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A woman's strength amid the corruption of Hollywood; Radiance, by N. Richard Nash. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co.496 pp. $17.95.

By Jane Stewart Spitzer / February 22, 1984



''Hollywood is the most corrupt city in the world,'' said N. Richard Nash when I asked him if he was bitter about his experiences as a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1940s and '50s. ''Hollywood has an edge on one special kind of corruption that I think is really the worst; it's the corruption of the human spirit.''

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I met Mr. Nash, a charming man who looks much younger than his 60-odd years, for lunch recently at the Dorset Hotel in New York. Over chicken salad, we discussed his latest novel, ''Radiance,'' and the Hollywood corruption it describes.

Hollywood, he says, corrupts the best that our culture can offer. Because the movie industry pays so well, it can attract the best writers and artists, who are hired for their uniqueness, their individuality, their skill and artistry. Hollywood then reduces this individuality to banality. The stature of these writers and artists is also reduced, and the public suffers as well.

''That kind of corruption really enrages me,'' he says. ''I've been subject to it, I have responded to it, I have allowed myself to be corrupted just as most other writers have done, and I've always hated myself during and afterwards.

''That's why I left Hollywood, that's why I won't work there anymore. If I can get a Hollywood assignment I do it here in New York. I respond as best I can to the criticism on the first draft. I do what I can do to revise within the limits of what I consider reasonable artistry, and then I run away.''

Nash feels that Hollywood is more corrupt now than in the industry's early days because, he says, the accountants have taken over the business, and their interest is only in the bottom line - money. He thinks it is a peculiar paradox that the men who run the movie studios are, for the most part, honest, decent people who are ''doing corrupt things because that's what they believe to be the right way to run a business. . . . In the old days there were villains who ran the studios, like Harry Cohn, Sam Goldwyn, Jack Warner. . . . They had one saving grace: They had a passion about film, they took chances. . . .''

Nash has a passion about writing. In his long and varied career as a writer he has written poetry, plays, screenplays for television and movies, six novels, and two books on philosophy. He is best known for ''The Rainmaker.'' He wrote the play, first produced on Broadway in 1954, and the screenplay for the movie, released by Paramount in 1956 and starring Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster.

Besides ''The Rainmaker'' he's written ''East Wind, Rain'' (Atheneum, 1977), his best-selling novel so far; and ''Radiance,'' which may end up being the most commercially successful of his novels. These three works have a major point in common: The main character in each is a strong woman.

Calla Stark, the main character of ''Radiance,'' is a successful actress and former political activist. Some of the current publicity for ''Radiance'' suggests that Nash based Calla on Jane Fonda. There are surface similarities between Calla and Miss Fonda. Yet a careful reading of ''Radiance'' convinced me that Calla is no more based on Jane Fonda than she is on Shirley MacLaine or Vanessa Redgrave, who are also politically active actresses. Is Calla based on Jane Fonda?