Father was optimistic B. P. Schulberg--philanderer, compulsive gambler, publicist (he dubbed Pickford "America's Sweetheart"), scenarist, lieutenant to "Uncle Adolph" Zukor, founder of Preferred Pictures, manager of Paramount, discoverer of Clara Bow, archenemy of L. B. Mayer. Mother was suspicious, pessimistic Ada, devotee of self-improvement, Jewish-intellectual style (later Hollywood's proto-typical woman-agent). And so little Buddy--born 1914--was indeed a Hollywood prince, with the Studio as "composite father." He and chum Maurice Rapf (son of a rival studio chief) played on the Ben Hur set; they cut up by flinging rotten figs at Norma Shearer et al. Buddy was fawned over by the stars, especially B.P.'s doxy Clara Bow--poor "Crisis-a-Day Clara," Brooklyn-accented and desperately seductive, even with a ten-year-old ("Mmmmmm. How wouldja like ta drive up to Arrowhead this weekend, Buddy? Just the two of uz!"). Buddy sat in on story conferences, had a summer job in the publicity department, got an "advanced course" in psychopathology: the miserable kiddie stars, the pathologically insecure biggies, the epic thick-headedness of such endearing egomaniacs as now-forgotten George Bancroft. (Schulberg delights in resurrecting the lesser-knowns.) But: "If I had a silver spoon in my mouth, I was gagging on it." How so? Well, Buddy was a terrible stammerer--unhelped by Ada's Freudian theories or voice coaches; he also, with Maurice, "built fear of the opposite sex into a cult." And while Ada pushed Buddy to achieve, B.P. treated his tries at writing exactly the same as the work of $1000-a-day Ben Hecht ("Lousy!" was the usual one-word critique). But, above all, there was the endless B.P./Ada bickering--peaking when Buddy was 17, when B.P. was carrying on with Sylvia Sidney; Ada screamed ("She's nothing but a little hoot. Cheap little kike!"); Oedipally feverish Buddy, sent east to prep school, dreamed of assassinating homewrecker Sylvia. . . and even made one melodramatic appearance at the Sidney place. A great story of domestic nightmare and adolescent fury? Yes indeed. But Schulberg has chosen not to shape or dwell on it, Haywire-fashion. Instead, drawing on B.P.'s unpublished memoirs as well as his own memories, he cheerfully surrounds the personal drama here with a broad range of Hollywood history and anecdotes.
Leisurely and ramblingly informative rather than gripping, then: a grand, funny tinsel-town cornucopia bursting with first-hand, second-hand, and third-hand tales.