Hollywood Hellraisers book review

Marlon Brando, Warren Beatty, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson take centre-stage in the entertaining Hollywood Hellraisers...

Over the last couple of years Robert Sellers has quickly become one of the more interesting writers to cover cinematic literature.

Though he started out with some pretty straightforward Hollywood biographies about the likes of Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford or Sean Connery, his Battle For Bond  soon made headline news when its first UK edition was quickly shelved after revealing a little bit too much of some of the confidential court room material regarding the production of Thunderball. His Cult TV book is also essential reading for anyone interested in the classic ITC series.

With the concept for his original Hellraisers book covering the “life and inebriated times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole and Oliver Reed” he seems to have hit pay dirt as he has now followed this up with Hollywood Hellraisers about the “wild lives and fast times of Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson”.

The format of this new work follows its predecessor’s to a tee, so if you enjoyed the first book, you’re bound to also like this new entry. And if Hellraisers left you cold, then Hollywood Hellraisers will not make you a convert.

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After an introductory chapter dedicated to the actors’ early lives, Sellers subsequent chapters deal with the “Methody Fifties”, “Drugged-Up Sixties, “Explosive Seventies”, “Excessive Eighties” and “Redemptive Nineties” until he misses the obvious pun to deal with the Naughty Noughties and instead names his final chapter “And Then There Were Three” with reference to the fact that Brando had then left us.

Within these chapters he takes turns to deal with each of his subjects’ private lives during that period. Though these descriptions can be read as biographical entries, given the nature of this book they very much focus on anecdotes highlighting the excessive nature of their personalities. If there is one genuine difference between the two Hellraiser books it is that the Hollywood fraternity seems to have been more involved with illegal drugs in comparison to their more boozy British brethren.

The anecdotal nature of this work is its biggest strength and also its biggest weakness. Everyone loves a good story about a forgotten weekend or a crazy drunken stunt. As such, this is a perfect book to dive in and out off for a while and learn more about what these guys were up to. All of them appear to have had very tough and unusual childhoods, with Dennis Hopper’s being truly bizarre. After having to deal with losing his father at the age of just five due to an accident in basic army training, a few years later he had to come to terms with the fact that his dad had still been alive, but on top secret undercover missions for the Secret Service. But, then again, Nicholson also famously learned late in life that the mother who raised him was really his grandmother and the woman he considered his sister was his true mother.

No wonder that all of them ended up going bonkers at various stages in their lives. Hopper hiding out in a remote New Mexican village living the hippie dream that soon turned into a nightmare when surrounded by furious locals waving guns at the intruder and his drop-out buddies, Beatty being a commitment-phobe and bedding woman after woman, Brando self-destructing after an initially very promising career and Nicholson, well, mainly being Nicholson as we all know and love him.

As entertaining as this all is, have you ever been in the company of a boozer who, for hours on end, tells you story after story of past shenanigans? The first couple, sure, are going to be hilarious, the next still alright, but after a while you realise that they turn into a mighty blur and you just wish that you could hear a little bit more of substance in between. Nothing as boring as listening to prolonged sequences of drunk talk.

And that’s the feeling you get after a while with both of the Hellraisers books. They’re wildly entertaining in short bouts, but drag on if you spend too much reading time with them in one go. It also sometimes feels a bit unfair to see true giants of 1970s Hollywood reduced to the level of drugged up boozy maniacs, and though there are occasional attempts to explain their creative genius in a bigger picture, overall the focus is on their excesses.

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Still, this is a generally entertaining read and, if after finishing this book you still don’t have enough of reading up on these kinds of stories, you only have to wait until June when Sellers’ next ouevre will be out, an encyclopedic A-Z Of Hellraisers. I’ll have a glass on that.

Hollywood Hellraisers: The Wild Lives and Fast Times of Marlon Brando, Dennis Hopper, Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


4 out of 5