American Dream Machine

American Dream Machine

2.2 8
by Matthew Specktor
     
 

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The story of two talent agents and their three troubled boys, heirs to Hollywood royalty; a sweeping narrative about fathers and sons, the movie business, and the sundry sea changes that have shaped Hollywood and, by extension, American life.
American Dream Machine is the story of an iconic striver, a classic self-made man in the vein of Jay Gatsby or Augie

Overview

The story of two talent agents and their three troubled boys, heirs to Hollywood royalty; a sweeping narrative about fathers and sons, the movie business, and the sundry sea changes that have shaped Hollywood and, by extension, American life.
American Dream Machine is the story of an iconic striver, a classic self-made man in the vein of Jay Gatsby or Augie March. It's the story of a talent agent and his troubled sons, two generations of Hollywood royalty. It's a sweeping narrative about parents and children, the movie business, and the sundry sea changes that have shaped Hollywood, and by extension, American life. Beau Rosenwald—overweight, not particularly handsome, and improbably charismatic—arrives in Los Angeles in 1962 with nothing but an ill-fitting suit and a pair of expensive brogues. By the late 1970s he has helped found the most successful agency in Hollywood. Through the eyes of his son, we watch Beau and his partner go to war, waging a seismic battle that redraws the lines of an entire industry. We watch Beau rise and fall and rise again, in accordance with the cultural transformations that dictate the fickle world of movies. We watch Beau's partner, the enigmatic and cerebral Williams Farquarsen, struggle to contain himself, to control his impulses and consolidate his power. And we watch two generations of men fumble and thrive across the LA landscape, learning for themselves the shadows and costs exacted by success and failure. Mammalian, funny, and filled with characters both vital and profound, American Dream Machine is a piercing interrogation of the role—nourishing, as well as destructive—that illusion plays in all our lives.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Christine Sneed
On the surface, this is a deeply masculine novel, with Hollywood heavies in possession of huge wallets and matching appetites. But behind the drug- and alcohol-fueled machismo, the kingmaking and the crushing of rivals, are a feline watchfulness and a poetic sensibility that echoes Bellow's and Updike's prose rhythms along with their voracious, exuberant intelligence. Specktor evokes other literary giants, Raymond Chandler in particular, with metaphors both memorable and funny peppering the novel…Paired with the expected Lamborghinis, hot-knifed hash and Malibu parties are many remarkable feats of antic, mischievous imagination. Specktor knits real people into the fictional narrative, often to hilarious effect.
Publishers Weekly
02/11/2013
At the center of Specktor’s conventional second novel (after That Summertime Sound) is Beau Rosenwald, a Jewish boy from New York who lands in Los Angeles in the 1960s with nothing and uses his improbable charisma to become a powerful Hollywood agent. Narrated by his son Nate, the novel alternates between Beau’s successes and failures with his talent agency, American Dream Machine, and his son’s attempts during the 1990s and 2000s to find purpose. Nate and his half-brother Severin grow up in the Hollywood miasma and struggle to escape from their father’s shadow, in the process falling into drugs and hedonism. Meanwhile, Beau’s blusterous personality leads to a feud with his conflicted business partner, Williams Farquarsen III, who nurses a destructive secret, and as time goes on, Beau becomes increasingly isolated from the Hollywood of a new generation. The mostly familiar plot meanders with few surprises, but the book is nonetheless filled with aperçus of the cynical and vulgar world of Hollywood executives. While Specktor (That Summertime Sound), a film executive and the founding editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books, does not quite achieve an epic tone, his novel of the seedy guardians of the mythic American dream succeeds in showing just how unpleasant the film industry can be. Agent: Marc Gerald, The Agency Group. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
For Beau Rosenwald and his cronies in the talent agency business in the '60s and '70s, the American Dream Machine is alive but not always well. Beau is the quintessential American Dreamer who feels nothing can hold him back from his own success. Despite his disjunctive name (he's physically unprepossessing, in fact downright ugly), he has charm and on his best days, charisma. Since Hollywood is a happenin' place in the early '60s, Beau migrates there from New York, shortly after having gotten Rachel Roth pregnant, with twins no less. After a hasty marriage, Beau leaves Rachel and the kids in New York and heads back to LA, for after all, that's where his future lies. He hooks up with the Talented Artists Group and becomes an agent for Bryce Beller, a hapless actor whom Beau hawks as the next person to kiss Natalie Wood on screen. Eventually, he gets Bryce a role in The Dog's Tail, a "poetic" film Beau is trying to put together. The narrator of the novel, Beau's son by an office fling, caustically summarizes the film: "[The] script was fathomless, yet apart from the shuddersome beginning and the end, not much happened." Needless to say, in a city where you're judged by your last critical success, Beau's stock goes down. Interoffice politics soon cause Beau to break away from TAG and link up with another talent agency, the American Dream Machine, and at least for a while, things go well, for they seem to be signing legitimate talent, but ultimately, ADM becomes a mockery of its own self-naming. Beau's life plays out against the issues of his family woes: the death of his daughter and the emotional wallop of two "friends" discovering they're in fact stepbrothers. A Hollywood version--literally--of how the American Dream continues to con people with its seductive illusion.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781935639800
Publisher:
Tin House Books
Publication date:
04/15/2014
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
464
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt


