Books Joan Didion: “Writers have never been much admired in Hollywood…”
posted by November 5 at 14:27 PMon
Does anyone in Seattle care about the writer’s strike that started today in Hollywood? According to the L.A. Times (same story Brad linked to in the morning news): “Both sides are girding for what many believe will be a long and debilitating strike, potentially more disruptive than the 22-week walkout by writers in 1988, which cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500 million.” I just asked the people at the table next to me at Cafe Presse if they cared about the strike and the question barely registered. (Hey, Mudede, you’re a “Hollywood writer”—do you care?)
I only care because that mention of the 1988 strike is a perfect excuse to put up a Slog post directing you toward this excellent and often overlooked Joan Didion book—really, get yourself a copy, it’s $11!—which has, in addition to the best essays ever written about the Central Park jogger and Patty Hearst, an essay called “Los Angeles Days,” about earthquakes, Aaron Spelling’s mansion, and the writers’ strike of 1988. (You can also find “Los Angeles Days” in the Everyman’s Library collection of all of Didion’s nonfiction, published last year, with it’s too-small type and Bible-thin pages.)
A couple quotes from “Los Angeles Days”—which don’t do it justice, you have to read them in context. But here’s a taste:
Writers have never been much admired in Hollywood. In an industry predicated on social fluidity, on the daily recalibration and reassessment of status and power, screenwriters, who perform a function that remains only dimly understood even by the people who hire them, occupy a notably static place: even the most successful of them have no real power, and therefore no real status.
I heard repeatedly during the strike that I, as a member of the Guild “but an intelligent person,” had surely failed to understand what “the leadership” of the Guild was doing to me; when I said that I did understand it, that I had lost three pictures during the course of the strike and would continue to vote against a settlement until certain money issues had been resolved, I was advised that such intransigence would lead nowhere, because “the producers won’t budge,” because “they’re united on this,” because “they’re just going to write off the Guild,” and because, an antic note, “they’re going to start hiring college kids—they’re even going to start hiring journalists.”
It’s a long, sharp, fantastic piece, and it ends with an anecdote about going to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in July of 1988—only then, Didion writes, “did the emotional core of the strike come clear to me.” She goes on:
I had gone to Atlanta in an extra-industry role, that of “reporter” (or, as we say in Hollywood, “journalist”), with credentials that gave me a seat in the Omni but access to only a rotating pass to go on the floor. I was waiting for this rotating pass one evening when I ran into a directior I knew, Paul Mazursky. We talked for a moment, and I noticed that he, like all the other industry people I saw in Atlanta, had a top pass, one of the several all-access passes. In this case it was a floor pass, and, since I was working and he seemed not about to go on the floor, I asked if I might borrow it for half an hour.
He considered this.
He would, he said, “really like” to do this for me, but thought not. He seemed surprised that I had asked, and uncomfortable that I had breached the natural order of the community as we both knew it: directors and actors and producers, I should have understood, have floor passes. Writers do not, which is why they strike.