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During those unforgettable times, I worked for the local daily newspaper and was a part-time instructor in Journalism. Then as now, OU ranked as one of the best J-schools in the country.
In my class, labeled "Editing Practice," a dozen or so students would show up a couple of times weekly. I'd hand them what we called "country correspondence" along with Associated Press stories ripped off the ticker that sat just off the newsroom. This was long before the advent of computers, which were to revolutionize the news industry.
One of my students was an unimpressive young individual with something of a chip resting on one shoulder. He obviously felt that he was wasting his time learning how to edit stories written by others. This was my first encounter with Joe Eszterhas. If he lacked anything, it certainly wasnt self-confidence. Much later I learned Eszterhas had been born in Hungary and spent his initial six years in Austrian labor camps.
When Eszterhas graduated, it wasn't long until his byline started to appear in the Plain Dealer, the largest newspaper in the state of Ohio. His stories often read like fiction, well paced and mounted like a story one might see in some of the country's largest magazines.
In 1968, more than 40 people died in the shocking disaster of the Silver Bridge that spanned the Ohio River between Gallipolis, Ohio, and Point Pleasant, W.Va. Some time afterward, the Sunday editions of the Plain Dealer carried a detailed story about how bridge survivors coped with the tragedy. Survivors of the plunge of the suspension bridge talked about that day close to Christmas.
By the following day, phone calls came into offices of the Plain Dealer from people quoted in the story denying they'd ever been interviewed. Eszterhas had been awarded a column, a highly desired position for newspaper wretches. After investigation by PD bosses, Eszterhas had lost his column and not long afterwards, his employment came to an end.
The people at my paper, all of whom remembered the arrogance of student Eszterhas, assumed that was that. A good writer's career seemed to have died because of a failure to observe newspaper ethics.
Joe Eszterhas didnt stay out of sight for long. Soon he had charmed Jann Wenner, editor of the "hot" new magazine called Rolling Stone. Eszterhas had fallen into a better job as a result of his errors.
By 1977 my wife and I walked by a strip malls movie theater. One of the posters for coming attractions depicted "F.I.S.T.", a fictionalized version of the story of union boss Jimmy Hoffa. When we saw the film a couple of weeks later, we liked it and were startled to see that the screenplay had been written by Eszterhas.
As years passed, Eszterhas climbed the walls of Hollywood, at one point receiving $2 million for a screenplay, the highest ever paid at that time. His films ranged from serious to interesting, including the notorious "Basic Instinct" with Sharon Stone and a solemn tale about the aftermath of the Holocaust called "Music Box."
Then something seemed to go wrong. The wealthy screen writer seemed unable to get off the road to oblivion, being credited with such disasters as "Sliver" and "Showgirls," considered one of the worst films of the 20th century.
Eszterhas no longer managed to be in the Hollywood headlines on a regular basis. Then came word that Joe was working on a new book. That book would be an exhaustive look at the scandals that involved President Clinton. Suddenly, Eszterhas seemed about to become "hot" once more. He continued to reinvent himself, and it looked like it was happening again.
Well, success has been achieved. His new book, American Rhapsody quickly reached lofty heights on the New York Times bestseller list. You wouldn't think that anyone would want to read another book about Monica Lewinsky, Linda Tripp and Ken Starr.
The people who spent $25.95 for a copy of American Rhapsody must be questioning their own sanity. The book seems entirely made of "news" that was easily available in press clippings and earlier books by a phalanx of authors seeking the Big Bucks.
American Rhapsody (Alfred A. Knopf) can be counted on to entertain those who love to waddle in filth, muck, and snide remarks. It uses a technique that allows Eszterhas to unloose his fictional faculties. As he explains at the books beginning, everything that's printed in bold face type consists of the thoughts of a delicate physical instrument.
This book is an insult, particularly because Joe Eszterhas has plenty of talent, if only utilized in proper channels. Few books in recent years have less to offer than this embarrassment.
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