THE BIG GOODBYE: CHINATOWN AND THE LAST YEARS OF HOLLYWOOD by Sam Wasson (Flatiron Press)
Having given us a great biography of Bob Fosse, important books about Blake Edwards and Paul Mazursky, and an engaging account of the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Wasson has proven to be an insightful chronicler of 20th century show business. He is also a gifted writer who takes a novelistic approach to nonfiction.
Another author might approach a book about Chinatown the way a producer of DVD bonus features would. Wasson understands that this modern classic was not just a great film but the culmination of events that reshaped Hollywood and the lives of its principal players: director Roman Polanski, producer Robert Evans, and screenwriter Robert Towne. That’s why its lengthy opening chapter deals with Polanski’s life and career, including the brutal murder of his companion Sharon Tate… and why it is essential that we understand what made the idiosyncratic Towne and the colorful Evans so unconventional, even in a business as wacky as the movie industry.
Wasson paints a vivid picture of a Hollywood beset by change in the early 1970s, following a hedonistic bubble that was bound to burst. This is a story of friendship, loyalty, clashing egos, creative dead ends, and serendipity. The author has found sources who were willing to reveal the flaws and peccadilloes of its protagonists, collaborators who somehow managed to create a masterpiece. It’s great reading… and Flatiron Press is publishing it tomorrow.