Lights, Camera, Fiction! Novels Written by Actors

Updated: March 2, 2017
Nobody asked for it, but here it is – a list of fiction written by thespians! While of course these things are subjective, it is safe to say that the following titles run the gamut from surprisingly good to flat-out terrible. At any rate, they are fun to peruse if you’re in the mood for something, ahem, novel.
This list was originally posted as a Central Library blog.  For the full effect, which has fabulous photographs, check the original blog.
The following rating system was used to rate each of the novels:
Smiley--surprisingly good; Stumped--cannot wholeheartedly recommend or bash; Side-Eye--a few redeeming qualities, but still kind of lame; Snoozer--bland, boring, blah; Shade--flat-out terrible.




Book cover for Dance with the devil
Dance with the devil
Douglas, Kirk, 1916-

Having read Douglas's memoir The Ragman's Son,  I was interested to see what his fiction would be like. Turns out it’s very similar. In fact, there are many parallels between Douglas and protagonist Moisha, who starts off life as a holocaust survivor before making it big in Hollywood, where he hides his true ethnic identity. Despite his worldly success, Moisha becomes increasingly unhappy until he meets hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Luba. Though the plot may sound conventional, Douglas has a genuine knack for pacing, drama and turn of phrase. If you are a fan of his or are interested in the subject matter, then this is a book, and an author, you should read.

Delusions of grandma
Fisher, Carrie.
Something of a deep cut in the Carrie Fisher canon, her 1994 novel Delusions of Grandma is nonetheless an entertaining read. Delusions tells the story of Cora (Carrie?), a successful script doctor (just like Carrie) who eventually discovers she is pregnant by her nice-but-not-quite-magical-enough ex-boyfriend. Though the titular Grandma (clearly based on Debbie Reynolds) doesn’t appear till late in the game, the story chugs to an amusing conclusion with mother and daughter traveling by train in order to bury an eccentric relative. Autobiographical elements (not the least of which is Fisher’s own 1992 pregnancy) abound, but it doesn’t really matter since the yarn does entertain. Unfortunately, Carrie tends to treat her readers much as Cora treats her boyfriend, committing the crime of “neglect of others through overconcern for myself,” as she puts it. Not a delusional assessment.

Book cover for The dream factory
The dream factory
Leigh, Janet.
Who wouldn’t want to like a novel with this title, written as it was by Miss Janet “Psycho” Leigh? The story of Eve Handel, a Chicago girl who makes it big in 1940s Hollywood (as a studio executive, no less) seems loaded with potential. But the novel’s leaden pace and miniscule payoffs made getting through 100 pages feel like it took 100 years, and the overabundance of exclamation points only added to the uphill climb. Might be worth a peek for super-diehard fans. All others are urged to find accommodations elsewhere.

Book cover for Go slowly, come back quickly
Go slowly, come back quickly
Niven, David, 1910-1983.
Set in Europe during World War II with forays into Hollywood and NYC, this work by dapper actor Niven had the potential to be, if not engrossing, certainly entertaining. The title refers to the sentiment all lovers feel when separated by forces beyond their control. Alas, this story of an RAF pilot and his American actress love is just not very gripping. Sentimental, dry and a bit convoluted, it has none of the appeal of Niven’s excellent memoirs. By all means, do seek those out, particularly his delicious Bring on the Empty Horses. Simply put, this book isn’t nearly as much fun, nor does it score many points from a literary standpoint. Go Slowly goes—well, you know.

Book cover for The gun seller
The gun seller
Laurie, Hugh, 1959-
Laurie, who co-starred with Stephen Fry (see above) on the popular British TV show A Bit of Fry and Laurie, and—oh, yes—followed that up with a little American show called House, is one of those depressing sods who can apparently do it all. He is funny and tall and British and a good actor and, now we find out, quite a clever writer. The Gun Seller is a hilarious spoof of the classic spy novel, a mashup of Monty Python and James Bond. It concerns the adventures of ex-soldier Thomas Lang, who is unwittingly drawn into a web of international intrigue replete with terrorists and high-tech weapons. Though it might be more enjoyable to a male readership (as the Bond books largely are), The Gun Seller is nevertheless almost unbearably droll and certainly well worth a read.

