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Action!
     

Action!

5.0 1
by Robert W. Cort
 

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What do you do when your oldest friend, Steve McQueen, pulls out his Smith & Wesson and blows your defenseless dining-room chair to smithereens? Or when your hottest client, sex goddess Romy Schneider, demands you leave your wife for her? Those are just a couple of the dilemmas faced by AJ Jastrow, the fictional protagonist of Action!, Robert

Overview

What do you do when your oldest friend, Steve McQueen, pulls out his Smith & Wesson and blows your defenseless dining-room chair to smithereens? Or when your hottest client, sex goddess Romy Schneider, demands you leave your wife for her? Those are just a couple of the dilemmas faced by AJ Jastrow, the fictional protagonist of Action!, Robert Cort’s page-turning saga about a legendary Hollywood family.
When we first meet AJ in 1948, a few weeks shy of his thirteenth birthday, he ranks as minor Hollywood royalty—Dad is the movie industry’s most prominent attorney, Mom is a retired actress whose uncle is Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount. But this year will prove to be the end of the movie industry’s Golden Age and the beginning of exile for the Jastrow family.
When AJ returns to Tinseltown after a decade’s absence, he realizes that fulfilling his father’s legacy of creating a movie empire will prove a life’s work. Along the way, AJ’s soldiers-in-arms include the Machiavellian producer Ray Stark, who teaches him how to win at Monopoly and studio politics; Wall Street genius Charlie Bluhdorn, who coaxes AJ to fly under the radar on a secret mission; AJ’s wife, Stephanie, who reminds him that a conscience isn’t a luxury; and his daughter and protégée, Jessica, who refuses to leave his side despite irresistible temptation.
His enemies are formidable: studio president Paul Herzog, who seeks to destroy the son as he did the father; the wily agent Mike Ovitz, who intuits the weaknesses of any rival; AJ’s mother, Hollywood’s wealthiest woman, who cannot abide disloyalty; andAJ’s son, Ricky, an actor of uncommon ability, who holds a devastating grudge against his dad.
By blending and transforming fact into fiction, by introducing real characters to fictional ones, Robert Cort gives the reader an inside account of Hollywood’s path (and drift) from the end of World War II to the present. And utilizing his insider’s knowledge, gained as one of the town’s premier producers, he provides an intimate chronicle of how movies are really made, how producers work, and how the industry has evolved, often at the cost of its collective soul. Provocative and vastly entertaining, Action! is popular fiction at its best, a story that is both enlightening and great fun to read.
From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

