“I was the schlub, the leper, the maggot, the nigger,” Joe Eszterhas writes in his new book, Hollywood Animal, “… the screenwriter for Christ’s sake as star!” That bon mot sums up everything you need to know about Eszterhas, the man who wrote Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and other crucial additions to American cinema. Hollywood Animal is the Basic Instinct of autobiographies: a few titillating episodes buried under piles and piles of bilious nonsense. In Slate’s continuing effort to save you from reading big, long books of questionable merit, we have assembled a guide to Eszterhas’ juiciest bits.
Begin Hollywood Animal by turning to Page 4. Read about how producer Bob Evans, finding himself enamored with an Eszterhas script, sent the writer a woman with a congratulatory note tucked into her vagina. Stop reading after Eszterhas admits, “The note smelled fantastic.” Now skip to Page 35, and read Eszterhas’ admission that Sharon Stone’s famous leg-crossing scene in Basic Instinct wasn’t in his script. The idea came from director Paul Verhoeven, who later partnered with Eszterhas on Showgirls.
Skip the next 137 pages. Pick back up on Page 172, in the chapter called “Michael Eisner Pimps the Teamsters.” During preproduction on the movie Flashdance, Paramount chose three candidates for the lead role: Leslie Wing, Demi Moore, and Jennifer Beals. Eisner, then head of the studio, gathers more than 200 union members in a screening room and shows them footage of all three. “I want to know one thing from you guys after you’ve seen it,” he shrieks. “I want to know which of these three young women you’d most want to fuck.” Beals gets the part.
Now turn to Page 252 and read the chapter about Eszterhas’ fight with superagent Michael Ovitz. When Eszterhas attempts to fire Ovitz, the agent responds, “My foot soldiers who go up and down Wilshire Boulevard each day will blow your brains out.” An Ovitz deputy later tells Eszterhas, “Mike’s going to put you into the fucking ground.” (Ovitz denies making threats.) Eszterhas writes Ovitz a scathing letter that leaks to the newspapers. Then he embarrasses Ovitz by selling his script for Basic Instinct—originally titled Love Hurts—for a record $3 million.
Flip to Page 337, on which Eszterhas details his one-night fling with Sharon Stone. They romp at her house in the Valley; he says “her body was doughy, too much peanut butter and Wonder Bread maybe.” At the end of the evening, Eszterhas returns to his hotel suite across town. Stone wakes up in a panic, walks out her front door, and ambles down the street with a butcher knife. Neighborhood security personnel shepherd her back inside.
Only 400 more pages to go! Let’s skip around:
Page 204-6: Eszterhas receives a panicky phone call from Richard Marquand, director of Return of the Jedi. Eszterhas finds the director naked in a suite at the Westwood Marquis, clapped in handcuffs and sporting an erection. A woman has tied up Marquand and run off with his wallet.
Page 310: Spies tell Eszterhas that Michael Douglas punched out Paul Verhoeven on the set of Basic Instinct, sending him to the hospital. Verhoeven denies it.
Page 346-7: As he prepares to check into rehab, Bob Evans brings along a briefcase full of photos of naked women and a “huge” dildo, which he chucks out the car window en route. (This last act is the book’s only evidence that Evans has a sense of shame.)
Page 347-8: Evans buys hundreds of lotto tickets in a futile attempt to win a $70 million jackpot. He exclaims, “Not one fucking winner in the bunch. I’m the unluckiest Jew that ever lived!”
Page 354: Evans on Charles Michener, the former New Yorker editor and journalist who’s ghostwriting his memoirs: “He writes like some stuffy Harvard graduate. … He uses the word ‘vagina’ all the time. I’ve never used that word in my life. Now I’ve got to go back and change all of Michener’s vaginas to my cunts.”
Pages 359-66: George Voinovich, the Republican governor (and now senator) from Ohio, asks Eszterhas to keep an eye on his Hollywood-bound daughter, Betsy. Eszterhas, who is married, immediately begins an affair with her. He dumps her a few months later.
Page 393-4: Sharon Stone ponders whether she should follow up Basic Instinct by starring in a film version of Atlas Shrugged.
Page 481-505: A Justice Department investigation reveals that Eszterhas’ father, a Hungarian who immigrated to the United States, wrote anti-Semitic propaganda in his home country during World War II. (Jews were “parasites,” he wrote in one book, that “the body politic had to rid itself of.”) Eszterhas himself has just completed a film called The Music Box, in which a woman’s father turns out to be a Nazi war criminal. Eszterhas claims it is a coincidence.
Page 483-4: The director Constantin Costa-Gavras returns from Marlon Brando’s Fijian island with some strange news: Apparently, Brando asks everyone who visits to provide a stool sample for his private collection. Costa-Gavras tells Eszterhas he declined.
Page 557-8, 568-71, 578-9, 584-8: Paramount chieftain Sherry Lansing hires her husband, Billy Friedkin, to direct Eszterhas’ Jade script. Sensitive to charges of nepotism, she begs Eszterhas to tell the press that hiring Friedkin was all his idea. Friedkin proceeds to butcher Eszterhas’ script. When the screenwriter protests, Paramount buys his silence with a multimillion dollar deal.
Page 630: In a script meeting, Eszterhas watches as John Candy downs 21 rum and cokes in the space of a few hours. Candy, who would die a few years later, also smokes two cigarettes at once.
Page 642-3: Arnold Schwarzenegger has a pet name for people he dislikes: “foreheads.”
Page 678: A Hollywood dermatologist claims that Michael Jackson rubbed skin-bleaching cream on his genitals, resulting in intense discomfort.
Page 729: Eszterhas “imagines” that Billy Friedkin wears a toupee.
Page 733: Unfazed by Showgirls, Gloria Steinem asks Eszterhas to help her develop a movie about Marilyn Monroe.
All finished now! Place book back on shelf. Savor $26.95 you didn’t spend. And please wash hands before returning to work.