PROLOGUE

They closed down the Hamlet on Sunset last night. That old plush palace, place where Dean Martin drank himself to death on Tuesdays, where my father and his friends once had lunch every weekend and the maître d’ was quick to kiss my old man’s hand. Like the one they called “the other Hamlet” in Beverly Hills, and “the regular other Hamlet” in Century City . . . all of these places now long gone. Hollywood is like that. Its forever institutions, so quick to disappear. The Hamburger Hamlet, the one on Sunset, was in a class by itself. Red leather upholstery, dark booths, the carpets patterned with a radical and problematic intaglio. Big windows flung sun in front, but farther in the interior was dim, swampy. Waitresses patrolled the tables, the recessed depths where my father’s clients, men like Stacy Keach and Arthur Hill, sat away from human scrutiny. Most often their hair was mussed and they were weeping. Or they were exultant, flashing lavish smiles and gold watches, their bands’ mesh grain muted by the ruinous lighting, those overhead bulbs that shone down just far enough to make the waitresses’ faces look like they were melting under heat lamps. And yet the things that were consummated there: divorces, deals! I saw George Clooney puking in one of the ficuses back by the men’s room, one time when I was in.

Unless it was somebody else. The one thing I’ve learned, growing up in Los Angeles: it’s always someone else. Even if it is the person you thought it was the first time. I helped him up. I laid my hand on the back of George Clooney’s collar. He was wearing a blue jacket with a deeper velveteen lapel, like an expensive wedding singer. This, and white bucks.

“Are you all right?”

“Yeah.” He spat. “They make the Manhattans here really strong.”

“Do they?”

We were near the kitchen, too, and could smell bacon, frying meat, other delicacies—like Welsh rarebit—I would describe if they still had any meaning, if they existed any longer.

“I’ll buy you one and you can check it out.”

I helped him back to his table. I remember his touch was feathery. He clutched my arm like a shy bride. Clooney wasn’t Clooney yet, but I, unfortunately, was myself.’91? ’92? The evening wound on, and on and on and on: Little Peter’s, the Havoc House. Eventually, Clooney and I ended up back at someone’s place in the Bird Streets, above Doheny.

“Why are you dressed like that?” I said.

“Like what?” In my mind, the smile is Clooney’s exactly, but at the time all he’d said was that he was an actor named Sam or Dave or (in fact I think he actually did say) George, but I’ll never know. “Why am I dressed like what?”

“Like a fucking prom date from the retro future. Like an Italian singer who stumbled into a golf shop.” I pointed. “What the hell is with those shoes?”

“Hey,” he said. “Check the stitching. Hand-soled.”

We were out back of this house, whosever it was, drinking tequila. Cantilevered up above the city, lolling in director’s chairs. Those houses sell for a bajillion dollars nowadays, but then it was just some crappy rental where a friend of a friend was chasing a girl around a roomful of mix-and-match furniture, listening to the Afghan Whigs or the Horny Horns or the Beach Boys—my favorite band of all time, by the way—or else a bunch of people were crowded around a TV watching Beyond the Valley of the Dolls on videocassette. It didn’t matter. Mr. Not-Quite-or-Not-Yet-Clooney and I were outside watching the sun come up, and we were either two guys who would someday be famous or two rudderless fuck-ups in our midtwenties. He was staring out at the holy panorama of Los Angeles at dawn, and I couldn’t get my eyes off his shoes.

“Why am I dressed like this?” My new friend wrung his hands together limply. I ought to sell that fact to a tabloid, to prove Clooney is gay. “I was at a function,” he said.

“What kind of function? A convention of Tony Bennett fans? A mob wedding?”

I don’t remember what he said next. I think he said, I was in Vegas, and I asked him how much he’d lost. I probably gave him a sloppy kiss. I knew it was you, Fredo! There was an empty swimming pool nearby. It must’ve been February. Italian cypresses rose up in inviting cones, the scalloped houses dropped off in stages beneath us, and eventually the whole hill flattened out into that ash-colored plane, that grand and gray infinity that is Los Angeles from up above: God’s palm, checkered with twinkling lights and crossed with hot wind.

