Death Valley Superstars (2018) is mainly a collection of essays about Hollywood’s history. What’s in it for people already well-versed in Hollywood’s history? Some details they didn’t know, a welcoming prose and some personal essays about Haney’s experiences as an actor and screenwriter, which includes a tenure working for Roger Corman, and who doesn’t like a good Roger Corman story?
Actually, while the prose is welcoming, I should mention that, in the book’s first essay, Haney writes of being at a party and someone asks him if he was going to see Iron Man and he responds, “I don’t watch movies made for children,” and I have friends who would stop reading after that, and maybe you would, too. But if that’s not a deal breaker, let’s focus on those of you who keep coming across references to (as Karina Longworth puts it) Hollywood’s first century, and you have a hard enough time keeping up with the Trump administration, let alone show business of the past.
Subjects of Death Valley Superstars include Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Elizabeth Taylor, Hugh Hefner, and Lee Harvey Oswald (“star” of the Zapruder film). And in Haney’s previous essay collection Subversia (2010), the subjects include James Dean and Charles Manson (as well music essays featuring Elliott Smith and the Walkmen), and more about being an actor and a writer. Intro to Vintage Hollywood.
Haney also explores the lives of some forgotten actors, and I have to single out “Pluto in the Twelfth House,” a riveting long-read about the life of Mark Frechette, whose journey from good Catholic boy to actor to bank robber is a tale of the ’60s I’d somehow missed completely.
Haney’s first book, published under the name D.R. Haney, is the novel Banned for Life, about a legendary punk rock musician. (Razorcake’s reviewer Billups Allen liked it.) –Jim Woster (Delancey Street Press, delanceystreetpress.com / TNB Books, thenervousbreakdown.com)