde starlet scheduled to appear in that ill-fated historical epic turns up pregnant by Burton. While a film studio functionary tries pressuring her into a secret abortion while hiding her away from scandal in a secluded hotel, the hotel’s charming young owner falls hopelessly in love. The stage is set for a rueful, time-shifting romance, the aftermath of which unfolds 50 years later. The studio flunkey morphs into a snakelike Hollywood mogul obviously patterned after the freewheeling Robert Evans, the one-time studio boss best known for his association with such '70s landmark movies as The Godfather. The book’s title comes from Louis Menand’s famous description of Richard Burton that appeared in his magazine piece in The New Yorker


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