People Magazine
Don't wait for the movie -- the book is up-all-night entertaining. Cort captures all of Hollywood in this decadently detailed novel.
Cort has produced 52 films, including ''Runaway Bride'' and ''Mr. Holland's Opus,'' and he clearly knows his way around what Collins and her competitors invariably call Tinseltown. He has put his knowledge to good use in Action!, a sprawling book that manages to be both entertaining and smart. — Dana Kennedy
The New York Times
Cort has produced 52 films, including ''Runaway Bride'' and ''Mr. Holland's Opus,'' and he clearly knows his way around what Collins and her competitors invariably call Tinseltown. He has put his knowledge to good use in Action!, a sprawling book that manages to be both entertaining and smart. — Dana Kennedy
The Los Angeles Times
Some of the best writing evokes the larger-than-life personalities of movie moguls, the Machiavellian studio politics, the travail of producing a big-budget action movie on location with a power-crazed director. The serendipity of success and failure, the ecology of power, the intangibility of talent are elements not just in the book's themes but in its brushstrokes. Cort has the wardrobes, the restaurants, the golf courses, the argot of the business down pat. — Peter Lefcourt
Publishers Weekly
In a letter accompanying the galley for this first novel by veteran Hollywood producer Cort, the publisher promises a story that gives insight into "how movies are really made." It doesn't quite live up to that promise. The novel essentially follows the fortunes of one moviemaking family through most of the 20th century, across three generations, focusing primarily on the middle scion, AJ Jastrow, a pushy, nervy, cocksure producer whose career ranges from the post-WWII period to the millennium. Raised in the moral shadow of his father, Harry, a self-made man too decent for Hollywood, according to his wife ("I married a fucking moron"), AJ reluctantly enters the movie business following an aborted legal career. Making an early reputation in the new medium of television, AJ shifts to feature production via agenting, attempts a version of Apocalypse Now, suffers a stroke, recovers and founds his own studio with Japanese capital. Then there are the family subplots: his failed marriage to Steph, followed by remarriage to Steph after a 14-year hiatus; the doings of his dutiful daughter, Jess, his disastrous son, Ricky, and most of all, his mother, Maggie, whose malicious machinations against her son could earn her a spot on The Sopranos. The cast is multiplied by a host of celebrity cameos, including Bing Crosby (" `I shot a seventy-seven at Bel Air yesterday and took Astaire for a C-note' "), Steve McQueen (" `Let's get ripped' ") and Sam Kinison ("Sprawled across a king-size bed, Sam swamped two young women with his blubber"). But this avalanche of anecdotal scenery is so far-ranging, it can barely support its own weight. (July) Forecast: Studio execs may pick the book up for the long plane ride between New York and L.A., but general interest is likely to be less than overwhelming. 50,000 first printing; 6-city author tour. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This debut from the producer of such films as Mr. Holland's Opus and Runaway Bride follows second-generation movie producer AJ Jastrow as he swerves through life in Hollywood's fast lane. Abandoning law school to fulfill his late father's legacy by creating a movie-making empire to rival MGM, Paramount, and Universal, AJ caddies for David O. Selznick, stands in for Danny Kaye, serves as an agent for Steve McQueen, has a marriage-ending affair with Romy Schneider, and on and on. As his career dips and rises, his ego inflates commensurately, and he takes on all of the big-name boys in the corner offices. Nothing stands in the way of AJ's obsession, and he leaves his family, his health, and most of his real friends bobbing in his wake. Cort clearly knows a great deal about the history of the film industry; his rather predictable plot is so crammed with vignettes of studio big shots of the past half-century that the reader is left wishing for more plot and less name-dropping. Indeed, much of this book could have been left on the cutting-room floor. Perhaps Action! could have worked as a nonfiction expos , but it is not recommended as historical fiction.-Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Generational Hollywood business saga and first outing by Cort, a producer whose 52 film credits include Runaway Bride and Mr. Holland’s Opus. Cort gives his real-life Hollywood figures a strong rounding-out with famous quirks and punchy dialogue. Focusing on the Jastrow family, he opens with attorney Harry Jastrow’s 1948 effort in the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling against the distribution monopoly of Paramount, RKO, Twentieth Century-Fox, Warner Bros., and M-G-M, who own the theater chains that show their films. Harry loses, and, once divested of their chains, the studios face the rising threat of TV. The studios bury their heads in the sand about selling product to this medium, but Harry, seeing ahead, suggests making fresh programming for TV. A first-generation Ukrainian Jewish immigrant, Harry is married to former film star Maggie Nolin (Margaret Rose Kimmel), niece of Hollywood founding father Adolph Zukor. Too decent for an indecent business, Harry finds himself being bounced from Paramount for his far-reaching ideas and has a heart attack at his son AJ’s bar mitzvah. Ten years later, in a Bing Crosby celebrity golf tournament, AJ partners showman Mike Todd, who is taken with him and offers him a job on Don Quixote, his follow-up to Around the World in Eighty Days. Then AJ falls in with Steve McQueen and represents him at William Morris for McQueen’s first big TV western series, and after that through a series of five films, McQueen being no easy client. Like McQueen, AJ turns rebel, quitting the Morris agency when his mild antiwar activity upsets his bosses. When Charlie Bludhorn takes over Paramount and names Bob Evans president, AJ’s star rises as a producer.When his own company, J2 (J-squared) goes into the red, only a massive first-week opening of The Coney Island Maniac can save it. Then his son Ricky wants into the business and already has a great script to shuck--about AJ’s infidelity. Much fun. Four Stars and an Irving Thalberg Award. First printing of 50,000; author tour

