By Cameron Cook | Editor-In-Chief Published: 06/07/2013 8:00 am EST
Publish date: June 18, 2013 Publisher: Drag City | Buy Book
Curtis Harrington falls under the category of “criminally underrated” when it comes to discussions on directors and their work. The list is long, consisting of Arthur Penn, Kenneth Lonergan, John Curran, and hundreds of others. The “criminally underrated” are the ones who are never fully recognized for their brilliance. They make their work, send it out, and get almost nothing in return for their efforts. Occasionally, as is the case with Lonergan, a small cult following will develop over time. Sometimes, as is the case with Arthur Penn, it takes death to really draw a crowd.
With Curtis Harrington, it may take a memoir.
Born in 1926, Curtis Harrington was an artist lost in his own time, interested in making art about what he called “his struggles with homosexuality” in a time where even the most open-minded of curators wouldn’t allow such material. The man was obsessed with the written word, and, as soon as one was built, movie theaters.
He loved the movies so much that, for a passage of his excellent book Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood, it feels like you’re reading a novelization of Cinema Paradiso. He got a job as a projectionist from a kind theater owner and absorbed everything film-related he could get his hands on.
He was writer for a good deal of his childhood. He loved to tell stories and create new worlds.
Once he got a camera, Curtis Harrington became a filmmaker.
Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood could have been several different books. It could have been the story of a gay man living in twentieth century America. It could have been the story of a “failed” director who never got to reach his artistic dreams. It could have been the story of a man who found himself directing episodes of classic television series that stood in complete opposition to his artistic voice.
It could have been a tell-all about sixties cinema, celebrity culture, and candid gossip about the now-legendary stars of the golden age of Hollywood.
Instead, we get the story of a man who wanted nothing more than to tell stories on screen. On any screen. However, like all great memoirs, the good stuff is in the tangents. That’s where those other possible novels come in.
The book, like life, is separated into several episodes. The first episode is a compelling story that most young artists will find familiar. Harrington felt a need to tell stories, to communicate, but, as an outsider, he had trouble figuring out how to do it.
The stories of his younger years are the most compelling because they’re the most universal. His precise recollections and keen insights are sometimes revelatory.
One episode of his life revolves around the many New York and Los Angeles parties he attended as a young director who made risky, provocative films on shoestring budgets. He talks about some well known celebrities in a less-than-flattering light, and he speaks of other Hollywood legends with the reverence of an historian. Either way, Harrington is extremely honest in his accounts, even to the detriment of his own reputation.
Harrington couldn’t get his own projects off the ground because of the immense risk in the material he was interested in shooting. As an openly gay man attempting to share his perspective with the rest of the world in a time where even John Cassavetes could barely release a movie about an interracial relationship, Curtis Harrington became a lost Hollywood memory.
He eventually took up television directing in the seventies, where he made episodes of Charlie’s Angels and Wonder Woman, among other things.
He never sounds bitter. Harrington always comes across as a man who’s just happy to have a story to tell. Lucky for us, he’s one of the best storytellers you’ll ever come across.
Cameron Cook has been obsessed with, and haunted by, films of all kinds ever since that weird, singing fish jumped out of that pond in The Brave Little Toaster. Now he's all grown up, educated in the ancient art of writing and telling stories, and he's still wondering whose idea that fish was. What he does know is how to find a good writer, and he's spent his life working his way toward CultureMass.
Summary:AMAZING: The tragically underrated Curtis Harrington delivers one of the most engaging, interesting Hollywood memoirs of the last decade. Essential reading for anybody interested in the story of Hollywood as it truly happened.