Good Minds Suggest—James Franco's Favorite Books About Hollywood

May, 2014
James Franco Yes, James Franco has dipped a paw in yet another medium. Public opinion of the prolific actor and content creator has gone from admiration of his theatrical chops—in evidence even as a high school stoner on the TV show Freaks and Geeks—to occasional eye-rolling at his insistence on exploring nearly every existing form of cultural expression, to the current state of somewhat grudging professional respect. Through it all, Franco has retained his Hollywood heartthrob status and demonstrated a serious love of literature. His new collection of poetry, Directing Herbert White, explores themes of celebrity, adolescence, and the dark nature of broken dreams in Los Angeles. He's also helmed several literary-themed directorial projects: a film adaptation of William Faulkner's classic novel The Sound and the Fury; another Faulkner adaptation, As I Lay Dying; one of Cormac McCarthy's, Child of God; and a biopic about Charles Bukowski. As a writer, Franco is best known for his short story collection Palo Alto, which he followed up in 2013 with a memoir, A California Childhood, and a novel, Actors Anonymous. In the vein of these gritty, disorienting tales touching on fame and despair, Franco shares with Goodreads his top five books about—what else? Hollywood!

What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg
"Budd Schulberg's classic about the unscrupulous rise to power of one Sammy Glick, a man who uses the Hollywood machine against itself. Son of a Hollywood studio mogul, Schulberg used his own inside experiences to create a scathing indictment of the business side of show business while at the same time creating an indelible work of art."


I Should Have Stayed Home by Horace McCoy
"Horace McCoy wrote two of the most moving portraits of the desperate and despairing souls of old Hollywood. I Should Have Stayed Home reveals the sexual power games that undergird Hollywood while it follows two background players lost in the City of Angels, prepared to give almost anything for an entrance into the dream factory."


They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy
"This is another portrait of McCoy's Los Angeles underdogs, or dogs at the absolute end of their leashes is more like it. The couple here is forlorn to the point of suicide, but before they turn their cards in, they sign up for an old-fashioned dance marathon. Like the asylum in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, or the slaughterhouse in The Jungle, here the dance contest becomes the 'combine,' the symbol for the machine that controls our lives and grinds us into dust."


The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
"Of the famous novelists who worked in Hollywood (Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Huxley), Nathanael West was in some ways the most successful screenwriter, although that was partly because he was content punching the clock working on B pictures at the 'Poverty Row' studios. But of all the novelists who worked in Hollywood, he turned out the book that revealed the burning (literally) resentment the public has for its stars while at the same time desiring to be them."


Zeroville by Steve Erickson
"Steve Erickson's fictional treatment of the film industry in the '70s, the material that Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls covers—albeit in a way that turns movies into the dreams that they are, the fabric of our collective unconscious. We follow an editor, Vikar, who is so devoted to film, he has Monty Clift and Elizabeth Taylor tattooed on the back of his bald head. He gets involved with all the movie brats of the '70s (based on the actual dudes) and then gets sucked into film as if it were as thick and vital as life."



Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Hollywood Novels



Comments Showing 1-21 of 21 (21 new)

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message 1: by Howard (new)

Howard Let's lighten the mood a bit - come on - it's not all misery - sheesh!!!

Have a look at Which Lie Did I tell by William Goldman - it is very very funny.

And for authors who worked on the lots - I love John Fante - try The Road to Los Angeles or 1933 was a bad year.


message 2: by David (new)

David Madden I am delighted to see that Franco, an excellent actor, has chosen books that I rediscovered in the 1970's in my books TOUGH GUY WRITERS OF THE THIRTIES and THE CHEATERS AND THE CHEATED [NATHANIEL WEST]. To go with those writers, add James M. Cain [THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, SERENADE, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, MILDRED PIERCE], about whom I have written 3 books, and, obviously, Jim Thompson [THE KILLER INSIDE ME]. The psychological thrillers of Georges Simenon belong in that company.


message 3: by Helen (new)

Helen Mallon Intriguing choices! Can anyone recommend a good, chatty, realistic book (fiction or non) about the ins and outs of the current film industry (not just Hollywood)? I've got a son who's in film school, and he'd enjoy reading about the good, bad, and the ugly. Thanks!

Plus I don't know what the hell to give him for his birthday.


message 4: by David (new)

David Madden For the ins and outs book, google Rick Blackwood, say I sent you.

for the son's birthday, google Warner Brother Film Noir dvd set, a world like no other.
Watch the movies with him.


message 5: by Bart (new)

Bart Helen wrote: "Intriguing choices! Can anyone recommend a good, chatty, realistic book (fiction or non) about the ins and outs of the current film industry (not just Hollywood)? I've got a son who's in film scho..."

I reccomend:

"Temptation" - Douglas Kennedy...a fun fiction read.

