The Screen in Need of Tarn-X: Satires of Hollywood

With the Golden Globes behind us and the Academy Awards on the horizon, it's Hollywood's self-congratulatory season. There's plenty of grit beneath the glitter, however, and movie making can be a dirty business behind the scenes. Fortunately for our funny bones, enough people have escaped the machine to tell the tale. Satires abound, and in some cases Hollywood has paid them the ultimate compliment (or committed the ultimate act of co-option) of turning them into movies.

Recently republished, I Lost My Girlish Laughter by Jane Allen (a pseudonym, who'd have thought?) is a classic screwball comedy worthy of those of the era in which it was written. Featuring thinly disguised portraits of David Selznick and Marlene Dietrich, this is the tale of Madge Lawrence, Hollywood secretary extraordinaire, as she navigates script meetings, contract negotiations, and wandering hands on her way to success and true love. 

Robert Rodi's Bitch Goddess takes aim at our celebrity-fixated culture and scores consistently. Another epistolary novel, this takes on the career of fictional television and B-movie star Viola Chute. Hilarity ensues when she gets booted from her soap and a biographer tries to sort through her confabulations.

Speaking of queens of the screen, there's the classic Postcards From the Edge by Carrie Fisher. A thinly veiled self-portrait, it follows its heroine through rehab and back into the Hollywood rodeo. While sympathetic to its protagonist, this novel skewers pretty much everyone and everything else with an insider's knowledge. Postcards was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine.

Richard Rushfield turns a cynical eye on 1990's Tinseltown in On Spec. A whole cavalcade of people who are talented at nothing they can put on a resume or even have anything to do with their chosen professions converge to make a truly awful movie and then cover their hides with gusto when it bombs. Supposedly captured on Dictaphone, email, police blotters and other ephemera, this novel spares none of its characters.

Heather H. Howard spent decades as a personal assistant in La-La Land and lived to tell the fictionalized tale: Chore Whore. Forty-year-old Corki is an assistant par excellence, but is starting to rethink her career choices in favor of being a better mom. It's not hard to see why: psychoanalyzing, coordinating caterers, and stashing contraband 24/7 will wear on the most dedicated adult nanny. As the plot gets loopier and loopier, the details of Corki's job are fascinating and true to life.

Chuck Palahniuk uses his trademark stylistic and verbal inventiveness to stick a shiv in Golden Age Hollywood in Tell-all. Mazie is confidant and keeper to Miss Kathie, a faded star banking on a Broadway extravaganza to put her back on top. She's alarmed by the attentions her ward is receiving from a much-younger man, who may have intentions even darker than the usual ones. If you've never read Palahniuk before this might not be the place to start, but his fans will have much fun.

Griffin Mill has a soul as empty as any blockbuster action movie, but in Michael Tolkin's The Player, Griffin has a studio to take over, so he has to deal quickly with the disgruntled writer who is sending him death threats. This witty, trenchant novel shows how the Hollywood game is played, but even a master of it like Griffin doesn't know what to do with someone who just won't buy in. Tolkin was a struggling screenwriter until The Player was turned into a big-budget feature directed by Robert Altman and starring Tim Robbins.

Have more novels of Hollywood hijinks? Tell us in the comments.

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