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812972160
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/13/2004
Pages:
388
Product dimensions:
5.24(w) x 8.04(h) x 0.88(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1
Harry Jastrow popped the hinge on his gold and porcelain pocket watch. Twenty-two minutes remained until his call to action—too much time to kill and too little to run for cover. Behind its towering bronze doors the Supreme Court stood impregnable. Settle down, Harry. You’re pleading a case, not storming a beach. Regardless of who wins in there, no one dies—just like the movies.
“Your Honors, the Department of Justice has accused the chief executives of Paramount Pictures, RKO, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Twentieth Century–Fox, and Warner Bros. of multiple violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. But my clients are not corrupt monopolists. They are, in fact, pioneers who have carved out a new industry. . . .”
“Dad, you’re mumbling.”
Harry smiled reassuringly at AJ, his twelve-year-old son. “I’m rehearsing.”
“Could you do it inside? I need to use the bathroom.”
They marched into the building expecting to confront history; instead, they bumped into Bette Davis mugging for photographers in front of a bust of John Marshall. Was that Clark Gable talking to reporters by the Scales of Justice? The Great Hall looked like the lobby of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre at a world premiere. In lieu of a bullet, Harry bit his bottom lip. He had warned the moguls who ran Hollywood that they couldn’t manipulate the American judicial system like an audience in Peoria. But they’d told him nine old guys in long black robes couldn’t keep their hands out of their pants when Lana Turner winked at them from the front row.
Mel Cantwell, Harry’s Washington-basedco-counsel, elbowed through the crowd. “Who’s responsible for this circus?” Harry indicated a longshoreman costumed in a three-piece suit—Spyros Skouras, president of Twentieth Century–Fox. Cantwell mopped his brow with an already damp handkerchief. “The justices hate grandstand plays.”
“Don’t worry, Mel. I’ll be so riveting they won’t notice.”
“Dad, Mr. Cagney says hello.” AJ returned from the men’s room, struggling to comb his unruly hair. “I look like Einstein.”
“You look handsome.” Harry felt guilty because he’d used the last of their Brylcreem to tame his own black mop.
“Sir?” The head of publicity at Warners interrupted. “We need you for a moment.”
Harry checked his watch again, for more than the time. His father had stolen it off the corpse of a Russian nobleman who’d frozen in an ice storm outside St. Petersburg. Too bad Poppa wasn’t alive to see where it had ended up. Ten minutes remained. “Let’s go.”
The publicist escorted him into the courtroom to shake hands with Paul Muni and Lana Turner . . . in a low-cut blouse that might just do the trick. Harry listened dutifully to Muni. “You have to be bold, Jastrow, bold in your speech, bold in your being. That’s how I played The Life of Emile Zola. I’d have won the Oscar if Metro hadn’t bought it for Spencer Tracy.”
“A grave miscarriage of justice.” Harry’s irony sailed past the actor. “Why don’t you folks get seated. Show’s starting any second.”
He nudged his son toward the appellant’s table, but a man with a bald pate and wire-rimmed glasses intercepted them. Adolph Zukor, founder and chairman of Paramount, had spent his life creating an industry that didn’t exist the day he kissed the ground at Ellis Island in 1888. “Bubbala, look how big you’ve grown!” He squeezed the cheeks of his favorite grandnephew. “Did you help your father prepare for today?”
“He didn’t need help,” AJ declared proudly.
Zukor nodded. “Your dad is going to do great! He’s so honest those judges couldn’t not believe a thing he says when he says it.”
The courtroom grew still. Static electricity welded Harry’s suit to his skin. His son and Zukor scurried to the gallery as the marshal’s “Oyez” thundered.
Chief Justice Frederick Vinson pounded his gavel. He reminded Harry of a “hit ’em hard” football coach. “We will hear arguments this morning in the case of United States of America versus Paramount Pictures, et al.”
Robert Wright, the deputy attorney general of the Anti-Trust Division, rose to address the Court. His puritanical upbringing as the son of the demanding architect Frank Lloyd Wright had stripped him of compassion. Like many of his WASP colleagues in the Justice Department, he resented the eastern European Jewish immigrants who wielded untrammeled cultural influence over his country. This was his chance to cut the Horatio Algerbergs down to size. “I have prosecuted scores of businessmen for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, but none has been so deliberate and deceitful a defendant as the so-called Big Five motion picture studios.”
