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Iris Burton for years ran one of L.A.'s most aggressive talent agencies and maintained the town's biggest roster of child stars, helping to launch the careers of Drew Barrymore, Henry Thomas, the Olsens, River and Joaquin Phoenix, Tori Spelling, Kirsten Dunst, Fred Savage, Corey Feldman, Hilary Duff and more. In this vivid memoir, Snyder, Burton's executive assistant, tells his own story as he probes the lifestyles of actors, agents and producers, depicting a high-octane Hollywood with a desperate dark side that viewers of HBO's Entourage will find intriguing. Beginning with Burton's funeral in 2008, he intercuts flashbacks, recalling the day he was hired and began working for the woman who "had been the first agent to negotiate million-dollar deals for her underage clients." In the 1950s, Burton was on screen as a Paramount contract player, but life as a single mom led her to work as a saleswoman and a Playboy Club waitress, followed by a talent agency job. Developing clients and her reputation, she opened her own agency one year later. In spite of her tantrums and tirades, Burton had much empathy for her clients, and the heart of this book is a moving recreation of Burton and Snyder's final days with River Phoenix. Snyder has succeeded in capturing the humor and spirit of the woman who called herself "the legendary Iris Burton." (May 1)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Iris Burton, who died in 2008, built a successful talent agency on making children a "viable commodity" in Hollywood and is credited with being the first agent to negotiate million-dollar deals for minors. Snyder, who was her executive assistant for years, chronicles this selfish and occasionally funny woman as her agency and power declined. Burton clung to one of the last small publicity agencies in a ruthless atmosphere of larger agency recruitment and rivalries, within an industry that preys on people. Through a focus on two of Burton's more famous clients, River and Joaquin Phoenix, we see how the client's interest and value are measured in monetary terms, and relationships are portrayed only occasionally as guided by human concern and support. Snyder intersperses his stories of the difficulty of breaking away from the agency and his attempts to relieve stress and actively accept his sexuality. Suitable for public libraries with a population of Hollywood gossip aficionados.
Posted July 7, 2009
Like many gay boys who grew up in a small town, Chris Snyder dreamed of being part of the excitement, glitz and fame of Hollywood. As he went through school, he came to the realization that his ideal role would likely be behind the scenes, as an agent, helping to find talent and guide them to their success. After an internship at Warner Brothers, he accepted a job as the assistant to the legendary independent agent, Iris Burton, a Hollywood icon who had guided the career of countless child stars for decades.
Iris warned Chris that she was not easy to work for, an understatement that he would often live to regret for the next thirteen years in the 24/7 personal servitude-like employ of that sarcastic, self-possessed but often brilliant star maker. Chris did get a chance to see Hollywood from a vantage point that nobody else could offer, and to work with up and coming stars such as Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Harnett, Kirsten Dunst, the Olsen twins, and many others, and dealt with a myriad of Hollywood studios, publicists, managers and competing agents. The highlight of his career, and a primary focus of the book, was being witness to one major star's self-destruction: the gradual downfall and drug-related death of River Phoenix, a major event for both Iris and Chris, which signaled a definite shift in the operation of her agency. By this time, Iris was an industry fossil while most agents were half her age, and large, aggressive agencies had already eaten up or destroyed independent agencies like hers. They lost clients, Iris became more and more difficult to work for, and Chris - who had already resigned several times but had been lured back by the needy and persuasive Iris - knew he had to get out of there, for no other reason than what the stress was doing to his health. Chris had no life outside of the agency, other than occasional one-nighters with selfish guys he met at a bar or a bathhouse. Working with Iris had also let him see how the larger agencies worked, stealing clients from each other, making it clear to him that he needed to make some changes in his choice of career.
If you enjoy HBO's "Entourage," you'll absolutely love seeing this look at stars relationships with Hollywood agents, currently and in the not so distant past. This memoir is well written, with genuine heart and soul evident in every detail about his love/hate relationship with Iris, and how it forced him to reassess what he wanted in his own life. I give it four dressing-room-door stars out of five.
Posted October 18, 2009
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