The hippopotamus
Fry, Stephen, 1957-
If you just can’t get enough scatological humor in your life, this is the book for you! Often witty but pretty rough going, this largely epistolary novel by British actor/writer Fry concerns the unraveling of a mystery at an English country estate. But there is no murder to be solved. On the contrary, somebody or -thing appears to have been saving the lives of various sick people (and a horse) via “mysterious powers.” Crotchety tosspot/poet Ted Wallace, in the employ of his terminally ill goddaughter Jane, is dispatched to find out what’s going on. Is the Age of Miracles still with us? Or do we live, to use Fry’s term, in “arse-paralysingly drear times”? An interesting, if off-putting, meditation on the nature of faith in “civilized” society.

Book cover for The hottest state
The hottest state
Hawke, Ethan, 1970-
Having heard somewhere that Ethan Hawke’s fiction was supposed to be really bad, I began to read The Hottest State with very low expectations. Which may be why I ended up liking it. Published in 1997 when he was just 27, The Hottest State tells the story of two people chasing their dreams in NYC. Sarah wants to be a singer, Will is a fledgling actor who has just landed his first film role. From the beginning their relationship is lopsided, with the fragile, offbeat Sarah in control. Hawke does a grand job of depicting the agony and ecstasy of young love. The secondary characters are richly drawn, and the structure of the book is tight. While it is not literary fiction of the highest order, The Hottest State will resonate with anyone who’s ever been 20 and absolutely sure that they are desperately in love.

Junior : a novel
Culkin, Macaulay, 1980-
A miserable hodgepodge of stick-figure doodles, questionnaires, stilted correspondence and scenes from the life of an unhappy child star. Junior is virtually unreadable, yet the sense of wandering through a lost boy’s mind is unmistakably real. Culkin is the first to admit (in the book’s painfully unfunny Forward) that he is not a writer, so it would appear that in writing Junior he was once again strong-armed into doing a project he hated (Richie Rich, anyone?).
Rating: SHADE

Book cover for Palo Alto : stories
Palo Alto : stories
Franco, James, 1978-
Short story collections are a tough sell in today’s cutthroat book market, and this one would never have been green-lighted were the author not actor James Franco. Still, it’s not as though the stories are laughably bad. They all seem to recall Franco’s middle and high school years, offering anecdotes of boys behaving badly or sadly or both, of lost youth generally misspending itself. “American History” tells the tale of a tenth-grade boy who uses the N word in history class to make a cute girl smile (yuck). Interestingly, it is the stories told from the first-person perspective of young female characters that resonate most strongly—in particular, “Lockheed,” about a lonely girl who shares a brief encounter with a bad-boy she idolizes right before his violent death at a high school party. Though it’s easy to bash the smarmy Franco, he’s not a terrible writer and many of his observations are sensitive and fine. It’s not bad, just undergrad.
Rating: SIDE-EYE

Pride of the Peacock.
Chatterton, Ruth, 1893-1961.
I don't know what you're reading these days but it probably isn't Ruth Chatterton. Still, I say you should. Vintage actress Chatterton seems to have done it all—the Broadway stage, the silent “flickers” and then on to the talkies, where she was nominated for an Oscar for MGM’s 1929 film Madame X. She was also an early aviatrix, close friends with Amelia Earhart. And she was a passing-good novelist, as Pride of the Peacock shows. Told from alternating points of view, Peacock is the story of a family of eccentric women centering around black sheep Zan, who is returning to hearth and home (and daughter and estranged husband) after a torrid affair with an Italian pianist. Will Jocko and Zan reunite? Will Jenny Wren grow up and out of her mother’s shadow? Can Granny Peacock somehow keep her flighty flock together? Infused with an actress’s eye for telling detail, Peacock is definitely worth a read for lovers of period antics.

Book cover for Shopgirl
Martin, Steve, 1945-
Having read and enjoyed Martin’s memoir Born Standing Up, as well as Cruel Shoes, his 1979 collection of hilarious, wackadoo vignettes, I was yet unprepared for the surprising grace of his novella Shopgirl. The book, a finely crafted piece of largely expository prose, centers around 28-year-old Mirabelle, who has a degree in Fine Arts, a prescription for antidepressants and a dead-end job at the glove counter at Neiman’s. Enter Ray Porter, a fiftyish millionaire who has a place in L.A., a connoisseur’s eye for skin, and an aversion to commitment. Slowly, over dinner dates and various outings and innings, a relationship develops between this unlikely pair. The circular ending is a bit flat/pat but overall the book is sensitive, canny and artfully made.