“Basd meg!” Zukor cursed in his native Hungarian, while Skouras muttered an unflattering epithet in Greek.
Wright glared in their direction. “The Big Five not only produce and distribute virtually all the movies made in America, they also own a significant number of the nation’s theaters. They have used their monopoly power to harm independent exhibitors. And who are these exhibitors? They are small businessmen—families, for the most part—working to keep their one theater in operation. The FBI conducted a secret, fifteen-month investigation of five hundred towns which conclusively proved the industry’s guilt. The trial jury convicted the Big Five on all counts. Now the defendants are demanding a reversal. We ask that you order the studios to sell all of their theaters and exit the exhibition business permanently. Divorcement is the only remedy that will curtail their abuses.”
“Off with their heads!” “Hang ’em high!” “Fry the bastards!” That was how “divorcement” translated to panicky movie executives. Economic catastrophe loomed because the studios earned most of their profits from their theaters. In typically understated fashion, Variety, Hollywood’s newspaper of record, had labeled today’s hearing Armageddon.
Harry knew that the Big Five had played far over the edge of legality for decades, so three months ago he’d negotiated a settlement with the Justice Department that would have allowed them to maintain ownership of a limited number of theaters. But the moguls were too greedy to lose any profits. They’d rejected the compromise and assigned Harry the mission of keeping the Court from approving Wright’s draconian request.
He’d reminded everyone that, as a studio executive, he hadn’t tried a case in years. But his bosses and colleagues had argued that no one knew more about the issues than him—including their attorneys, who’d lost in the lower courts—and no one presented a more true-blue image of the industry. Insiders whispered that if Harry succeeded, he was destined to head a studio. But that prospect meant nothing today. It was the specter of failure that gripped him. The bigwigs had a habit of pumping up their expectations only to wind up bitterly disappointed. He feared joining those actors marked for stardom who’d disappeared after the movies that were supposed to make them stars died at the box office.
For fifteen minutes Justices Black, Jackson, and Burton lobbed softball questions at his opponent. Harry exchanged disbelieving looks with Cantwell. Did the justices intend to invite Wright over for tea? In the face of the Court’s obvious sympathy, Harry waived his opening statement to devote full time to questions from the skeptical judges.
William O. Douglas fired first. “Dimitri Glendakis built a state-of-the-art theater in Fresno, California, but no major studio sold him a single feature. Is that how your clients reward excellence and innovation?”
“Our attorneys advised Mr. Glendakis, before he broke ground, that we could not provide films for his proposed theater because we had preexisting obligations to other theaters in that zone.”
“Weren’t those ‘preexisting obligations’ to your own theaters?”
“And to the theaters of other companies,” Harry responded. “But we did offer him three other areas in which to build.”
Vinson cut to the government’s most damaging assertion. “Mr. Jastrow, how do you defend the practice of block booking? It sounds to the Court suspiciously like a dictatorship.”
“We admit to selling in blocks of ten to fifteen films. We specify exactly which films are to be shown on what dates and for how many weeks. Otherwise, the independent theater owners would cherry-pick our highest-profile product. Then the studios couldn’t make movies that look less commercial up front—we call them ‘sleepers’—because there wouldn’t be guaranteed play time.”
“If those movies are so marginal, perhaps you shouldn’t make them at all.”
“Each year sixty percent of our movies lose us money. Unfortunately, before we make them, we don’t know which sixty percent.”
The courtroom burst into laughter. Harry maintained a straight face, but the echo of his son’s giggle buoyed him.
“The motion picture business is one of the riskiest in America. Each of the major studios produces approximately thirty films annually at an average cost of two million dollars and spends millions more in marketing. The exhibitors bear none of this risk. If the public doesn’t come, they return our prints at no cost.”
The more probing the questions from the bench, the more unflappable Harry became. Skepticism switched to curiosity. Zukor, Skouras, and the stars edged forward, anticipating a Capra moment. Go for it, Harry told himself, like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
