Hysterical Hollywood

By , Jeff Daniziger is the Monitor's editorial cartoonist.

THE DEAL. By Peter Lefcourt, Random House, 320 pp., $19

THE beginning of this colossally funny book begins with an attempted suicide, and the attempt is made in a classic Hollywood style. The "hero" justs tapes the windows of the house, backs the Mercedes up, smashing through the shrubbery (knocking a tree into the pool) next to the house, and runs a hose from the tailpipe. Is the Mercedes paid for? Who cares. The only question is whether or not there's enough gas in the tank.

For someone who can't get arrested in Hollywood, whose life is nothing more than the production of several forgotten B films - even his agent is avoiding him - suicide seems the only way out. Unless. Unless into this depressing and hopeless scene shines the faint glimmer of hope, the slightest hint of the possibility of the chance of a 201> Deal.

Recommended: 10 reasons NOT to love books (compliments of H.L. Mencken)

Charlie Berns, failed producer, is about to do the big checkout, when his nephew shows up from New Jersey with a screenplay he has been working on. It's about Benjamin Disraeli and his relationship with William Gladstone. The nephew is sure that it's sure-fire, if he can only get it to a major studio.

Uncle Charlie revs up the Mercedes and prepares to take a deep and last breath. Then he remembers. A black karate actor, whose movies make millions, has recently converted to Judaism. And Disraeli was Jewish, wasn't he? OK. So Disraeli wasn't black. And he didn't use karate. Yes. Yes. We know all that. You don't understand. We can work all that out in the re-write.

This is Hollywood, remember. The story isn't important. The only thing important is the 201> Deal.

This is just part of the logic you'll have to accept to get through this book, though after a few chapters it all seems to make sense.

At first the heroic and imbecilic actions to keep the thing going are funny, but then you fall in line with the logic of Hollywood, in which any previous reality you may know of is subsumed in the the logic of the Deal and you agree, right along with everyone in the book, "Yes, well, that makes sense." Disraeli as a black karate freedom fighter makes as much sense as Rambo's story line, or most of the Chuck Norris oeuvre.

Lefcourt has a native New Yorker's bemusement with southern California, but he keeps professional control on his sarcasm. A screenwriter with "Cagney and Lacey" scripts to his credit, he also adapted books by Danielle Steel and Joan Collins for miniseries format. The book is highly recommended as a welcome piece of humorous writing, fluffy and compelling. Is that possible?

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