While I don’t consider myself a film expert, I am trying to work my way through The Criterion Collection, and read a lot about film, so I suppose many would consider me to be knowledgeable. However, I had never heard of the director Curtis Harrington, a twentieth century film and television director, who worked with a wide array of producers, actors, and material. In the interest of learning something new about the film world, I dove into this book, finding the beginning of his autobiography quite enjoyable. He writes of growing up in Southern California, finding an interest in film, and working his way up in the business. After a bit, it became quite clear that this book is primarily about name-dropping (Harrington worked with Dennis Hopper, Joan Collins, and Farrah Fawcett, just to name a few) and less about an introspective journey of the author. None of this is to say that Harrington is showing off. No, instead he comes off as a very kind, gentle man, who just wants to tell the story of how he went from point A to point B in his career in Hollywood.
Given Harrington’s personality, Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood isn’t a tell-all (in fact, it would’ve been nice to have a little more of that here) but instead tells how almost everyone was pretty nice and friendly, but even those who weren’t good at their job or the kindest individuals aren’t worth spending much time writing about. It’s interesting to see Hollywood from the perspective of someone who wasn’t a huge star but who knew many of them.
What is lacking in Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood is the personal side of Harrington. I hate to sound too much like a psychotherapist, but it would have been nice to know what was going on in Harrington’s personal life, especially as a gay man in Hollywood in the mid-twentieth century. The book starts strong—with the hope that material of a more personal nature may be shared—but once Harrington’s film career gains traction, the book devolves into his experience with each of his films, with much seemingly glossed over in between. Large periods of time seem to vanish and Harrington only talks about films and television and how his work life engaged in a slippery slope downhill. Like many in Hollywood, he got chewed up and spit out and gives that perspective of things without having it become a blame game.
It is fairly remarkable that someone could write their autobiography (after having worked in Hollywood) and have it come to less than two hundred pages. (The book also includes a short story by Harrington and his index to the films of Josef von Sternberg, an influence on his filmmaking.) Even though he remains unknown to many, Harrington does a disservice to his memory and own experiences by not sharing more of his personal side with the reader. In doing research into his life, he seems like a really informed, kind gentleman, and while that came through in his book, something made him that way. There were certainly influences on his life, thoughts, and feelings that he had while he was going through his tough times. It’s that lack of coverage that keeps this autobiography from being great instead of just average. –Kurt Morris (DragCity,
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