Death Valley Superstars by Duke Haney: Cautionary Tales about Hollywood

Death Valley SuperstarsDeath Valley Superstars: Occasionally Fatal Adventures in Filmland

by Duke Haney
Kindle Edition, 306 pg.
Delancey Street Press, 2018
Read: January 2 – 16, 2019

Duke Haney, actor, screenplay writer, novelist, essayist, has delivered a well-written collection of sixteen essays revolving around some of those impacted by, affected by, corrupted(?) by, shaped by Fame — that fleeting authority and celebrity bestowed by a chosen few in the Hollywood system that has captured the American imagination and attention since the 1900s.

The quality of the writing throughout was pretty consistent, as was the voice, etc., etc. But my own interest varied widely from piece to piece. I think that’s largely on me, not Haney. But then again, maybe Haney shouldn’t have picked topics that have been done to death. I’m not sure that the universe needs another essay/reflection/biography/anything about Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald, or Jim Morrison. It certainly doesn’t need any further effort to celebrate Hugh Hefner.

On the other hand, the pieces about Sean Flynn (son of Errol), William Desmond Taylor, Christopher Jones, and other people that I’d never heard of were fascinating. I learned something, I was introduced to people I’d missed out on. They weren’t slightly different takes on worn-out ideas about legends that have had dozens of books written about them.

Better yet were the pieces that were about his life — encountering Elizabeth Taylor as a youth, working on various films, his nude scenes, his crush on (and seen in retrospect, stalking) of a noted actress, the encounter with the lady on the bus talking about the video store they both frequented, even the part of the Jim Morrison essay about his quest to hire a psychic (it shouldn’t be that hard in L.A.) to do a séance in a hotel room Morrison lived in. He’s really his best — and most entertaining — subject (although when the subject of an essay is someone else, Haney tends to talk about himself too much). He doesn’t come across as someone trying to gloss over mistakes, missteps, or embarrassing moves — in fact, he seems to revel in them. These are honest (seeming), frequently funny and charming.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of people out there who will invert my rankings, or dispute them all together. And they’d likely be right to do so (I doubt they’d convince me, but you never know). Most collections I read are pretty uneven. This isn’t the case with Death Valley Superstars, I think the quality is consistent — it’s just my own reaction to the chapters that are varied. I’d wager the same will be true for other readers.

If nothing else, I think the above summary rundown demonstrates the variety of pieces in this collection — and I didn’t make mention of all of them. One thing that is fairly consistent is the takeaway from the collection as a whole — fame is fleeting, but its effect on the lives of the famous (and those near them) is long-lasting, and rarely pleasant or beneficial. Really, the whole book can be seen as a collection of cautionary tales with a persistent message — stay away from Hollywood.

I didn’t love this book, but I really liked parts of it, and am glad I read it. I can easily see many readers wondering what was wrong with me, however, and eating this thing up.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which is seen above.

—–

3 Stars

✔ An essay collection.

LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

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