Today’s book review is from a Hollywood insider whose name might not ring a bell. In general Hollywood agent Richard Gregson is known for one thing: being the first husband (overlooked by the glossy second husband Robert Wagner) of actress Natalie Wood. Sadly, this is not all that defines the man as he’s been a powerhouse in the Hollywood and the British film scene for decades. His book, Behind the Screen Door isn’t quite a biography but a series of essays discussing his life and events in Hollywood. The saddest thing while reading this (which I did in two days as it’s a quick and easy read) is that’s there’s not more. I don’t often say this but I wish Gregson would do a full biography discussing his life in total (although Gregson does the smart thing and doesn’t discuss his childhood and upbringing) because in reading his bio on other sites he’s a guy who would have plenty of stories to tell and I wanted them! The book is a quick read, never descending into petty backbiting or naming names and is at times heartfelt and sweet. Behind the Screen Door: Tales From the Hollywood Hills needs to be expanded but for a first-time effort I’m glad I read it.
The strength of this book is in the restrained way Gregson tells his story (I could make a joke about his English sensibilities but I think that’s beneath me haha). He doesn’t sugar-coat the stories with glossy language but tells them as they happened free of hyperbole and exaggeration. It almost makes the reader feel like a fly on the way, sitting there in the room with Gregson as he makes the deals and talks to the stars. Behind the Screen Door doesn’t follow a chronological order as chapters jump around in time while all are during the 60s-70s, but it doesn’t matter as the book isn’t a biography but a set of essays.
I think that’s what I enjoyed about this book the most, the various essays that make up the chapters. They aren’t lengthy and Gregson, again, doesn’t get in his own way or take himself too seriously. There aren’t stories about wacky, overindulgent producers, instead Gregson talks about being entering Hollywood from a small agency, being wrapped up in the Hollywood world but never letting it go to his head. If anything he shows that being an agent isn’t particularly hard. There’s one line where he mentions if you can read and write you’re in, it also helps being a tough negotiator and talker (in that case…I might need to become a Hollywood agent!). There is one story about a Hollywood producer and his cheating wife that almost felt like a short story as Gregson isn’t a part of it, but really that’s the only gripe I had about this book.
In total I wanted more out of it. According to my e-reader the book is only 118 pages although according to Amazon it’s 142. In reading about Gregson’s life in Hollywood I wanted more stories. I mean the man was Robert Redford‘s agent, co-scripted an Academy Award nominated film and married Natalie Wood, I wanted more! I do respect Gregson’s deference to not slandering names or gossiping, it’s refreshing in a world where that’s the highest selling point of a book but I just yearned for additional stories or a chronological focus. At times it felt like Gregson was holding back because the majority of his clients are alive and he’s friends with them, but seeing as how respectful he is throughout the book he could have easily given out additional stories without gossiping.
By far, the best section has to be the last detailing Wood’s death. There are a few chapters about Natalie but really she appears as an angelic presence, just off to the side of Gregson’s story; usually telling him something or other. It’s obvious that Gregson deeply cared for Wood despite their divorce (which he only mentions in passing was filled with deep emotions) and in recounting her death in these pages it’s hard not to get a bit choked up, especially considering she’s my favorite actress. His relationship with his and Natalie’s daughter Natasha is beautifully discussed as he takes her to see her mother’s body and it’s an amazingly human moment. Gregson makes a point of not demonizing Wagner but mentioning that both men cared deeply for Wood and their children (Gregson let daughter Natasha live with Wagner as she had lived there the majority of her life) and again, it’s refreshing to see a Hollywood insider discuss things as an adult and not an indulgent celebrity.
While short on details (I want more stories!) Behind the Screen Door is a Hollywood tome written by a man who never let himself become obsessed with the glitz and glamour. He tells it as it was, doesn’t go into petty backbiting or name calling but shows that there are still real people in the City of Angels. I’d recommend this as a great summer read but I’m yearning for the sequel. Thanks go out to Richard Gregson for sending me a copy.
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