Liz Smith: Peter Bart’s Infamous Players

Perseus Books Group

And more from our Liz on Bart’s juicy tales of Hollywood moguls, machinations and stars

“In 1967 at age 35, being of sound mind and body, I accepted a job as an executive of a film studio. At that moment I believed my new position at Paramount Pictures would be a great adventure. If indeed it turned out to be a nightmare rather than an adventure, my tenure at the very least would provide the basis for a first-person account of my trip to the dark side.”

So opens Peter Bart’s version of his own motion picture history. The longtime editor of Variety and former New York Times reporter is one of those rare men. He can look back dispassionately; he refuses to take creative credit for his work on great films like “The Godfather” — he always calls a spade a spade — and he is modest and savvy to an unusual degree.

With everybody and his dog now wanting to make movies or become a movie star, this book titled Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob, (and Sex) is a cautionary tale. The big studio control moment was still very much extant in the Sixties, but the dangers, romance and gossip of making films hasn’t changed all that much.

Bart acknowledges the encouragement of producer Harvey Weinstein and the loyalty and friendship of Robert Evans in making this book possible. I can’t recommend it enough because it is so unusually truthful about La La Land and its many gifted and crazy inhabitants. Just a few of the “stars” of Infamous Players are Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Rock Hudson, Julie Andrews, Henry Kissinger, Sue Mengers, Barbra Streisand, Charlie Bludorn, Alan Jay Lerner, Francis Coppola, Frank Sinatra, Ali McGraw, Steve McQueen, Clint Eastwood, and the book follows the high level studio head Charlie Bludorn in all his machinations of mis-step and control. (Bludorn is the man who groomed Barry Diller to follow him and the rest is history.)

It is silly to keep listing important stars and dynamic producers because the book barely misses any of them. It tells how film hits got made and how wrong everybody was about various properties at various times. Money flows, the Mob sticks its oar in, stars and directors change their minds, people get hired and fired and writer Bart was evidently noting it all down for posterity.

Now posterity is here! If you have ever wondered how Hollywood really worked in the era after MGM’s 1940’s “more stars than are in the heavens” era,  then this book about Paramount’s rise and fall and influence and lack of it, is for you.

Reading this book, one has to remember that those “good old, bad old days” happened before independents entered the picture and before Sundance had any but geographical intent. So maybe making movies today is entirely different and there is no big studio to yell “yea” or “nay” and to spend millions of dollars on nothing or withhold on some executive’s whim. It well may be that the studio system is dead and good riddance.

But I don’t think so. If one had infinite money, I think it would be great to see a big studio entity come back and exert control, groom and make stars, and exert as much influence as possible over entertainment. But these are different times and the verities of the past don’t count.

Still, this is one — perhaps the only — rare truthful accounts of movie-making in the Sixties and it is so frank and full of detail and history as gossip, I just couldn’t resist it.

Yes, and Harvey Weinstein’s publishing house is putting it out. Next? The truthful history of the Weinstein brothers rise, fall and rise again? Surely Peter Bart won’t have the strength for that.

* * *

ONE of my favorite anecdotes in Infamous Players is of the mis-making of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  Many people tried and failed to produce a screenplay.

Among them was my late friend, Truman Capote.

He was famous for pronouncing the writing of others as “that’s typing, not writing.”  But when it came time for Capote to produce his version of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece novel, he came up with sheer gibberish.

Bart writes: “The script that Capote delivered…was both tragic and bizarre….It was about 11 at night when I phoned the news to (Bob) Evans. ‘You won’t believe this, Bob, but the material Truman turned in – I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a screenplay.…All he did was type. He typed the dialogue from the book, typed Fitzgerald’s descriptions and made them look like stage directions. He didn’t contribute one original line or idea.’

“’What the hell are we going to do?’ Evans demanded.

“We should get Swifty (agent Lazar) to return the money, for one thing,’ I blurted.”

* * *

OH, hi ho – the good old days when press agents sent in lists of famous, rich and confused people out at dinner in their restaurants. Lo and behold, here is one of those.

At the first three tables in Primola on 2nd Avenue there were wealthy New Yorkers chowing down. Philip J. Smith, chair & CEO of the Shubert theater organization (and one of my own favorite guys)…then real estate tycoon Mickey Palin and Houston’s beautiful Podi Constantiner, Daryl and Steve Roth of the real estate empire (he just joined the board of J. C. Penny…His wife Daryl is the Broadway dynamo who did the Ephron sisters’ hit “Love, Loss, and What I Wore.” Next, Barbara Broccoli who owns most of the James Bond franchise and is one of the 100 most powerful persons in Great Britain. She was with movie producer Frederick Zollo who happens to be her husband.

I suppose poor people were also out in the snow eating somewhere.

I do miss the good old days when we all knew who everybody was and what they had done to become well-known.

8 comments so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    Those lists. With society and gossip columnists going “who?” as they wade through the names and then dutifully “item” them all knowing that the readers will also go “who?” as they wade through the names. 

    Podi Constantiner was beautiful. Years ago. It’s nice to know she still is. Haven’t seen her in years.  Or her sister-in-law back then.  Shelley Duvall. 

    If you don’t know who someone is, Liz, you can always call me. You just can’t print any of it.  The “what” part anyway. 

    As for Hollywood’s better days, they were better days when the studios ran it all. Unfortunately some who ran the studios ran it all into the ground. 

    Some of us poor people don’t eat out in the snow. We eat at Denny’s. Along with rich people who don’t care about the lists. But who do occasionally read the columns. And also go “who?”

    • avatar Count Snarkula says:

      I am what might be considered well off.  And I too, eat at Denny’s.  Sometimes only a Superbird will do.

      • avatar Baby Snooks says:

        Maybe Denny’s should come up with a new slogan.  How about “Denny’s. Where the really elite really meet to really eat.”  As you can see Mary Wells was never real eager to hire me. 

        So how well off are you? In case I don’t drop dead this year I need to finally marry. And marry well.

  2. avatar Bella Mia says:

    You ladies are hilarious.  Thanks for the laugh.  Today I ate lunch with my hunky hunny at Whole Foods – a nice big slice of spinach and tomato pizza.  Fabulous.

    • avatar Bella Mia says:

      LOL I was thinking bunny when I wrote hunny, and not honey.  The mind is a terrible thing to ……wait…what?

    • avatar Baby Snooks says:

      Whole Foods is, well, Whole Foods. Denny’s is, well, Denny’s.  Whole Foods doesn’t serve country fried steak with country gravy. Where else can you start the day with country fried steak with country gravy?   

  3. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    As for the “Hollywood in its Heyday” books the one I’d really love to read is Sue Mengers’ but I suspect she is about as likely to write a book as I am although hers would be far more interesting.  She was fun. And her parties were not A list they were A+ list.  An invitation from her meant more than an invitation from Edie Goetz. Alas, her parties were business so if you weren’t business you weren’t invited. Or as she would probably put it, if you weren’t f***ing business you weren’t f****ing invited. 

  4. avatar That Girl At The Party says:

    What, Liz?  Nothing has changed.  It is still a handful of people who decide what media the masses see and who become stars.  Nothing has changed.