I’m a huge fan of books written on particular decades in film history. The work of Peter Biskind immediately comes to mind as he’s pretty much tackled every major decade in film with his books. Peter Bart, former executive over at Paramount Pictures, has also written several books about his time in film production and the craziness of the era. His latest book, Infamous Players, details his time at Paramount and the slate of films that defined the 60s and 70s. It’s a worthy read for those who enjoy reading stories of egomaniacal executives who though their hubris would go unchallenged.
The film is a slim 288 pages and is a fairly chronological account of Bart’s life at Paramount Pictures, moving from New York Times reporter to executive. He takes a fairly background role in his memoir, devoting the majority of the anecdotes to the boisterous head of Paramount Charles Bludhorn and actor turned executive Robert Evans. The film doesn’t go into Evans’ life like the biography written on Evans himself but Bart summarizes his life fairly well.
Throughout the story Bart mixes naming names with analyzing the films presented. He discusses the cultural relevance of movies like Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Godfather showcasing the harsh road they took to the screen and what they meant to Paramount as a studio. The studio jumped to being the #1 studio in just five years under Bart, Evans, and Bludhorn’s management and crafted some of the most seminal and iconic films of the 60s and 70s. There’s fun making-of stories including director Roman Polanski berating Mia Farrow to get a scared performance in Rosemary’s Baby (Bart also details quite a bit of time to Frank Sinatra’s attempts to sabotage the film which ultimately ruined his marriage to Farrow).
The book shines when it discusses the frustration and hilarity that ensues in a movie studio. Bart has a conversational tone that makes these stories extra funny because it sounds like he’s telling them directly to you. In detailing how Charles Bludhorn tried to recruit Jack Lemmon’s talent agent or Robert Evans’ resistance to Ali McGraw (his eventual wife at one point) being cast in Love Story, the book reads like a man whose seen it all and just can’t believe the insanity that went down.
The book does, at times, feel like a summary of actors that don’t gel with the narrative of the studio. There’s a whole chapter devoted to the acting careers at the time of Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, and Clint Eastwood, that felt like an attempt to squeeze their bios into the film. If you’ve read biographies on any of these actors the chapter felt repetitive. Not to mention they force Bart to go out of sequence and later in the book he’ll rehash plot points involving them. It’s a brief segment of the book but considering the book is so short it takes the narrative away.
Infamous Players is a brisk read and a strong look at a time in Hollywood that will never come by again (Bart himself even mentions this towards the end of the book). I love Bart’s books and enjoyed this, I would easily read any other books he decides to publish. The book is out now, it’s worth your time. Thanks to Weinstein Books for graciously sending me a copy to review. More information on the book and purchasing it can be found here
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.