The best, down-and-dirtiest show business romans à clef

Who am I?

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


I wrote...

Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time

By Stephen Rebello,

Book cover of Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time

What is my book about?

Written with “cinematic flair,” “absolute mastery,” and “drama, pathos, comedy, emotion, and ego worthy of a dozen miniseries,” Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! – Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls digs deep into the creation of the highly anticipated and hugely successful 1967 film that, despite the high aspirations and talent lavished upon it, became a widely-imitated cherished camp classic. Author-screenwriter-film historian Stephen Rebello has conducted archival research and new interviews to draw back the velvet curtain on the behind-the-scenes intrigue, feuds, and machinations that marked the film's production every step of the way. In doing so, he paints a richly-detailed and incisive portrait of fast-changing Hollywood in the late 1960s. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of I Should Have Stayed Home

Why did I love this book?

Hardboiled specialist Horace McCoy made his mark as an unsparing chronicler of Depression-era despair with his 1935 masterpiece They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. His 1938 novel isn't nearly as good, but it feels so lived-in and sordid that it tells major truths about the dreamers, users, and big talents who populated '30s Hollywood. In it, Ralph and Mona, two modestly talented beautiful losers, hit Tinseltown hungering for stardom. But Ralph, 18 years before the doomed screenwriter hero of Sunset Boulevard, winds up providing stud service to a wealthy older woman and Mona finds her own private hell. The novel is a bleak meditation on exploitation, failure, and corruption in a town where, as one character observes, “Morality never crosses the city limits.”

By Horace McCoy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Should Have Stayed Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

TEMPTATION and DESIRE in Hollywood! Ralph Carston, a handsome young man from Georgia, and roommate Mona Matthews work as extras and dream of Hollywood stardom when a courtroom fracas by Mona gives them a flash of notoriety. This leads to a swank Hollywood party and an introduction to Ethel Smithers, a rich older woman with a less than pure interest in Carston.


Book cover of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Why did I love this book?

It’s well worth digging up Henry Farrell’s grotesque, sadistic 1960 tale of two aging sisters – one a former kiddy vaudeville sensation, the other a movie star of the '30s and '40s -- living out their animosities and regrets in a faded Los Angeles mansion. It’s also fascinating to compare the novel to its crueler and less impactful 1962 film incarnation starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, let alone the miniseries “Feud: Bette and Joan” about those two ferocious dueling divas as they made the movie. Maybe most fun of all is speculating how Farrell may have fictionalized details from the lives of such Hollywood Golden Age real-life acting siblings as Lillian and Dorothy Gish and Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. Farrell's penchant for all-out melodrama still packs a punch.

By Henry Farrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The literary classic that inspired the iconic film - the story of two sisters and the hell they made their home.

Once an acclaimed child star of vaudeville, Baby Jane Hudson performed for adoring crowds before a move to Hollywood thrust her sister, Blanche, into the spotlight. As Blanche's film career took off, a resentful Jane watched from the shadows as her own career faded into obscurity - until a tragic accident changed everything.

Now, years later, the two sisters live in a decaying mansion, isolated from the outside world. Crippled by the accident, Blanche is helpless under the control…


The Carpetbaggers

By Harold Robbins,

Book cover of The Carpetbaggers

Why did I love this book?

Our cultural moment practically demands that we cancel Harold Robbins. He’s been dragged as “the forgotten dirty old man of American letters,” a sexist purveyor of trashy, soapy potboilers. But in his time, 750 million readers in 32 languages proved he had nailed them dead to rights. The main characters in this sprawling, unabashedly vulgar 1961 novel are based on Silent Era western superstar Tom Mix, moviemaker/zillionaire Howard Hughes, and '30s platinum blonde movie siren Jean Harlow. That alone made the book and the 1964 movie version cultural phenoms. And today? Well, aren’t Robbins’ swaggering, rags-to-riches cocksman heroes, way-too-compliant beauties, and plots seething with passion, betrayal, vengeance also the stuff of modern classics like The GodfatherScarfaceMad Men, and Succession?

By Harold Robbins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Carpetbaggers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Attacked, damned, praised and read around the world, THE CARPETBAGGERS was first published in 1961 and shelved high enough that the kids couldn't get their hands on it.

Set in the aviation industry and Hollywood in the 1930s, it is said the lead protaganist Jonas Cord is based on Bill Lear and Howard Hughes. It is the original sex and money blockbuster: a cracking story driven relentlessly forward by the sheer power and boldness of Robbins' writing.


The Oscar

By Richard Sale,

Book cover of The Oscar

Why did I love this book?

Novelist-screenwriter-director Richard Sale’s scabrous, compulsively readable 1963 novel is packed with malicious characters scrambling up Hollywood’s “glass mountain of success” only to tumble into what Jacqueline Susann would call four years later would call “the Valley of the Dolls.” Pretty much set in Movieland’s seven circles of hell, the novel charts the rise and fall of an ex-gigolo who becomes a major movie star leading man. Grabbing a "Best Actor" Oscar nomination, he becomes hellbent on knee-capping -- or flat-out destroying -- his competitors. An acid-laced smorgasbord of its era, it teems with transactional sex, unapologetic misogyny, homophobia, and groovy Swinging Sixties dialogue – all of it as despicably and wondrously monstrous as its 1966 movie version (scripted by Harlan Ellison!) is unintentionally side-splitting.

By Richard Sale,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Oscar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By William R. Jorns on August 29, 2013 I've seen the film version of "The Oscar" on TV a few times, and I enjoyed it - especially the way Stephen Boyd "chewed up the scenery" as the ruthlessly ambitious actor, Frankie Fane. So when I came across a copy of Richard Sale's original novel, I jumped at the chance to buy and read it. For a paperback that's almost 50 years old, the copy I got was in amazingly good condition - it even had a mail-order postcard for some product or service still bound into its spine in the…


Valley of the Dolls

By Jacqueline Susann,

Book cover of Valley of the Dolls

Why did I love this book?

Newbie novelist Jacqueline Susann created an iconic all-time bestseller with her tale of three young glamazons who vault to the show business heights, only to tumble into a pit of addictions, poor choices in men, and delightfully overripe dialogue. Susann made her sweeping, sexy soap opera shenanigans even more irresistible by patterning her characters on such 20th-century headline-makers as Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Grace Kelly, Ethel Merman, and the Kennedys. Said publicity-savvy Susann, “They can keep calling it that ‘roman à clef'. It’ll only make my books sell.” They did. It did. Although the sanitized and critically bashed 1967 movie version toned down the à clef elements, it became a box-office smash that has gone on to become enshrined as a kitsch classic.

By Jacqueline Susann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Valley of the Dolls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Before Jackie Collins, Candace Bushnell and Lena Dunham, Jacqueline Susann held the world rapt with her tales of the private passions of Hollywood starlets, high-powered industrialists and the jet-set.

Valley of the Dolls took the world by storm when it was first published, fifty years ago. Never had a book been so frank about sex, drugs and show business. It is often sited as the bestselling novel of all time.

Dolls - red or black; capsules or tablets; washed down with vodka or swallowed straight. For Anne, Neely and Jennifer, it doesn't matter, as long as the pill bottle is…


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