He thcreamed and thcreamed until he was thick
EDUCATING WILLIAM by William Cash Simon & Schuster, £15.99, pp. 293 he talking points of this book about Hollywood by William Cash, until recently the LA correspondent of the Times, are obvious enough. There's the time he reported on the LA riots from the Neroesque sanctuary of Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion. Or the time he went to Cannes, gatecrashed Madonna's party and ended up disco-dancing with her. And then there's the time he went to interview Jay McInerney in Nashville, stayed the night and vomited spectacularly all over the MacInerney guest bedroom. Such stories make perfect chat-show and newspaper- diary fodder; and, indeed, Cash's book — invitingly laced with vague hints as to his sexual conquests while in LA (a Playmate of the Year who 'squeezed my thigh', a TV blind date who 'panted as she clutched my arm', and so on) — is already half way to being recycled back into the journalistic pulp from which it was originally shaped.
As a 25-year-old journalist sent to LA in 1991, Cash had one major asset: he was blissfully unencumbered by any sense of embarrassment. This meant that, in the absence of anything spectacular to report on, he could be relied upon to make a spectacle of himself instead: gatecrashing, buttonholing, dancing with or, if all else fails, vomiting on his celebrity subjects, and then proudly regurgitating his exploits in all their Clouseauesque gormlessness. But a complete lack of embarrassment, while useful in a jobbing hack, is pretty low down on the qualifications for the job of satirist, and satire is how this book has been dressed up, both by the publishers Can exposure of the dark side of the Tinseltown star system') and by Cash himself. He has threaded his nincompoop stories with hopeful comparisons to Waugh, and book- ended the whole thing with a rousing intro- duction and conclusion in which he twice roasts the comic absurdity of 'Hollywood's celebrity circus', lambasts the media for being 'disingenuous', 'sycophantic', and `star-struck', before paying fitting tribute to his own attempts to 'hurl a few javelins into the fruity and crazy caboodle that is mod- ern Tinseltown.' Hurling may well be his forte, as Jay MacInerney could testify, but not javelins.
It isn't just the geographical zig-zag of the book which gives the lie to Cash's claims to have single-handedly precision- bombed Hollywood's 'cult of celebrity' (Cannes, Nashville, San Francisco); or the rag-bag assortment of his slightly rewritten articles (what is a report of the execution of the killer Robert Harris doing here, the limp claim that it was done 'in true Holly- wood fashion' aside?). Nor is it the thin- ness of his satirical gifts (I particularly began to tire of the number of sniffily described 'mock-Tudor' clubhouses, 'mock- Elizabethan' halls and 'Jacobean-style' staircases, although I suppose I should be grateful he shuffled his pack of kings and queens a bit). No, it is the impressive exac- titude with which, javelin at the ready, he repeatedly manages to spear his own foot.
Admittedly, Cash takes some time to limber up. Criticising 'armchair commenta- tors' on Hollywood after having begun his book with the claim that 'Hefner's arm- chair could not, in fact, have been a better place' to report on the LA Riots, is, per- haps, only a half-hit: a misworded but essentially avoidable hypocrisy. But soon Cash is in his stride: his much-trumpeted indifference to celebrity on page 73 — 'I have always had a problem with Hollywood celebrities. I don't know who most of them are' — is expertly undercut on two flanks: by the fact that he is interviewing Jackie Collins at the time, and by the fact that, 30 pages earlier, he has delivered an impres- sively comprehensive roll-call of the minor celebrities at Liz Taylor's wedding (Pox chairman Barry Diller with date Diana von Furstenberg, billionaire record mogul David Geffen, actress Brooke Shields, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner From here on Cash's knack for self- demolition is in full swing. Doubtless right to attack the `obsequience and risible rev- erence' of many celebrity interviews nowadays, he would have been well advised, perhaps, to resist genuflecting before Collins quite so shamelessly ('fun and sparky. Better looking than her sister'), and certainly to have truncated the eulogy to his neighbour, David Hockney ("eclectic knowledge, endless theories, opinions, well-polished anecdotes, quotes, self- mocking wit . . . '). Similarly, it would have been a good idea, before having a go at the 'lazy throng of spongers and sycophants who write for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — and especially before zero- ing in on one hack in particular who 'has his hundreds of HFPA photos — posing rather awkwardly besides the likes of Tom Cruise — hidden well-out of sight in a dusty filing cabinet' — to have resisted the urge to illustrate his book with a series of identical photographs: Cash and Liz Tay- lor, Cash and Madonna, Cash and Elton John (who never even appears in the book), Cash with his arm around the 1992 Playmate of the year, Cash and Hugh Hefner.
Ducking and diving to get as close to these people as he can — waiting several hours for a 15-second chat with Liz Taylor, waiting an entire evening for an inconse- quential two-sentence conversation with Sharon Stone — Cash nonetheless con- trives to maintain an air of unflappable English disdain, by means of a quick series of stylistic brush-downs. The anachronistic heraldry of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, we are told, 'did not surprise me'. That Hefner wore his dressing gown as LA went up in flames 'was not, I reflected, very sur- prising'. 'Not unsurprisingly perhaps', he manages to gatecrash the Golden Globe awards. This surplus of unsurprisinglys is, perhaps, unsurprising, for Cash's eventual conclusions are not, on reflection, all that surprising. Barry Manilow produces 'a nau- seating noise'. Disney movies are prissy and dreary. The Oscars are a sham. Executions show us that death has become a 'banality'. In Hollywood, 'money is enthroned as the divining rod of success and merit'. Never!
What Cash's much vaunted attack on the Cult of Celebrity actually amounts to is another pretext for sneering at the poor, luckless saps, their noses pressed hopelessL ly against the glass, who didn't get as close to the celebs as he did: the "Trekkies' who turn up to Gene Roddenberry's funeral, the 'group of Dad's Army star-gawpers' he finds at the Oscars. One of these, Andrew Connolly, who works in Nottingham's Nat West, attracts the full brunt of Cash's deri- sion when he tells him 'that he planned on impressing people with his Oscar night story for the next year.' At least he didn't pass it off as a book.