When Deadline recently reported that Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Departed writer William Monahan would be working on a remake of the semi-autobiographical, 1974 tale written by James Toback, The Gambler, James Toback was sad, because no one had called him :-(. Now, if that doesn’t seem like a story worth 3,000-plus words, then you don’t know James Toback, one of the all-time Hollywood blowhards, who could probably go name-drop for name-drop with Bob Evans. Toback wrote a tome of a response for Deadline, which starts with a reference to Brett Ratner (Toback’s housemate) and culminates with an insanely circuitous way of saying “Scorsese is rude.” I’d urge you to check out the entire thing, but either way, I’ve taken the liberty of excerpting some of my favorite, most blowhardy moments here. Savor it with snifter of brandy, a fine cigar, and your own farts.
Perhaps my inability to view this “tribute” as primarily flattering was additionally influenced by a recent and infinitely more felicitous experience which involved remarkably similar circumstances. My movie, Fingers, was remade as a Cesar prize-sweeping film, The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Jacques Audiard, the great French filmmaker who called me from Paris and then flew to New York to discuss Fingers in great detail before redoing it, apparently not sharing the current group’s quaint — if indeed entirely legal –notion that as long as they “own” something — even a movie — they are fully entitled to do whatever they wish to it without even bothering to consult its creator.
Of course, the French have always had an entirely different set of laws and values governing intellectual property based on the poignant notion that a writer’s work cannot be tampered with by anyone even including someone who paid money to take ownership of it.
BOOM, DOUBLE SARCASTI-QUOTES! Take that, Scorsese! You could learn some manners from the French, all of whom I know, having personally sat at their tables to break butter. But instead, it seems you’ve become the victim OF A DISS MOST SUBTLE! Thesauruses at dawn?
From there, Toback takes the opportunity to weave a florid and similarly verbose tale about his favorite subject: himself, and how awesome he was! Or as Toback says it…
I would like to offer an unexpurgated chronology of the history of The Gambler since the movie seems, after 37 years, to have ignited the energies of all these busy and important people. So here it is, covering all incidents — in the words of Winston Churchill — “from erection to resurrection.”
Well it’s about time. Too many chronologies get expurgated these days, and without nearly enough throwaway Churchill references, I always say.
After graduating from Harvard in 1966 I taught literature and writing in a radical new program at CCNY whose additional faculty included Joseph Heller, John Hawks, William Burroughs, Donald Barthelme, Adrienne Rich, Mark Mirsky and Israel Horovitz.
A RADICAL NEW LITERATURE PROGRAM THAT WOULD INEXORABLY ALTER ALL FUTURE CITY COLLEGE LITERATURE PROGRAMS THROUGH THE POWER OF NAME-DROPPING! But wait, James, weren’t you MORE than just a peer of Hawks and Heller?
I also wrote articles and criticism for Esquire, Harpers, The Times, The Voice and other publications. Most of all, I gambled — recklessly, obsessively and secretly. It was a rich, exciting double life with heavy doses of sexual adventurism thrown in for good measure.
Phew, thank God you threw in that last part, I don’t know how I’d be able to parse this precipitous parable without picturing your big, dimply ass pounding some unfortunate coed.
Inspired by the life and work of my literary idol, Dostoyevsky, I embarked on the writing of The Gambler intended originally as a novel.
Well of course. One doesn’t simply write a novel, one embarks upon it, on the advice of dead Russians.
At this point, my dear, beloved and late friend, Lucy Saroyan, daughter of the great and hilarious William Saroyan and a budding actress said: “I know the actor you must use. I study with him. I’ve fooled around with him — but that’s not why I’m telling you he’s the one. It’s because he’s a genius. I’ve known Marlon since I was a little girl. I’ve f*cked Marlon. I love Marlon. And this is the only guy on earth who is going to be as great as Marlon — Bobby DeNiro.”
“My dear departed friend for whom I have nothing but respect, once told me about Robert DeNiro, an anecdote I couldn’t possibly share with the world without mentioning that she also banged Marlon Brando, and any other actor who happened to blip onto her slut radar.”
Lucy set it up. Bob and I had an instant communion. He read the script. He didn’t just learn it — he digested it. He became Axel Freed. And since Axel Freed was I, he became James Toback. (He even got a Caesar haircut from Carol at Vidal Sasoon because that’s where I had my hair cut and how I wore my since vanished locks.)
“He didn’t just eat it up, he masticated it into a fine paste, slowly passed it through his esophagus, denatured its proteins in four separate stomachs, absorbed its nutrients in his small intestine, and shat it into a pair of fine Tiffany Cufflinks, which to this day I still wear to gala openings and celebrity bat mitsvahs.”
I flew to London and met Karel Reisz. Within a week Karel and I formed not just a friendship and highly constructive working relationship, but a mutual love as well which lasted to his death in 2002 and which continues in my heart to the present.
“It was that love, combined with a build-up of HDL cholesterol, that caused me to have my first triple bypass back in ’04.”
“I don’t know this world of yours,” he said, “but I read your autobiographical memoir on Jim Brown and I think I see possibilities in your script that you haven’t fully developed.”
Autobiographical. Memoir. On Jim Brown. Must… resist… urge… to unpack…
I had been in psychoanalysis for two years with Gustav Bychowski, one of Freud’s last proteges, and my meetings with Karel often resembled analytic sessions in the Freudian style.
Translation: We did a F*CKLOAD of cocaine.
Late that night Karel did call and asked me to come over to Joel Schumacher’s apartment which he had sublet.
Schumacher may seem completely unnecessary to this story, but I mention him only because he once saw Karel with his shirt off, and the man had so much nipple hair that some say he inspired the design of the batsuit in Batman Forever.
Early screenings of The Gambler drew rhapsodic responses. Evans, Sue Mengers, David Begelman, Freddie Fields, Sidney Beckerman, Dick Zanuck, Ron Meyer, the Schneiders, Robert Towne, Warren Beatty himself and many others who effectively ran Hollywood got the word out that The Gambler was the thing! Frank Yablans was equally excited and appeared in a 60 Minutes segment on Lauren Hutton, an actress in the movie, to bless it with his personal proud send-off.
Shel Silverstein, G. Gordon Liddy, Alfred E. Neuman, the Deluise brothers, Howdy Doody, George Washinton Carver — they all loved it! It was the elephant’s eyebrows, I tell ya, biggest picture in town!
So learning of the plan to “remake” my movie at the same time and in the same fashion as any other devoted reader of this esteemed column, I suppose I should feel… what? That a tribute is being paid to a creation I left behind? I suppose. But one doesn’t always feel what one is supposed to feel.
For instance, I haven’t been able to feel my face since 1997. I blame the psychoanalysis.
As the late, great Jackie Wilson sang:
Just a kiss
Just a smile
Call my name
Just once in a while
And I’ll be satisfied.
Rudeness, on the other hand, and disrespect yield their own unanticipated consequences.
Yikes, that’s cryptic. I shudder to think what those consequences might be. Quick, someone call James Toback and sing his fat ass a lullaby before he goes Columbine on us all.
I want more like this!
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