“I can never remember the words to this one . . . ”

“What,” I said. “It’s mostly moaning.”

“They’re all mostly moaning.”

George and I went digging into the old soul music catalog, to prove our masculine bona fides. None of those Motown lite, Big Chill-type classics that turdscaped so many of my father’s late eighties productions. We went for the nonsense numbers, the real obscurities. We sang “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” “The Whap Whap Song,”

“Oogum Boogum,” “Lobster Betty.” A couple of those might not have been real, but we did ’em anyway.

“Nice pipes.”

“Thanks,” he said. “I was up for The Doors but I never got a callback.”

We spent the rest of the night drinking and singing. People blame Los Angeles for so many things, but my own view is tender, forgiving. I love LA with all of my heart. This story I have to tell doesn’t have much to do with me, but it isn’t about some bored actress and her existential crises, a troubled screenwriter who comes to his senses and hightails it back to Illinois. It’s not about the vacuous horror of the California dream. It’s something that could’ve happened anywhere else in the world, but instead settled, inexplicably, here. This city, with its unfortunate rap. It deserves warmer witness than dear old Joan Didion.

“Don’t do that, man.” My voice echoed. I clapped my friend on the shoulder. “Don’t do the pleading-and-testifying thing. You’ll hurt your knees!”

“I’m all right.”

By the time we were done, we were deep into the duos, those freaky-deaky pairs from Texas or Mississippi: Mel & Tim; Maurice & Mac; Eddie & Ernie. Those gap-toothed couples who’d managed to eke out a single regional hit before fading back into their hard-won obscurity. My new friend seemed to know them all, and by the time we were finished I didn’t know which of us was Mel and which Tim, which of us had died in a boarding house and which, the lucky one I presume, still gigged around Jacksonville. Him, probably. He was dressed for it.

“I should get going,” he said, at last.

“Right.” Not like either of us had anywhere to be at this hour, but he needed to go off and get famous and I needed to find my jacket and a mattress. A man shouldn’t postpone destiny. “Later.”

We embraced, and I believe he groped my groin. After that I never saw him again, not if he was not, as I am now forced to consider, George Clooney. I just watched him climb the steps out of the swimming pool, into which we’d descended in order to get the correct echo, the right degree of reverb on our voices. This was what it was like inside a vocal booth at Stax, or when the Beach Boys recorded “Good Vibrations” at Gold Star Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard. So we told one another, and perhaps we were right. For a moment I remained in this sunken hole in the ground that was like a grave slathered with toothpaste—it was that perfect bland turquoise color—and sang that song about the dark end of the street, how it’s where we’ll always meet. But I stopped, finally. Who wants to sing alone?

This is what I remember, when I think of the Hamlet on Sunset. This, and a few dozen afternoons with my dad and half brother, the adolescent crucible in which I felt so uncomfortable, baffled by my paternity and a thousand other things. Clooney’s cuffs; the faint flare of his baby-blue trousers; the mirrored aviator shades, like a cop’s, he slipped on before he left. It was ten thirty in the morning. I held a bottle of blanco by its neck and looked over at the pine needles, the brittle coniferous pieces that had gathered around the drain. Clooney’s bucks had thick rubber soles and made a fricative sound as he crossed the patio, then went through the house and out. I heard the purr of his Honda Civic, its fading drone as he wound down the hill and left me behind with my thoughts.

Meet the Author

Matthew Specktor is the author of the novels American Dream Machine and That Summertime Sound, as well as a nonfiction book of film criticism. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Paris Review, The Believer, Tin House, Black Clock, and other publications. He is a founding editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books.

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American Dream Machine 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The one reviewer when I purchased this book gave it a 5 star rating -- it must have come from the Author or his Mother. I've only read up to page 126 and can't read any further. As a reader I could not care any less about what happens to the characters of the story, perhaps it the style of nearly free thought writing. If I could get a refund I would ask for it -- save your money, there HAVE to be better books about the 70's Hollywood era out there to spend you money and time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can understand how the author might have a few enemies.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought it was me. Every time I sat down to read I'd start and before I knew it I was just glossing over words on the page. I was bound and determined to finish but struggled to get to p.200 at which point I decided I'm done. I think the writing and descriptions are wonderful but not much ever happens. I'm starting off theNew Year with a other book. Life is too short to waste my time.
Earl7 More than 1 year ago
The subject of the story sounded so interesting, I forced myself to continue reading in spite of the unlikable characters and slow predictable pacing. Unfortunately the ending was not worth the journey. Too long with little to say.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought that I would enjoy the setting but found that the story wasn't holding my interest. I tried to push through, but abandoned it half way in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago