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Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos: Best Nonfiction

Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos: Best Nonfiction

by Bruce Jay Friedman

A few years ago, Christopher Buckley wrote of Bruce Jay Friedman in the New York Times Book Review that he "has been likened to everyone from J. D. Salinger to Woody Allen," but that "he is: Bruce Jay Friedman, sui generis, and no mean thing. No further comparisons are necessary." We are happy to report that he remains the same Bruce Jay Friedman in his


A few years ago, Christopher Buckley wrote of Bruce Jay Friedman in the New York Times Book Review that he "has been likened to everyone from J. D. Salinger to Woody Allen," but that "he is: Bruce Jay Friedman, sui generis, and no mean thing. No further comparisons are necessary." We are happy to report that he remains the same Bruce Jay Friedman in his unique, unblinking, and slightly tilted essays—collected here for the first time—in Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos.

A butler school in Houston, a livestock auction in Little Rock, a home for "frozen guys" in California, JFK's humidor in Manhattan—all are jumping off points for Friedman's baleful and sharply satirical scrutiny of American life and behavior in the second half of the twentieth century. Travel with Friedman from Harlem to Hollywood, from Port-au-Prince to Etta's Eat Shop in Chicago. In these pieces, which were published in literary and mass-circulation magazines from the 1960s to the 1990s, you'll meet such luminaries as Castro and Clinton, Natalie Wood and Clint Eastwood, and even Friedman's friends Irwin Shaw, Nelson Algren, and Mario Puzo. Friedman is a master of the essay, whether the subject is crime reporting ("Lessons of the Street"), Hollywood shenanigans ("My Life among the Stars"), or his outrageous adventures as the editor of pulp magazines (the classic "Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos"). We could sing his praises as a journalist, humorist, and social critic. But, as Buckley tells us, being Bruce Jay Friedman is enough.

Bruce Jay Friedman is the author of seven novels (including The Dick, Stern, and A Mother's Kisses), four collections of short stories, four full-length plays (including Scuba Duba and Steambath), and the screenplays for the movies Splash and Stir Crazy.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Better known for his novels (A Mother's Kisses), plays (Scuba Duba) and screenplays (Splash), Friedman has also garnered over the past four decades a reputation as a journalist whose sly wit complements his idiosyncratic insights. This collection of 23 nonfiction pieces, ranging from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s, brings together a sampling of the author's best magazine writing from Esquire, New York magazine and Playboy, among other publications. Friedman is at his most wry when he is writing about theater and Hollywood. In "Tales from the Darkside" (published in Smart in 1988), he details how a brief stint as a film producer (a far more prestigious and powerful position than that of a writer) still never got him the access and respect he desired. In "Some Thoughts on Clint Eastwood and Heidegger," a quirky, idolizing meditation on the actor's life and career, he juxtaposes odd musings--such as that his cinematic hero would read the philosopher "and get something out of it, too, maybe not all of what Heidegger was driving at, but something"--with the curious opinion that "I don't think that sex is very important to [Eastwood]." Often, Friedman's profiles provide a frightening glimpse into the past. The 1971 "Lessons of the Street" (published in Harper's) details the life and work of a New York City plainclothes detective; as Friedman deftly exposes the cop's racism and violence, we realize how much has and hasn't changed in three decades. While some of the material is (unsurprisingly) dated, the collection provides a vital and sustained look at an important American writer with a unique voice. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos celebrates the literary achievements of author Friedman, who is known for his novels and screenplays and whose journalistic insight into contemporary life makes for an excellent series of literary essays. These works appeared in literary and mass-circulation magazines over the last four decades and provide fine, pointed observations of modern life.

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University of Chicago Press
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Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos

Best Nonfiction

By Bruce Jay Friedman

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003

University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-26350-9

Chapter One

I'm crazy about Clint Eastwood, and if that automatically sounds chic,
it's just going to have to sound that way. There's something intrinsically
fair about him. He's no intellectual, but he's willing to learn. For
example, I have a feeling that if you met him and Heidegger crept into the
conversation, he wouldn't come up with one of those dumb Hollywood remarks
along the lines of "Heidi-who?" He would, with quiet intelligence, say,
"What's that name?" and scribble it down on a little piece of paper. Not a
memo either, or one of those "From the Desk Of" things, just a little
piece of scratch paper. Maybe he'd borrow it from somebody. And he
wouldn't hand that scratch paper to any secretary, either. The next day,
he'd go down to the library-a small library out there where's he got all
those acres-and check out a volume of Heidegger and read it himself. And
he would get something out of it, too, maybe not all of what Heidegger was
driving at, but something. And I'm not talking about remarks to drop at
some William Morris agency party. Something he could really use. Out there
where he's got allthose acres. And incidentally, with regard to those
acres, he didn't just pick them up in that Ronald Reagan free enterprise
frontier spirit either. I don't even think ecology is at the top of his
list of concerns either. He just wanted a little room. And if someone
trespassed on his property, he wouldn't just blow the guy's head off.
Maybe he's got a gun or two, but he doesn't have a whole collection. He'd
invite the trespasser in, offer him a bite to eat. It wouldn't necessarily
be a simple sandwich either, a ham and cheese. He'd serve him a salad.
Why? Because he has enough confidence to feed the fellow some artichoke
hearts and not see it as some threat to his masculinity. Who knows, maybe
he and the trespasser would get to talking about what Eastwood had just
gotten out of Heidegger. The trespasser might just know a little about
Heidegger. Those are the kind of fellows who do. Eastwood realizes that.

Eastwood sees that life isn't so simple, that it isn't just good and bad,
but that there are a lot of grays in between. They talk about the squint.
Boy, does he take a lot of heat on that. The squint this, the squint that.
Take away the squint and the electronic music and what have you got? I
happen to think you've got plenty. A complex individual, for openers. Let
me throw a hot potato into this: I've come to the conclusion that he got
that squint by trying to make some difficult moral choices. Which is why
he should gravitate toward someone like Heidegger. Heidegger might very
well lead him in the direction of Wittgenstein, but I don't think Eastwood
would make a career out of either one of them. If he didn't respond to
Wittgenstein, he would just set him aside and not even add some other dumb
Hollywood remark like "A man's got a right to his opinion." That's what
makes him so special. He would simply say Heidegger yes, Wittgenstein no
and go on about his business. If, at some later date, he came around to
Wittgenstein's way of thinking, back he goes to the library. No ad in
Variety either, just a quiet trip to the stacks.

I don't know the circumstances of Eastwood's personal life, but I don't
think sex is all that important to him, even though they reflexively throw
a scene or two into each of his pictures. I can't help but feel that he
just goes through the motions-and not because he once got hurt and it was
traumatic for him. There just wasn't ever that much to it for him. Oh,
he'll do it, let a woman use him, maybe even throw in an animal cry or
two. He has a great body and he's probably the cleanest one out there-not
just that manly kind of clean, but the kind you have to have a lot of soap
for. So he'll let himself be used, but the woman, if she has any
intelligence, will see that there's a part of him she hasn't touched.
(Unless it's an Asian woman-an Asian woman would definitely have an edge.)
And she would be right. Maybe he would even like to be touched, but he
doesn't know how to make this happen. That's what he's looking for in
Heidegger and with all those acres out there, a way to be touched, even
though he senses in some Kierkegaardian way that it's not in the cards for
him and he'll probably go right on through that way. Never being touched.
He just doesn't play those mythic fellows who suddenly loom out of nowhere
with a murky past. He is one. And one thing those mythic fellows don't do
is get touched.

That's where I give the Italians credit. They took one look at him, they
saw mythic, and they grabbed it. And incidentally, I hope he has the good
sense to stay with mythic. The second I saw him turn up as an art
professor in The Eiger Sanction, I knew he was in big trouble. Not that he
can't make just about anything mythic. (Witness the otherworldly dimension
he single-handedly got into Play Misty for Me. He was a disc jockey and he
still got mythic in there.) But that one time, in The Eiger Sanction, he
put too big a burden on himself. They couldn't even make the mountain
mythic, so what did they expect from an actor who is more or less flesh
and blood? (He didn't give up on that one, either, incidentally. He was
mythic in fits and starts, and then he finally got disgusted.) In any
case, I wish he'd stick with straight mythic and not try to broaden
himself (on screen, that is). Let Al Pacino broaden himself. I'd love to
see him just continue riding into Lagos out of some primordial past, go
around doing mythic things, and get the hell out of there with the
whistling sound. In other words, broaden himself within mythic. Pacino
wants to play Beethoven, that's his business. Let Eastwood keep on
refining mythic, although how on God's earth he's going to refine what he
did in High Plains Drifter is a question I'd rather not have to answer.

