Moneywood: Book Review

A breezy, chatty account of the era that sheds little new light on important events or people.

A gossipy account of Hollywood's '80s "age of excess" from one of the decade's bit players comes up short.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

William Stadiem, a sometime screenwriter, best-selling author of a memoir about befriending Frank Sinatra and co-writer of books with Marilyn Monroe’s maid and Hollywood madam Alex Adams, had a great idea, a high-concept pitch if you will: a breezy, gossipy retelling of “Hollywood in its last age of excess” -- the go-go ’80s of hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters and the coke-snorting, Ferrari-driving Don Simpson (Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop).

Certainly, the period has not lacked for chroniclers, including Hit & Run by THR’s own Kim Masters and Devil’s Candy by Julie Salmon, but the time seems ripe to retell this story about how new agencies (CAA), new money (junk bonds) and new companies (Carolco) remade Hollywood for a new generation.

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Unfortunately, like many high-concept pitches, Moneywood falls flat. Veterans well versed in the time will find little new here. Those encountering for the first time tales of the rise of Andy Vajna and Mario Kassar’s upstart Carolco (Rambo) or how Harvard lawyer Bob Wachs steered streetwise Eddie Murphy to success or future Paramount head Dawn Steele’s first job selling “cock socks” for Penthouse will be entertained and find the frothy patter easy to digest. The nostalgic tour of ’80s power restaurants -- Ma Maison, Spago -- is particularly fun. There are lessons for today’s Hollywood in how creative financing, independent producers and crafty agents could build production companies that challenged the studios but not completely usurp them.

But even those readers unfamiliar with the time will not be immune to the book’s weaknesses.

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The chatty memoir/history mashup formula doesn’t work. Partially, Stadiem, who writes in a breathless “I was there” style, can’t make his own life compelling enough to anchor the memoir part. He often feels like a bit player in the production, and his personal interaction with some key players yields stock portraits (Jeffrey Katzenberg is “scary,” with a “death’s head smile”) that repeatedly fall back on the key traits of Jewish or WASPy. Also, Stadiem’s attempts to elucidate the roles of independent producers and Wall Street money in the making of ’80s Hollywood are undermined by his preference for gossipy anecdote over smart analysis to make a point.

To use the hoary Hollywood-is-just-like-high-school metaphor: Imagine if the story of your teenage years was entirely written from the gossip whispered in the hallways between classes.