Cerasulo, Tom. Authors Out Here: Fitzgerald, West, Parker, and Schulberg in Hollywood.
Tom Cerasulo's Authors Out Here explores the Hollywood screenwriting careers of American authors F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathanael West, Dorothy Parker, and Budd Schulberg, seeking to dismantle the myth that Hollywood hindered these authors' more "serious" literary work. Rather, in admirable detail, he argues for a fairer analysis of Hollywood's contribution to these authors' careers and uncovers their own manipulations of their authorial identity for financial and cultural "profit."
Authors Out Here is a fascinating read that works on numerous levels of analysis. Its most obvious exploration is its detailing of how Fitzgerald, West, Parker, and Schulberg entered into a mutually beneficial, if somewhat difficult, relationship with Hollywood as screenwriters. The focus on each author is set out in a chronological manner, contextualizing their work from the 1920s to the 1950s through the span of seven chapters. At the heart of Cerasulo's study is the premise that Hollywood not only benefited these authors financially, allowing them to continue working on their literature, but also provided the raw material that shaped their literary works, forming some of the major themes of American literature in the first half of the twentieth century. Rather than adhering to the common characterization of early Hollywood as a literary wasteland where authors' dreams were ruined by the Hollywood money-making machine, Cerasulo recuperates the Hollywood industry as a site of ongoing artistic dialogue and financial support.
Significantly, Cerasulo's exploration of the various roles and modes of production within the Hollywood industry, starting with its early days of the studio era, is also a lucid historical account of the profession of screenwriting itself. Employed by Hollywood to work in teams producing screenplays on a regular basis, Fitzgerald, West, Parker, and Schulberg's experiences read as a history lesson in the role of the screenwriter in Hollywood. The analysis of their differing experiences and responses to learning the profession of screenwriting is one of the key strengths of Authors Out Here, dismantling old myths in the process.
For example, Cerasulo highlights that behind the myth of Fitzgerald as a serious literary author "destroyed" by the lure of Hollywood lies a much more complex relationship. He contends that Hollywood often provided the themes, impetuses, and money for Fitzgerald's "serious" literary work, while at the same time revealing his limitations as a writer who is unable to produce workable screenplays or understand the cinematic mode for which he was writing. In contrast, Cerasulo explores how West, Parker and Schulberg developed a keener understanding of, and in some cases, respect for, the process of screenwriting that fed into the creation of their literature.
Cerasulo's best skill, however, is his ability to focus on these authors' experiences as examples of the ideology and practice of authorship. Rather than investing in the idea of the author as a gifted solitary genius, unconcerned with the lures of money, fame, or society, Cerasulo instead highlights how Fitzgerald, West, Parker, and Schulberg negotiated their authorial identities against the backdrop of their personal aspirations, social and political contexts, desire for recognition, and immediate needs for financial security. Such negotiations reveal different modes of being a writer that are not tied to the romantic image of the rarefied and solitary author. Cerasulo's insightful argument that Parker's experiences in Hollywood not only had practical outcomes in helping establish the Screen Writers Guild, but also in shaping the identity of the professional writer, reads as a compelling example. Parker, who was adept at navigating the tricky teamwork of co-writing screenplays, also came to the realization that such work was as "creatively taxing" (106) and involved as the more romanticized sole-authored literary work. Yet, throughout his study, Cerasulo also notes that Fitzgerald, West, Parker, and Schulberg often retreated into such a romanticized image of authorial identity for the sake of reputation and the creation of lasting literary legacies.
This contradiction between the creative and financial pull of Hollywood and the desire to live up to an idealized "market-defying" persona of "true" authorship (185) runs throughout Cerasulo's engagement with the literature Fitzgerald, West, Parker, and Schulberg produced, and sought to produce. Written in a straightforward yet often humorous manner, Cerasulo's study draws the reader into these authors' dilemmas while providing illuminating critical analysis. Authors Out Here is broad in its appeal and a useful addition to the study of Hollywood and American literature.
HILA SHACHAR, University of Western Australia
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|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2011|
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