Like the former press agent he is, Ed Feldman knows how to dish out juicy anecdotes. Problem is, he and co-scribe Tom Barton don’t know how to string those stories into a compelling narrative. “Tell Me How You Love the Picture” darts from one anecdote to another without building momentum or drama. Interesting topics are raised — like, say, how freewheeling the publicity biz was in the 1950s — then quickly dropped, never to be discussed again. Much ground is covered and many stories told, but the going’s choppy indeed.
It’s as if Feldman — who produced “The Truman Show” and “Save the Tiger” in his long showbiz career — is ticking items off a grocery list. That time David O. Selznick almost fired him for impertinence? Check. That shoot where Elizabeth Taylor told John Huston to fuck himself? Check.
The book starts promisingly enough, with the aforementioned Selznick anecdote. Meeting with the legendary “Gone With the Wind” producer about an upcoming Fox publicity campaign, Feldman joked that Darryl Zanuck, just like Selznick, had recently referred to himself as the most important person in the history of the business. Selznick tries to get Feldman fired, but then Fox topper Spyros Skouras didn’t know who he was.
From there Feldman segues into an overview of what a producer does, drops intriguing hints of his early career in publicity, lays out a few rules of producing and explains how he fired Dennis Hopper early in “The Truman Show.” All this in the first chapter, titled, “What I Do Is Produce,” which ends with the Elizabeth Taylor anecdote.
Stories about working with Howard Hughes, Jack Warner, John Wayne, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis (on “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”) and a difficult Shelly Winters all follow in similar herky jerky fashion, as Feldman hopscotches through his career.
Stories about the fickle nature of the biz are glossed over, as typified by Feldman’s casual joke about getting edged closer and closer to the studio gate on his way out after Kinney National Services acquired Warners. No probing or grand introspection. Just another quick quip and he’s on to another anecdote.
Strangely, Feldman spends far more time on petty one-upmanship with Eddie Murphy’s entourage during the filming of “The Golden Child,” nobody’s idea of a classic, and on wrangling puppies for “101 Dalmatians.” He singles out Glenn Close for lavish praise, and enthuses about the fact Harrison Ford presented him with an award at the Hollywood Film Festival in 2001. Then again, Close and Ford are still alive, unlike Jack Warner, and Feldman may want to work with them again. Keeping that in mind is something a savvy producer always does.