Review by Booklist Review
The title repeatsack L. Warner's phrase for the chumps who cranked out scripts on his lot, and most of the screenwriters Wilk interviewed admitted to feeling like schmucks at least part of the time in Hollywood. How could they not have, when, as Evan Hunter notes, no one there trusts even a best-selling writer, and everyone in the hierarchy, however young or inexperienced, feels qualified to slash the most carefully wrought scenes? The payoff for writers is that they still tell the best stories. This book is packed with fascinating, funny glimpses into the industry, from the silents to the big studios' early 1960s swan song. If the dictatorial producers, egocentric stars, and awful working conditions are familiar to movie lovers, the stories aren't because the writer's take is less frequently told. Turn to the silent era: often brought in after the footage was shot, writers were expected to punch up sagging story lines with clever titles. The Underwood owners Wilk talked with also include Ben Hecht, Billy Wilder, Harryurnitz, Preston Sturges, and William Faulkner. --Jack Helbig Copyright 2004 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Because his father worked for Warner Bros. during its heyday, Wilk (They're Playing Our Song: Conversations with America's Classic Songwriters; OK!: The Story of Oklahoma!; etc.) grew up "a Warner brat," absorbing the many revealing life lessons a place like Warner Bros. threw in his midst. The prolific author singles out not the Hollywood legends populating the Warner studio but its unvalued screenwriters, the "schmucks with Underwoods," as studio honcho Jack L. Warner once quipped. Beginning in the early 1970s, Wilk interviewed some of the people who penned some of Hollywood's most enduring achievements going back to the 1930s and '40s, among them Donald Odgen Stewart (The Philadelphia Story), Ben Hecht (Gone with the Wind) and Sidney Buchman (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). Wilk includes a wide swath of writers trying to fashion something artistic out of stern commercial mandates handed down by the studios, but occasionally flagging in that struggle-there are frequent recollections of cranking out scripts at a dizzyingly mechanical pace ("you are doing a chore assigned to you by your employer," Dorothy Parker decided). The subjects, however, are devoid of bitter regret. Wilk, himself a film and TV writer, punctuates his long profiles with short tales that cover the many legendary writers who at one time or another wrote for Hollywood (e.g., Aldous Huxley, Thornton Wilder). The variety of screenwriters Wilk interviews is gratifying, but his tendency to quote them at unending length may bore some readers. Still, Wilk's interviews uncover a smattering of wry, observant voices telling a largely neglected element of Hollywood history. 17 b&w photos, line drawings. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved