10.21 – A Texan in Hollywood

December 31, 2010

Several weeks ago I attended the Writers League of Texas Christmas Party. As part of the party, there was a grab bag – for $5, you could reach in and grab a present, which would be a book, or perhaps a signed book, or perhaps, if you were really lucky, a really awesome book with a $25 gift certificate to some local business.

I got just a book. And given the books that WLT has to give away (It’s not uncommon for them to get a box of books dumped in their office with a note saying “I’ve got 500 of these in my office, please, just take it!”), I was fully expecting it to be a pretty lame one.

But I was very pleasantly surprised.

The book I unwrapped was Call Me Lucky: A Texan in Hollywood by Robert Hinkle, a West Texas cowboy who wound up as a stuntman, dialect coach, actor, writer, director, and producer. In 1955, when George Stevens asked him, “Do you think you could teach Rock Hudson to talk like you do?” he became the dialect coach for Hudson, Jimmy Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and a young Dennis Hopper for the movie Giant, and then did the same for Paul Newman and the cast of Hud as the Academy Award-winning film’s cultural consultant. He made friends with the likes of Elvis and LBJ, and helped with Evel Knievel’s rise to fame. He doubled for John Wayne, Charlton Heston, and Robert Mitchum.

Of course, an interesting life/career doesn’t necessarily mean that the book will be good. But this one was. You really hear the West Texan voice coming through in the writing. Each chapter was introduced with a quote that would show up sometime later: for example, at the top of Chapter One, “Mr. Stevens, to tell you the truth, I’ve been going to a speech coach to try to lose this damn accent.” Each chapter featuring its own main storyline, not worrying so much about a chronological telling as much as telling the interesting anecdotes in interesting ways.

As I’m ghostwriting someone else’s memoir right now, this helped me along some. It’s let me get away from the rigid way I’ve been thinking about structuring this book, and maybe taking a completely different tack–having the memoir be about the author’s journey in re-telling his life story, rather than just being about the story itself.

So four stars to Robert Hinkle and his ghostwriter/literary agent Mike Farris, who’ve produced a really solid specimen in the memoir genre. Well done.


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