Trembling in Tinsel Town

02 February 2016 - 02:05 By Andrew Donaldson

If you read one book this week Even Dogs In The Wild by Ian Rankin (Orion)The 20th Rebus outing, with the retired Edinburgh detective using his unorthodox friendship with an ageing crime boss to get involved in an investigation into the murder of a former lord advocate. Top tartan noir, and as mordant as ever.The issueIt seems that Hollywood has little chance of freeing itself from the controversy over the lack of diversity in the Academy Award nominations. This is perhaps unsurprising; such dysfunction is seemingly the by-product of an industry built on vapid gesture, according to Jean Stein's new oral history of Hollywood, West of Eden: An American Place (Jonathan Cape).Acclaimed as one of the best books ever written about that fabled home of the so-called dream factory, the title refers to the novel Steinbeck based on the Book of Genesis.Using the testimonies of Arthur Miller, Lauren Bacall, Gore Vidal, Dennis Hopper, Jane Fonda, Warren Beatty and many, many others including former bodyguards, butlers and secretaries - interviews that took her decades to compile - Stein explores the themes of depravity, guilt, freedom, beneficence, love and the capacity for self-destruction that Steinbeck examined in East of Eden.Her story begins with Los Angeles' two founding capitalists, William Mulholland, who stole water from surrounding states to irrigate this arid stretch of southern California, and Edward Doheny, the rapacious oil tycoon who inspired Daniel Day-Lewis's character in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood.Stein's book, like the prophecy of the film's title, is filled with dynastic blood-letting and terrible guilt. There are suicides galore. After actress Jennifer Jones's daughter jumped off a skyscraper, she sent her psychiatrist to reclaim the body."Lady, wake up," a morgue attendant told her, "she fell two storeys. How much do you think we have?"Stein unpacks her own family history here as well. Their wealth came from MCA, the monopolistic talent agency started by her father. Years later Fox media mogul Rupert Murdoch bought the family mansion and its contents wholesale. He continues to display the Stein family photographs as though to suggest that he, too, was a descendant of old-time Hollywood royalty.Crash courseTrevor Noah is reportedly working on a memoir about his youth in South Africa.Publisher Random House said the book, to be published in November, would consist of essays that are comic and poignant, "whether he's subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty or making comically hapless attempts at teenage romance, from the time he was thrown in jail to the time he was thrown from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters".According to the Associated Press, Noah's deal with Random House was worth more than R50-million.The bottom line"They are ordinary Americans." - The United States of Jihad: Exploring America's Homegrown Terrorists by Peter Bergen (Crown Publishers)

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