The best books about what Hollywood is really like

Carleton Eastlake Author Of Monkey Business
By Carleton Eastlake

Who am I?

Having been a Hollywood writer for thirty years, and now written a novel that although satirical still accurately describes the creation of a TV series, I’ve long been amazed at how many Hollywood stories – including films made in Hollywood – offer fantasies that have even less to do with the reality of love and work in film and television than Game of Thrones does with the real Middle Ages. I’ve written fantasy myself, but for people fascinated by Hollywood, or who want to work in film and TV, there’s a reason too to read books that capture the reality, especially when like the books listed here, they do so astonishingly well.

I wrote...

Monkey Business

By Carleton Eastlake,

Book cover of Monkey Business

What is my book about?

Monkey Business is a fast-moving Hollywood satirical adventure intertwined with a deeply revelatory love story that in passing gives a comprehensive look at how a TV series is really created and produced. It begins when a young TV writer on location in Florida becomes obsessed with a mysterious exotic dancer at a nightclub who may be crazy or may be wryly, insightfully brilliant, as she forces him to reexamine everything he thought he understood about life, limerence, bonded love, power, creativity, paintball combat, and human consciousness – while he desperately tries both to save his TV show and to discover who and what she really is so he can win her love before she vanishes forever.

The books I picked & why

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The Jaws Log

By Carl Gottlieb,

Book cover of The Jaws Log

Why this book?

In my book club I’m known as Second Carl, since Carl Gottlieb has been a member far longer than I. In fact, I was still a lawyer in Washington, D.C. secretly dreaming about Hollywood but never suspecting I’d someday myself work on a Spielberg TV series, when I read this short, fast, now revered account of the filming of Spielberg’s breakout film. It proved to be a deeply accurate and comprehensive description – and warning – about what life and work on location and in Hollywood itself would be like. It’s also so engagingly readable and relevant, a Broadway musical based on the book is in tryouts as I write these words.

Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

By William Goldman,

Book cover of Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting

Why this book?

This book coined the maxim far and away the most quoted in Hollywood to this day: “Nobody knows anything.” I first read it the year before I broke in. My copy is heavily annotated with yellow highlighter and red pen; a black paperclip still marks the second of Goldman’s two capitalized maxims, “Screenplays are structure.” The value of this book to anyone wanting to understand – or survive in – Hollywood is that, ironically, Goldman, one of the most successful screenwriters and novelists in Hollywood history, knew almost everything, not only about screenwriting, but also the psychology, cautious care, and perilous feeding of actors, directors, executives, and the rest of the Hollywood zoo. It’s both a textbook and survival guide, illustrated with a veteran’s vivid stories about life behind the tinsel.

What Makes Sammy Run?

By Budd Schulberg,

Book cover of What Makes Sammy Run?

Why this book?

Despite wars, plagues, and technological revolutions, the psychology of Hollywood endures and Schulberg’s novel about screenwriters in pre-World War Two Hollywood remains an obligatory read for anyone contemplating a life in showbusiness or wanting, as a member of the audience, to have a deeper understanding of the business. The book still so accurately describes the challenges of a writer’s life and work, that when I served on the Writers Guild of America West’s board, I’d sometimes read passages from the book to the rest of the board members during our discussions of potential strike issues or matters affecting Guild unity. Schulberg’s eloquent yet plain-spoken insights were simply still that valuable, convincing – and entertaining.

Blue Pages

By Eleanor Perry,

Book cover of Blue Pages

Why this book?

Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning Eleanor Perry put her training as a psychiatric social worker to extraordinary use writing now-classic films including the hypnotic David and Lisa and The Diary of a Mad Housewife. She brought the same dramatic skills and insights to examining her own life as a writer at a time when women faced nearly impossible challenges in Hollywood. The result was this deeply felt, authentic, often autobiographical novel. My wife Loraine Despres, herself a highly regarded novelist and TV writer, gave it to me when I first confessed an interest in screenwriting. The book, now unjustly out of print but hopefully available from libraries and at a price from rare book dealers, has haunted me ever since.

The Last Tycoon: The Authorized Text

By F. Scott Fitzgerald,

Book cover of The Last Tycoon: The Authorized Text

Why this book?

I came to this novel late, after friends adapted it into a TV series. My regret is I did not read it sooner. Fitzgerald often serves as the cautionary example of how Hollywood destroys true literary talent. But none of that is apparent in this uncompleted but extraordinary novel. Instead, Fitzgerald created a limerently admiring, page-turning story about a powerful studio executive’s own limerent pursuit of a mysterious woman, told to us by a college girl who herself is in love with the executive. The description of life and work in Hollywood is comprehensively accurate with one marvelous exception: no human has ever been as talented and humane a creative producer as Monroe Stahr – but he’s a model of perfection to which we all should still aspire.

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