"Adventures in the Screen Trade" and "Which Lie Did I Tell?" - William Goldman...Original and follow-up

"You'll Never Eat Lunch in this Town Again" - Julia Phillips

"Final Cut" - Steven Bach

Anybody have any more recent Hollywood business books?


message 6: by Paul (new)

Paul Preuss Franco's choices are among the smart and obvious. Not new but very funny (occasionally by confirming your worst fears) is Lynda Obst's Hello, He Lied, and Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches.

Paul Preuss


message 7: by Helen (new)

Helen Mallon David wrote: "For the ins and outs book, google Rick Blackwood, say I sent you.

for the son's birthday, google Warner Brother Film Noir dvd set, a world like no other.
Watch the movies with him."


David wrote: "For the ins and outs book, google Rick Blackwood, say I sent you.

for the son's birthday, google Warner Brother Film Noir dvd set, a world like no other.
Watch the movies with him."


Thank you all for the rich and varied suggestions. I'll check them out! David, I'll also contact Rick Blackwood.


message 8: by Red (new)

Red Wolf No one has mentioned They Shoot Horses for more than 20 years. It's a wonder that this came up again. " Been down so long it looks like up to me."
If you are looking for depressing books, try On the Beach. or chuck wendigs Blackbirds


message 9: by Danielle (new)

Danielle James Franco is an amazing individual all around. So many people underestimate him and his intelligence. It's nice to see that people appreciate him for his literature, not just his acting.


message 10: by Jane (last edited May 15, 2014 08:23AM) (new)

Jane Casler David wrote: "For the ins and outs book, google Rick Blackwood, say I sent you.

for the son's birthday, google Warner Brother Film Noir dvd set, a world like no other.
Watch the movies with him."


"Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales of the NEW ABNORMAL in the Movie Business" by Lynda Obst. Published in 2014


message 11: by Kate (new)

Kate Coons For older books, any of the books written by David Niven, such as The Moon's a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses, are wonderful. The Golden Age of Hollywood by a man who lived in it, and was friends with Clark Gable and Errol Flynn, as well as Humphrey Bogart and Fred Astaire, Funny and well written


message 12: by Jsdeayton (new)

Jsdeayton Hi Helen - there are so many books to choose from! But I'd recommend the following:
1. About the craft of moviemaking: 'Thinking in Pictures' by John Sayles and 'Making Movies' by Sidney Lumet.
2. About Hollywood the business: 'Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes' by John Pierson. ANYTHING by Lynda Obst or William Goldman.
3. For the funny stories: 'With Nails: the film diaries of Richard E. Grant' or anything else he's written.

Yeah for film school & best of luck to your son :)


message 13: by Fred (new)

Fred Helen wrote: "Intriguing choices! Can anyone recommend a good, chatty, realistic book (fiction or non) about the ins and outs of the current film industry (not just Hollywood)? I've got a son who's in film scho..."

I just finished reading IF YOU BUILD IT... a memoir by Dwier Brown. He played Kevin Costner's young father in the final five minutes of FIELD OF DREAMS (which, in case you haven‘t seen it, is not a “baseball movie“ as much as it is a movie about a son longing for a chance to reconnect with his deceased father). The book was just published last month and is getting great reviews. I think it would be a perfect gift for your son. It is a thoughtful, moving, humorous memoir about making the movie (when he was starting out as a young actor from rural Ohio), about his relationship with his own father (who died just weeks before filming began), and about countless strangers who recognize him from his brief scene in the movie and want to share how the movie affected their relationships with their own fathers. I’ve recommended the book to several friends already and hope you will take a minute to Google the title or check out the reviews at Amazon.com.


message 14: by Carol (new)

Carol Drechsler Biographies! The memos of David o Selznick, brilliant, Goldwyn, the Hustons...all must reads if you want to know the origins of the business and learn how it all started. How the Jews INvented Hollywood, a great history of the studio system.
It's a young industry so it's easy and important to master its history!


message 15: by Victor (new)

Victor Nganguem j'aime ça


message 16: by Carol (new)

Carol Drechsler Also, Truffaut on Hitchcock, a classic for any film student and fascinating, and Cameron Crowe's interviews with the GREAT Billy Wilder.


message 17: by Victor (new)

Victor Nganguem j'aime ça


message 18: by Hollis (new)

Hollis This is an area that I've never really read about, interesting to see the recommendations.


message 19: by Helen (new)

Helen Mallon Wow! Once again, thank you all. I've been out of internet contact for a few days, but all these suggestions are great.


message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol Drechsler Tell me what it is about film you're interested in and I will try and recommend the best!


message 21: by Adam (new)

Adam Is this the actor guy that is a harrasser and abuser of young women? He ran acting classes and tricked them in to doing stuff they didn't really need to in their futile pursuit of breaking in to Hollywood.

Comment #1 by Howard https://www.goodreads.com/interviews/...

I wonder what William Goldman author of Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade would write about Hollywood now? Great book and writer, would read anything he wrote about abuse and the Weinstein era.

He also wrote Good Will Hunting and the marketing stunt was to let Matt Damon and Ben Affleck pretend they wrote it. For shame. People still don't know the truth.


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