The Golden West
In his introduction to Daniel Fuchs’s The Golden West, John Updike points out that, unlike so many eastern writers who went to Hollywood to write for films, Fuchs was an anomaly. It was fashionable for eastern writers to attribute their declining literary powers to their stints in Hollywood. Fuchs, who wrote mostly screenplays after he went to Hollywood in 1937, never criticized the Hollywood moguls who paid him. Abandoning a promising future as a novelisthis Williamsburg Trilogy had won him critical acclaimdid result in criticism from other writers, particularly Mordecai Richler. However, Fuchs liked writing for the masses and enjoyed the collaborative nature of screenwriting, which was the opposite of the individualistic process of writing fiction.
In the memoirs included in this collection, Fuchs provides anecdotes about his work with William Faulkner, Billy Wilder, and some unnamed producers and directors. For Fuchs, filmmaking involves wizardry and mystery, and the difference between hits and failures depends upon the writer’s success in finding the story that already exists, one “touched with grace and blessed.” Fuchs also has tremendous admiration for the collaborators who work tirelessly to put together films, “striving to get it right, to run down the answers to realize and secure the picture.” Fuchs maintains that the films produced in the latter half of the twentieth century were the product of the “best, most solid creative effort of our decades.” Almost all the Hollywood denizens, even notorious studio bosses such as Harry Cohen and Louis B. Mayer, are treated sympathetically in this book.
In his stories and sketches Fuchs describes his initial reaction to the Hollywood scene. In “Dream City: Or, The Drugged Lake,” the narrator is so frustrated by his inability to be productive that his only consolation is the fact that the date that his contract ends is not that far away. In “Hollywood Diary,” the entries are also bleak. He waits in vain for a script on which to work and then encounters the rigid hierarchy that exists at the studio commissary. Although “Florida” does not concern a screenwriter, it does reflect the uncertainty, whimsicality, and fragility of people of who are barely surviving. Ready to leave Hollywood after his pitch for an idea falls on deaf ears, Johnny Mantle is ironically and inexplicably saved, just as the down-and-out William Drice is miraculously restored to power. Chronic optimism is the face of bleak reality is the order of the day for the Hollywooders who attend Curtis Spogel’s party. Aside from Spogel, an accountant and hence not in the film business, no one wants to admit that film, partly because of television, is in decline and that the Golden Age is almost over.
In “Triplicate” Rosengarten, the protagonist, is Fuchs’s alter ago, a screenwriter from the East Coast who is an outsider at the Hollywood party where the story’s action occurs. The short story is essentially a collection of character sketches with no real plot. Rogers Hammet, one of the guests, is a stage producer whose career is on the wane. Fuchs then proceeds to describe the relationship between Hammet and Rosengarten, when Hammet was a success and Rosengarten an aspiring writer. Hammet doles out advice, denigrates filmmaking, and then criticizes Rosengarten for writing for films. Hammet, however, is at the party to salvage his career: He has an idea for a film script for an adaptation of Life on the Mississippi and needs Rosengarten’s help. When he realizes that Rosengarten is tied up in another project, Hammet turns ugly and begins verbally to attack F______, a prominent director who is also at the party. In the course of his tirade Hammet tells a salacious story about actress Louisa Lissak, another guest whom Garrison, the host, plans to wed. The “duplicate” is F______, whose insecurities lead him into a fear of failure and self-destructive behavior. Hammet’s and F______’s stories are parallel, but the identity of the...
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