“Early in this century—when movie producers didn’t own theaters—there was chaos in our industry: product shortages, bankruptcies, broken contracts, illegal combines. For the past thirty years the studios’ ownership of theaters has created prosperity, and the peace has allowed our filmmakers to create the first truly American art form. That progress will wither if the Court grants the Justice Department’s request and obliterates the core structure of the business. We admit that abuses have occurred. But we urge you to abandon the overkill of theater divorcement and concentrate instead on more limited solutions.”
The moguls mobbed him. “You’re the greatest counterpuncher since Tunney,” Skouras proclaimed. “We’re going to beat those fuckers.”
“Watch your language.” Zukor pointed to AJ.
“Sorry. Your dad’s a genius, kid.”
Trying to mimic the adults, AJ shook his father’s hand.
That made Harry feel like a hero.
They burst onto the steps of the Supreme Court building, bracing against the chill winter winds, just in time to see officials from the Justice Department slapping Bob Wright’s back for a job well done. Reality trumped elation. Court was a crapshoot—and it would be May before the Big Five learned if their dice had rolled lucky seven or snake eyes.
AJ studied the room-service menu at the Hay-Adams Hotel with the intensity he applied to a multiple-choice quiz in Miss Alder’s math class. Rule 1: Eliminate obvious no’s. That killed oatmeal, because he hated the lumps, and eggs, because he’d eaten them scrambled, boiled, and shirred on the train coming east. Rule 2: Go with a choice that makes sense. It was Rice Krispies with a banana . . . until he ignored Rule 3: Avoid unknowns. AJ didn’t recognize the name, but he enjoyed an adventure, so he ordered toast, bacon, and coffee for his father and smoked kippers and a glass of milk for himself.
In fourth grade he had abandoned his given name because he intended to win the Academy Award and thought that “Produced by Albert Julius Jastrow” would look old-fashioned on the screen. Alternatively, if he joined the PGA tour, “AJ Jastrow” would fit better on the trophies. Only his father knew his golf ambition, because Mom would have brained both of them. AJ Jastrow, Esq.—after Dad’s triumph yesterday, he had to consider the law. He’d heard Miss Turner tell Mr. Cagney how his father’s square chin and Roman nose reminded her of a Jewish Clark Kent. AJ checked his jawline in the mirror. He looked more like Jimmy Olsen.
“Son, are you ready?”
“I’ve got to finish packing.”
“Well, hurry up. I’ve got a couple of surprises for our last day.”
When room service arrived, a black waiter with gray hair and a gold front tooth laid out gleaming silverware on a linen tablecloth. He set two plates in front of the Jastrows and removed the domes with a flourish. AJ had assumed kippers were a sausage, not a relative of the herring. They looked and smelled like the soles of his old sneakers. But he’d ordered them, so he tasted a bite, which was so salty that he had to gulp down the milk. The combination reminded him of castor oil.
“Something wrong?”
“No, the kippers are really good . . . for kippers.”
“Let’s skip breakfast and get doughnuts at our first stop.”
His father’s bad knee—the one shot up in the war—froze in the cold, but together they hiked up the marble stairs to the Lincoln Memorial. Dad whispered, as if he were in temple, describing how the thirty-six marble columns represented each state on the day the president died. The statue of the man seated in his chair made AJ feel small. “Why does Lincoln look so sad? He won the Civil War.”
“He wanted to take his family back to Illinois, but there was still a big job left to do. Maybe he knew he would never see home again.”
Usually Dad gave more details. The heroes of American history were his heroes, unlike AJ’s; he preferred the Yankees. The words carved into the wall intrigued him. “With malice toward none and charity for all.” It was from the Second Inaugural Address. He didn’t know what it meant but decided to learn more about Lincoln so that he could understand why his father so honored him.
The second surprise topped the first. Instead of taking the train, Dad had booked them two seats on a flight to Chicago. When they arrived at the airport, AJ was sure the cabdriver had made a mistake.
“It’s going to be the only way to travel, so I thought you might want to try it.”
“Dad, are you . . . I mean, are we . . . really? You’re not kidding?”
“Scout’s honor.”
As they bumped down the runway, his father looked more nervous than before the hearing. I bet he wishes we’d taken the train, AJ thought. Then they were airborne and the whole city appeared below, the white marble of the monuments brilliantly reflecting in the sun. This was the best day of his life.

Copyright© 2003 by Robert Cort

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Action 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is incredible -- I could not put it down. Robert Cort has written a funny, readable, behind-the-scenes look into Hollywood that is a must read for any fan of the movies.