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Even if the author weren't Jack Warner, Jr., this long life-story of movie mogul Ham Robbins would be easily recognizable as the story of Warner, Sr.--a notoriously unlovable man who emerges here as an un-dynamic, rather passive no-goodnik. The book is best in a brief prologue, with old Ham bitterly going out to an award-dinner in his honor--loathing wife #2 Nita (an astrology nut), regretting his selfish past. Then it's back to the beginning with the Robbins (nÉ Rabinowitz) Brothers: sons of an immigrant butcher, they start out with a small-town nickelodeon, become expert projectionists, and branch out into film distribution--a field which collapses during WW I. So the boys switch to Production, moving to So. California--where the focus soon shifts from the picture biz to Ham's personal life. He marries nice Irene, sires Ham, Jr. (known as Jimmy), but philanders with abandon. And when mistress Nita de Valle (nÉe Rosenfeld) comes along, things get ugly: Nita knowingly gets herself pregnant; Ham, though he's only just rediscovered his passion for Irene, must ask for a divorce; son Jimmy is caught in between--especially when Ham foully uses him as a middle-man or when nutsy Nita (the new Mrs. R.) recoils from Jimmy's astrological vibes; and Ham realizes what a jerk he's been when Nita is photographed in the sack with a young boyfriend. The novel's second half, then, turns to the strained father/son relationship--which only gets worse once Jimmy joins the business, trying to make Ham aware of TV's potential. (""Here we are, both of us in the communications business, and he won't honestly communicate with me!"") But Warner never finds a focused shape or consistent viewpoint for the somewhat whiny father/son material. There's spotty treatment of Ham's love/hate for brother Maurie (a lecturing tightwad), 1950s blacklisting, and Nita's no-good son. And finally this slow-moving, undramatic saga seems an uncertain hybrid: sometimes a bland fictional bio (heavy on cameos), sometimes a thin character study of an unappealing tycoon, and sometimes a heart-on-sleeve tirade by an unloved son against his rotten father and stepmother. In all: an uneven Hollywood family-history--with an obvious inside-track for those curious about Warner Bros.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1982
Publisher: Crown