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24. What Price Hollywood? Modern American Writers and the Movies

Mark Eaton

Subject Literature » American Literature

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1900-1999

Key-Topics film, novel and novella

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631206873.2009.00027.x


Edmund Wilson once declared that prose fiction was influenced by Hollywood in one of two ways: first, “there are the serious novelists who do not write for the films but are influenced by them in their novels”; and second, there are “actual writers for the pictures like Mr. West and Mr. Cain who produce sour novels about Hollywood” ( Wilson 1950 : 49). Whether or not they worked for the studios, in other words, writers were inevitably influenced by what rather quickly emerged in the early twentieth century as America's dominant entertainment form. For Wilson, Hollywood's influence on American prose fiction was mostly negative, and all too many writers had succumbed to the temptation of screenwriting contracts. Even sour novels about Hollywood offered little consolation to Wilson, who believed that writers must not compromise their artistic integrity by working in the studios. “Why don't you get out of that ghastly place?” Wilson urged Nathanael West. “You're an artist and really have no business there” ( Martin 1970 : 338). But business is precisely what West did have there, because his novels failed to earn enough money to live on. His first three novels made him less than $800 combined, and even his greatest last novel The Day of the Locust (1939) sold fewer than 1,500 copies the first year and brought him a paltry $300 in royalties ( Martin 1970 : 341). “Outlook is pretty hopeless” ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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