The highest-rolling screenwriter in Hollywood history tells all.
Eszterhas gives the big picture up front: He’s repeatedly set records for the biggest payments for the screenplays for phenoms (Jagged Edge, Basic Instinct) and bombs (Showgirls, Jade) that have gone on to gross over a billion dollars; he’s “the only screenwriter . . . who had groupies”; and a lot of qualified judges think he’s the devil. “I don’t mean to sound insufferable, but . . .” he compares himself to Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Faulkner (“Compare myself to other screenwriters? Say what?”). Behind the self-aggrandizing headlines is the story of a kid rescued from Hungary’s postwar refugee camps to land in Cleveland, where he battled the brothers at his Catholic school and lied to his parents about bogus honors. But his life becomes far more arresting the moment he arrives in Hollywood and starts dishing dirt on everybody from Michael Ovitz to himself. Eszterhas is brutally candid about his early years as a screenwriter, when his price soared even though his scripts were either unproduced or turned into duds like F.I.S.T. He’s less candid about his shortcomings as writer (every failure is blamed on megalomaniac directors, poor casting, blinkered reviewers, or studio execs too stupid to see that every word in an Eszterhas script was golden), as husband (he embarrassingly reproduces the journals of his second wife, Naomi Baka, to confirm his version of the breakup of his first marriage, which just happened to fall apart as Naomi’s bridegroom was running off with Basic Instinct star Sharon Stone), and as colleague (his often hilarious accounts of industry infighting infallibly vindicate his judgment at the expense of everybody else’s).
Precious little about filmmaking in these pages, but a great deal about deal-making and even more about getting back at your family, your childhood tormentors, and the Nazi Party. Eszterhas’s memoir may be the longest gotcha ever penned.