We expect books by celebrities that are famous for being famous (Lauren Conrad, Nicole Richie, Snookie) to be terrible, even with the help of a ghost writer. But every now and then a legitimate actor decides the world needs to read their words, and because these people are famous their efforts manage to get published. But unless the name Steve Martin is in big letters across the top of the novel you’re considering, you probably want to put that book down and move on. Here are five terrible examples of what happens when actors decide they are also writers.
Marlon Brando, “Fan-Tan”
Co-written with director Donald Cammell in 1979, this tale of a pirate on the South China Sea was meant to be a vehicle for Brando to star in. Brando would act out all the scenes as and Cammell would write them all down. The main story revolves around captain Anatole (“Annie”) Doultry who saves the life of a fellow prisoner. The woman who owes him her life turns out to be a pirate who promises to repay him with untold wealth if he joins her crew. A major publisher acquired the rights, but at the last minute Brando pulled the plug on the deal. The novel would not be published until 2005, after both Brando and Cammell had died.
How bad was it?
“His memory was a mess, as full of giant holes as an old sock. Scotland was an accent he loved. On the other hand, he thought a lot about the future. ‘That is one of my characteristics, Lorenzo,’ he said firmly to the bum of a Portuguee who occupied the bunk above, all aswamp in his noisome reflections.”
The Stranger review: “Every line of every page struggles to be as purply out of control as it can be. The main character picks up and drops accents as though they were funny hats and eats a rooster heart to join a secret pirate society. The book simultaneously repulses and attracts, groaning under the weight of its pretensions, astounding with Marx Brothers metaphors that can’t possibly be taken seriously.”
Goodreads review: “I figured, ‘Hey, at least there will be pirates (check), booty (both kinds) and maybe a little fun.’ But I never expected the main character to piss all over a guy’s face for fun (page 54), the ridiculous pidgin English spoken by minorities (‘Wondrous Bird fly fast by velly, velly small foot,’ on page 18, or ‘Tly this drink, velly fine Chinese vino,’ on page 79) or a totally gratuitous Cleveland Steamer (page 226). FAN-TAN is a craptacular carnival of ego, elitism and celebrity gone insane, and, strangely, that’s a bad thing.”
Macaulay Culkin, “Junior”
In 2006, Culkin managed to convince a publisher to put out a semi-autobiographical work only loosely tied together by any sort of plot. Written in response to people telling the former child star that he should publish a memoir, Junior is ostensibly a story about a son who hates his father, interspersed with lists of dead people, pages of profanity, and an open letter to Britney Spears.
How bad was it?
From Culkin’s introduction to the book: “I want to make one thing clear before we begin: I am not a writer. I couldn’t possibly be a writer. I have written and rewritten the words ‘Introduction’ or ‘The Introduction’ so many times in the past couple of years that I’m convinced I was not born to do this. Writing could not be my calling after the mess I’ve made of all this.”
Publisher’s Weekly review: “This self-indulgently infantile book is a novel in only the loosest sense: it looks and reads more like a book-length zine… Unfortunately, [the] rich central conflict gets buried beneath interminable bellyaching over the writing process, half-baked philosophical musing and go-nowhere overtures to a woman who no longer loves him.”
Amazon review: “The only thing sadder than what I saw between its covers is the notion that someone might actually pony up their hard-earned money to own such foolishness… Anyone looking to give away their money should find a worthwhile charity and leave this book alone.”
Ethan Hawke, “The Hottest State,” “Ash Wednesday”
They say write what you know, and many actors seem to do just that, butting out thinly veiled fiction works about their own lives, or at least what they would like to think their lives are like. So in 1996, Ethan Hawke wrote his debut novel, The Hottest State, about a hot young actor who falls in love with a disturbed girl. The book received mixed reviews, which was apparently enough to convince Hawke he needed to turn it into an even worse film a decade later. He also published Ash Wednesday, about an AWOL solider and his pregnant girlfriend on a cross-country road trip.
How bad were they?
From Ash Wednesday: “Man, when I first met Christy - and this is no joke, a cliché but no joke - it was like my heart was literally stuck on my esophagus… If you looked at her from the back you’d swear she was a black chick.”
Library Journal review: “Plenty of 25-year-olds have written novels worse than Hawke’s, but very, very few of them wind up getting published.”
Amazon review: “At first I was impressed at Hawke’s ability to string together words to form sentences, which then made paragraphs, which followed from then on in logical sequence. At least the guy put words on paper, and managed to turn out 200 pages. But his writing becomes worse as it goes along, descending from the starting point of ‘competence’ and ending in ‘bilge.’ You get the feeling that his editor just quit halfway through the book.”
Chuck Norris, “The Justice Riders”
Norris needed the help of three other people, including his brother, to get this book out, but that didn’t stop him from releasing a sequel less than a year later.These books focusing on Civil War veterans bringing their own brand of justice to the wild west were roundly panned by the critics.
How bad was it?
“Ezra’s mouth hinted at a smile as he thought of Shaun O’Banyon, the lovable, impetuous Irishman who in the past had preferred a bottle of good whiskey over fighting any day. Shaun O’Banyon believed that he could talk his way out of most any situation, and often he did. But this would not be a day for talk.”
Shelf-monkey review: “Perhaps all you need to know is this; on page twelve, in the middle of a Civil War battle, the hero roundhouse kicks an opponent. I’ll repeat that; in the middle of a Civil War battle, there is a roundhouse kick to the face. I am not a Civil War historian and cannot with any accuracy comment on the fighting styles of the time. Nor do I believe that a fiction narrative must be rigidly bound to its setting without room for imagination. I’m not saying that there were no roundhouse kicks in the time period, or that a soldier fighting for the Union army could never have that skill. I actually don’t know what I’m saying, as I am positive that roundhouse kick smushed my brain into goop.”
Amazon review: “This book is, simply put, a crime against humanity. It’s very offensive. An Indian that shoots arrows while everyone else has machine guns? An Irishman that drinks and a proper British sharpshooter? The stereotyping is ridiculous. Aside from that, the writing is just terrible. There were four people credited with writing this thing and not one them said “Wait a minute, this is terrible”? I suppose if you have no taste in literature whatsoever and like racism, this might be an okay book.”
Gene Hackman, “Wake of the Perdido Star”
In 2000, at the age of 70, Hackman decided he wanted to write a book. He and co-writer Daniel Lenihan settled on a nautical tale that takes its hero Jack O’Reilly halfway around the world. Young Jack deals with the murder of his family, a shipwreck, and the various other dangers of the high seas. Written for adults, the simple writing style and 16 year old protagonist lead many reviewers to conclude this would have been much better as a Young Adult novel. Hackman and Lenihan collaborated on a further two books, before the actor struck out on his own.
How bad was it?
“Jack saw a figure all in white — it appeared to be a ghost climbing up the aft companionway. After a moment, Jack realized he was looking at the captain, naked, his pale skin silhouetted against the dark skies behind him. His long hair was disheveled and he had a large, blood-caked welt on his left temple, like a piece of old jewelry.”
Washington Post review: “Those of us with a weakness for good historical novels, particularly of a maritime bent, must live with a stern and terrifying reality: It takes a lot of sifting to find a good book in that category, and the bad ones are really, really bad. This is a bad one. Neither [Daniel Lenihan] nor Hackman, however, displays even rudimentary knowledge of either the age or the sort of sailing voyage their book purports to describe. Anachronisms and nautical howlers bombard the reader like spindrift in a Force 10 gale.”
Amazon review: “I’m only a chapter and a half into this book, and already I’m contemplating not finishing it. So far Lenehan and Hackman have hit half of all known literary clichés square on the head, and I have no doubt they’ll hit the other half in subsequent chapters. For all of the brilliantly written films Hackman has been in, he (and his cohort) have absolutely no ear for human speech. The prose writing is not much better. Only if you have nothing else to read, or think Danielle Steele has been unjustly passed over for the Pulitzer.”