Unlike so many Tinseltown true tales, Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood doesn’t begin with a tumultuous childhood. Although the only child grew up in the throes of the Great Depression, Harrington’s upbringing was happy. He found escape (and influence) in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, the pages of Esquire magazine and the flicker of cinema projectors.
With remarkable candor, Harrington recounts his ups and downs (the latter outnumber the former) in the industry, rising from marketing lackey to a “real” director with the 1963 production of Night Tide (thanks in part to Roger Corman), an atmospheric horror film that starred Dennis Hopper and has become a favorite of cult-minded viewers (not to mention public-domain DVD collections). A few truly worthy suspense pictures followed (Games, What’s the Matter with Helen, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? The Killing Kind), including some for television.
As a result of those telepics, however, he unfairly became pegged as a TV director, and the only work he could get was shooting episodes of Charlie’s Angels, Dynasty and the like. The former saw him clashing with an entitled Kate Jackson; the latter saw him shooting the now-infamous kiss between Linda Evans and Rock Hudson, who secretly had AIDS at the time.
Harrington himself was gay, but he doesn’t use the tome as some political rallying cry; it’s just mentioned matter-of-factly and as perfectly natural. He’s forthcoming about every aspect of his life, both personal and professional, without resorting to gossip or cattiness, which is refreshing.
Nice Guys ends rather abruptly, with Harrington bemoaning the move from film to digital. He passed away six summers ago, but that date isn’t even mentioned in Dennis Bartok’s introduction. My only real quibble with the book is that it fails to provide any sort of afterword to wrap things up, or even address how its publication came to be, especially more than a half-decade after his death.
The compact paperback arrives from Drag City Books, the publishing arm of the longtime indie record label, which has gone the extra mile by including two appendices. One is Harrington’s index to Josef von Sternberg, which he assembled for a 1949 issue of cinema journal Sight & Sound; the other is his own short story that become the source material for Night Tide and proves his talents with words extended beyond the often-constricting screenplay format. Strangely, there is no filmography for our subject.
Still, Nice Guys Don’t Work in Hollywood is another winner from Drag City Books. I’m glad the imprint is being rather selective with what it chooses to release, but at the same time, the quality of what it does release is so high, I’m ready for more titles. —Rod Lott