Ed Zwick’s book is an exposé about Hollywood, but don’t expect to find a hint of that in the title, Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions (Gallery Books, $28.99). However, maybe some clue might be gleaned from the subtitle of the 300-page book, My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood. “Fortysomething,” after all, is a reference to the 1987-1991 ABC TV series thirtysomething, which helped transform Zwick into the powerful Hollywood writer/director/producer that he is today.

Just before his “Introduction,” Zwick quotes Marco Polo, “I did not tell half of what I saw.” After reading the book, my questions for him would be: Why did you write the book? And for whom?

The first question was answered in a New York Times Book Review interview. The interviewer asked a series of questions, including: “Would you call your memoir a tell-all?” and “How did you decide what not to tell?” Zwick responded, “I’d call it a ‘tell-some.’ I tried not to be hurtful, but if people are going to behave badly, they should know better than to do it around a writer.”

That answer reminded me of personal situations experienced during the reign of Hollywood’s pioneering international content distribution executives, including the likes of Bruce Gordon (Paramount), Colin Davis (MCA-Universal), Bill Saunders (Fox), Michael Solomon (Warner Bros.), Larry Gershman (MGM/UA) and others, who would discuss delicate subjects with buyers and associates in my presence. When something like that took place, I would inevitably excuse myself in order not to hear things that I didn’t need to know and therefore wouldn’t feel compelled to report. After all, writers aren’t perfect. Look at the backlash that Truman Capote suffered with his (innocent, in his mind) exposé of powerful New York City socialites of the 1960s in Esquire‘s November 1975 issue, now dramatized in FX’s second season of Feud (also streamed on Hulu).

As for the reason for Zwick, a Hollywood insider, to write such a book, I could only come up with the same motives given for Ralph Baruch’s 2008 autobiography Television Tightrope: How I Escaped Hitler, Survived CBS and Fathered Viacom. First, that no author had come forward to do it, and second, that it is better to control the narrative.

Zwick acknowledges as much in his intro: “I’ve resisted, as best I could, the impulse to straighten the narrative [and] sharpen the dialogue.” He also admitted: “It’s payback, pure and simple,” possibly referring to those who made his life difficult.

In the book, Zwick is a prolific name-dropper, but it couldn’t be otherwise as such a thing is necessary to describe his relationships with the many actors, writers, producers, agents, and studio executives he has met along the way while producing such TV series and epic films as Glory (1989), The Last Samurai (2003), and Blood Diamond (2006).

Special attention is given to his actor/writer/producer wife Liberty Godshall, who he met and married in 1982. One story epitomizes his relationship with Godshall: “A moment can explain why I’ve never much partaken of the industry’s social scene. Not that my wife was antisocial, just that she’d had her fill of the industry bullshit… Early in our marriage she decided there were better ways to spend her time than standing around eating canapés with boors, and if I wanted our relationship to thrive, I had better get with the program, by which she meant having family dinners.”

Also getting attention is his long-time business partner Marshall Herskovitz because, as he explained, “as we worked together, it became clear that, between the two of us, we might be at least one complete filmmaker.”

Zwick started as an assistant to Woody Allen (whom he liked) on the set of Love and Death. He also worked with Robert Redford (about whom he was “ambivalent”). He dealt with Dustin Hoffman (whom he found to be difficult and argumentative). He worked with Jim Belushi (who at first refused to take his directions), as well as the talented Demi Moore. On set with Moore, Zwick learned the importance of punctuality after being called out by his Assistant Director (or AD) for being late.

Then there is a chapter about Matthew Broderick, who had agreed to play Robert Gould Shaw in the Civil War movie, Glory. “Nothing I might have done could possibly rival Matthew’s role in the cruelty that was about to begin.” Zwick then proceeded to describe the cruelty he personally endured from Broderick during the filming, explaining: “If I intended to write about what it’s really like to make movies, I might as well suck it up and tell it like it is, even at risk of causing some hurt.”

In Glory, Zwick also worked with Denzel Washington (he wrote that casting him changed his life, but did not explain why) and Morgan Freeman (“a rewarding relationship”). Other stars mentioned in the book include Brad Pitt (described by Zwick as “a forthright, straightforward person, fun to be with”) and Tom Cruise (whom Zwick describes as having “the ability to see a movie from the audience’s point of view”). He also made mention of other stars, including the talented Leonardo DiCaprio.

There is a chapter devoted to Julia Roberts, who walked away from the pre-production of the 1991 film Shakespeare in Love that Zwick initiated. The film was eventually completed in 1998 by Harvey Weinstein. The same chapter also covers his subsequent spat with Weinstein. Ultimately, Shakespeare won an Oscar and Zwick shared it as one of the producers.

Zwick’s admiration for the art of acting is clear from the fact that he cast himself to play the part of a therapist in one of the movies he directed. After all, he was familiar with the role, having himself been a patient. He even consulted with his real therapist before passing on directing the movie Thelma & Louise. That scene with Zwick took five takes and he ended up with a sweat-soaked shirt. “It’s beginning to dawn on me there might be more to this acting thing than I thought,” he mused.

Ultimately, however, the question remains: Who is the target audience for Zwick’s book? It can’t be for insiders, as there is too much here that they already know. If it’s for general readers, the book contains too much industry jargon to be readily understood.

On the other hand, Zwick twice quoted an old Hollywood maxim (attributed to Samuel Goldwyn), “If you want to send a message, try Western Union,” possibly meaning that he wants to set the record straight and use Gallery Books as his messenger.

(By Dom Serafini)

Audio Version (a DV Works service)

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