Friday, January 12, 2018

Forgotten Books: THE OSCAR by Richard Sale (1963)

This is the 32nd post I've done about Richard Sale. You may take that as a clue that he's one of my favorite writers. 

This is probably my first reading of The Oscar, but I’ve had the book so long I’m not sure. Along with For the President’s Eyes Only, I think it was one of those books I was saving to savor on a rainy day. Well, it rained here last week, so . . .

The Oscar was Sale’s third Hollywood novel. Or maybe it was number 3½. The mystery novel Lazarus #7 (HERE) involves a doctor freshly exposed to some eccentric and exotic Hollywood mania. The sort-of sequel Passing Strange (HERE) accounts for the ½, because though it takes place m ostly in New York, the Hollywood crazies from the first book have traveled there. Benefit Performance (HERE) is a stand-alone mystery where a star impersonates his stand-in while trying to learn who wants him dead.

Those 2½ books, though, were written while Sale’s Hollywood experience was young, mostly from some of his works adapted for the screen (including the novel Not Too Narrow . . . Not Too Deep (HERE) as “Strange Cargo”). Following Benefit Performance, he dived deep into the movie and TV scene, all but abandoning his fiction for the next 16 years. 

His first screenplay credit came in 1946, with “Rendezvous with Annie,” a WWII comedy starring Eddie Albert, based on one of his slick stories. He went on to rack up many more screenwriting credits, including the Frank Sinatra film Suddenly. He also directed a dozen films. On “A Ticket to Tomahawk” he was both writer and director, and on the Jane Russel film “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes” he was writer, director and producer. He even had a couple of acting parts, and wrote lyrics for some screen songs. In 1956 he and his wife Mary Loos created the TV series “Yancy Derringer,” which he produced and directed, along with writing many episodes.

The Oscar (1963) marked Sale’s return to fiction, dragging all of his Hollywood experience with him. When actor Frankie Fane is nominated for Best Actor, he embarks on an underhanded campaign to discredit or destroy the other four nominees. Fane is just that kind of guy, which he also demonstrates in his relationships with women, employees and the closest thing he has to friends.

Yeah, Fane is a mighty unpleasant character, but Sale’s prose is as compelling and entertaining as ever, and you just have to keep reading. Along the way, the author provides footnotes offering tidbits of Oscar history and his own interaction with actors and other Hollywood types. I was on the lookout for characters from his earlier works, but found only one. On a side trip to San Francisco, Fane encounters a sharp police captain named Hanley. Fans of Sale’s Daffy Dill series from Detective Fiction Weekly (like me) can’t fail to recognize “Poppa” Hanley, the cop who aided Daffy in many of his adventures. It would have been nice to see Daniel Webster, the detective from Lazarus #7 and Passing Strange, but he likely would have seen through Fane’s machinations a bit too soon and spoiled the game.

Anyway, The Oscar is a great read, and a fascinating look behind the scenes of Hollywood in the ‘ 60s. The novel was filmed in 1966 with Stephen Boyd as Fane, and starring Elke Sommer and Milton Berle. Sadly, Sale did not write the screenplay (but Harlan Ellison did, so it can't be too bad). Along with the other folks named on the poster, it also found roles for Walter Brennan, Broderick Crawford, Peter Lawford and Nancy Sinatra. Hedda Hopper even made an appearance. I'll post the film here tomorrow (via YouTube) so I'll get my chance, and so will you. 

Sale wrote two more novels - For the President's Eyes Only (aka The Man Who Raised Hell) and The White Buffalo (this one, about Wild Bill Hickok and Crazy Horse, was filmed in 1977 with Charles Bronson, and Sale wrote the screenplay). Those are the only Sale books I've yet to review. Stay tuned.


Todd Mason said...

Harlan Ellison takes most of the blame for the script, but the producers took writing co-credit for the adaptation, and the script is pretty miserable...matched by the performances, particularly the non-performance of Tony Bennett as "Hymie Kelly"...Italian-Am splitting the difference between Jewish- and Irish-American, apparently...Bennett is, of course, an impressive singer and a rather talented painter, but he cannot act even the littlest bit. At least when something other than bonhomie or peevishness is called for.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Thanks for the review. I seem to know Sale’s name from movies, but never made the connection with the novels. BTW, I caught THE WHITE BUFFALO on cable recently and there are some good scenes in it, like the threat in the saloon.

Cap'n Bob said...

The ending of The Oscar is legendary even if the movie was only okay, IMHO.

TracyK said...

I enjoyed this review and was not aware of the books by Richard Sale. I will try to find one or more of them to read.