YOU'LL NEVER EAT LUNCH IN THIS TOWN AGAIN. By Julia Phillips. Random House. $22, 573 pages. IF JULIA PHILLIPS is "the voice of her generation" as the jacket blurb reads, we are all in deep trouble.
Julia Phillips is the first and only woman Hollywood producer to win an Oscar and has produced such notable films as "The Sting," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Taxi Driver." Give her credit -- Phillips is a gutsy woman who has come up through the ranks by hard work, brains and talent. She is also a slick, fast-paced writer. But just as she veers toward excess in her life -- with booze, bed and drugs -- BarbaraSamsonMillsshe also overwrites.
This 500-page-plus autobiography is little more than therapy, and is filled with the names of Hollywood execs that most people not involved in movie making don't know, or would not want to know. It is an egocentric, tedious melange of snipes at everyone, done in Hollywood lingo and worse; Phillips exploits the "f" word, and uses it as an adverb, adjective, verb and noun at least twice on every other page.
Phillips was born in New York's Village and grew up in Brooklyn. She refers to her pill-addicted mother as an "anti-Semitic Jew" and throughout the book, as throughout her life, her mother is "omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent." Her father was a scientist who worked on The Bomb and in plastics, and "is the only person who saw 'The Graduate' and didn't think it was funny at all." Later on, her relationship with Michael Phillips, her husband and co-producer in five movies, was an on-again, off-again affair and ended in divorce.
Phillips worked for McCall's, Macmillan, Ladies' Home Journal, and finally, at Paramount, as story editor. She considers most of her co-workers and peers "scumbags" and blames all of her ills on men and not at all on her own addictive personality.
Phillips gives a blow by blow account of every production and business deal in which she was ever involved and spares no one: Barbra Streisand's eyes go "in two different directions," Jane Fonda "phones in her performance," Margot Kidder is "a sex beast," and so on. When she gets down to brass tacks, Phillips gives a harrowing picture of Hollywood, but it is one that we have seen and read about before; drugs are as easy as a cup of coffee, three-minute sex with a stranger is a party staple, big money, power and publicity are the only gods. Live by the deal, die by the deal.
Why this book? Anger. A pervasive anger at men, business, mother, herself and most of all at the Hollywood fraternity that still largely excludes women. Phillips' editor has correctly called her a natural writer. Maybe next time she will have something substantive to say instead of carping, largely in obscenities, about a set of circumstances unfortunately common to many working women in high places.
Barbara Samson Mills writes from Monkton.