Which brings me to another question, one that's been crying out to be
asked since I got into this. The Duke or Eastwood? In a fight, forget it.
A good big man against a good little man. Sugar Ray versus Ali. The Duke
with those big, good-natured ham hands would eventually win. Eastwood
would hit him with some vicious, nasty, small man's punches and the Duke
probably wouldn't even feel most of them. It's as if they'd be coming from
one of his spitfires. And the ones he did feel, he'd fall back, shake the
grogginess out of his head, rub his slightly stubbled cheek, say "I'll be
darned"-and then he'd start using the good-natured hands and that would be
all she wrote. The end of Eastwood. Or would it? Let's not get too cocky
on this point, either us or the Duke. Because this is where I'd like to
introduce a thought, something for the Duke to ponder. All along, we've
been presupposing a fair fight. One of those saloon things where people
get thrown over bars and the mirror breaks. What the Duke has to realize
is that Eastwood has spent a lot of time abroad. And he just might come up
with something crazy. Something the Duke has never seen. Something they
didn't do in Laredo. Something out of Naples. Eastwood doesn't fight
American, doesn't see any reason to. He'll pull the Duke's ear off. What
would the Duke do then? Probably mumble something about gooks and walk off
the set. Or for argument's sake, let's say Eastwood didn't pull the Duke's
ear off. What if he pulled something metaphysical, something no one ever
tried on the Duke? All of a sudden the Duke would be punching thin air.
He'd have to stop after a while and ask a rancher, "Listen, neighbor,
wasn't I just fighting a tough little skinny fellow or was it my
imagination?" With all of this, I'd still probably bet on the Duke because
of his good-natured ham hands and the Iwo. But there'd always be the
possibility of an upset, particularly if Eastwood was cornered and went
over to the metaphysical.

As to whose company I'd enjoy the most, however, no contest. Eastwood all
the way. Well, maybe not all the way. If we're talking about enjoyment,
how can you casually dismiss the Duke? Most of that American stuff is good
PR, and although I'm sure certain friends of mine will accuse me of
falling into the old Eichmann-was-a-great-guy-away-from-the-compound trap,
I think the Duke would be fun to hang around with. He's simplistic, sure,
but fun simplistic. Alright, charming simplistic. And in hanging around
with Wayne, you'd be able to find him. There wouldn't be that part of him
you couldn't touch. You could touch all of him, and of course, right there
is where you run into your problem. He's too available. I can just hear
myself saying, "For crying out loud, Duke, could you be a little elusive
for a change?"

What you would want, of course, is to have the Duke and Eastwood as a
team, but of course that's impossible. It might be alright with Wayne to
have Eastwood as a sidekick, albeit one he would have to keep an eye on at
all times. But one thing you can bet on is Eastwood's no sidekick. Not
that he's beyond entertaining the thought on some metaphysical level. I
haven't the slightest doubt that he would comprehend my sidekick theory of
literature (one I hope to get around to doing some day for the Partisan
) which sets out to demonstrate that sidekicks (Maggio, Ratso Rizzo,
that guy in The Ginger Man) are much deeper, richer than main characters
because there was less pressure on the author when he thought them up.
They were written relaxed. Like throwaway lines, which any stand-up comic
will tell you are always funnier than the ones everybody slaves over.
Eastwood understands all this, and he would probably go for the sidekick
thing on a metaphysical level, but even he has to live in the real
world-so the sidekick thing is out, if only on the basis of career stuff
and the percentage of the gross, which he needs as much as the next man. I
don't see any reason to hold that against him. If there has to be a
sidekick, let Wayne be the one. Or else drop the whole thing.

So on the basis of company alone, I'd go with Eastwood and it would always
come back to that remote thing of his. That alienated thing that Beckett
and Ionesco are supposed to have a lock on. For awhile, Antonioni had a
lock on it, too, but I understand he's not so alienated these days. The
point is, you're allowed to say Pinter and alienated all you want. You
practically get a trip to Jamaica out of it. But mention Eastwood and
alienated in the same breath and they look at you like you're an idiot.
And are they wrong! As far as I'm concerned, he's more alienated than the
whole pack of them. I think he's as every bit as alienated as Beckett
himself; what do you think of that?

I think it's only fair to point out that I fell in love with Stockholm,
too, and found it a relief after Italy, where everyone was showering me
with love. They don't blow kisses in Stockholm and, Lord knows, Eastwood
doesn't. What he does is hold himself out of reach; and if you ever did
get to him, sitting around with him on those acres, it would be on some
high windy metaphysical plain, which as far as I'm concerned, is the only
way you'd ever want to reach someone. That's what it's all about, and if
it isn't, I might as well cash in my chips right now. We all might as well
cash in our chips. It's a long shot, but I have a feeling I'd have a shot
at reaching him up there on that plain. It certainly would be worth
striving for. If you must know, I believe Clint Eastwood's remote,
alienated style is a goddammed metaphor for our time. Which is why I
salute him-as a man, as an artist, as a professional (and I understand
he's an outrageous stickler for detail on the set, even though the net
effect emerges as being casual), and as a complex human being.


Excerpted from Even the Rhinos Were Nymphos
by Bruce Jay Friedman
Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

P. J. O'Rourke
Bruce Jay Friedman is a genius. And I know about genius. I've spent a lot of time with Bruce Jay Friedman at Elaine's in the middle of the night when we were all geniuses. But Bruce Jay—he's a genius in the daytime.

Meet the Author

Bruce Jay Friedman is the author of seven novels (including The Dick, Stern, and A Mother's Kisses), four collections of short stories, and a number of full-length plays-among them Scuba Duba and Steambath. His screenplay credits include Splash and Stir Crazy.

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