Is That a Gun in Your Pocket?
by Rachel Abramowitz
Published by Random House
494 pages, 2000
Buy it online
Chicks and Power in Hollywood
Reviewed by Linda L. Richards
In writing books as with making movies, timing is everything. Had Rachel Abramowitz decided, for example, to spend some other eight-year stretch researching her girl power in Hollywood book, it would have had a very different tone and -- perhaps -- a lot less substance. As it was, she ended up putting in the miles from 1992 to 1999: years that, as insiders will note, were halcyon days indeed for women in business in tinseltown.
The career and death of former studio chief Dawn Steel provides almost a backbone for the book, and perhaps for this review. In her introduction to Is That A Gun In Your Pocket: Women's Experience of Power in Hollywood, Abramowitz describes Dawn Steel's 1997 funeral and gives a bit of background on the woman herself. "That Dawn Steel, however, would have been shocked by the women, the female industry titans arrayed in dark business suits who lined up to carry her casket. In those days, if she thought of women at all, it was usually as competitors."
It's true. There's nothing really startlingly new about the idea of women in power in Hollywood. The 1999 book The St. James Women Filmmakers Encyclopedia: Women on the Other Side of the Camera did a really excellent job of collecting information on the many women who have made a mark on film since the industry's inception. What Abramowitz makes abundantly apparent, however, is how that power has matured and shifted over even just the last two or three decades. The vision of powerful Hollywood women in dark power suits acting as Dawn Steel's pall bearers is somehow an eloquent view of the direction women in Hollywood are going and just how far they've come. No more the need to hide behind a shielding, masculine name (witness, even, as late as Barbra Striesand's use of the weak and yielding Jon Peters as a sort of a shield of approving masculinity during the making of A Star is Born) though there are few stories of ease here, either. The resulting book is in part, writes Abramowitz, "an examination of the pleasure and the cost of power."
Over the course of her research for the book, Abramowitz "interviewed more than 150 women about their lives in Hollywood, many repeatedly." The women include all of the usual suspects and then some. Penny Marshall, Jodie Foster, Barbra Streisand, Sue Mengers, Polly Platt, Carrie Fisher, Meryl Streep, Nora Ephron: to have these voices collected here in one place makes for an interesting book. But Abramowitz was not looking to create a simple collection of profiles.
A good deal of the success of Is That A Gun In Your Pocket? is due to Abramowitz' strength and style. "The challenge in writing about women in Hollywood was to puncture the mythology and to circumvent the silence." The author has met this challenge, attacking her subject with the enthusiasm of a beat reporter yet finessing a highly focussed and readable work out of what must have been a mountain of research material.
Is That A Gun In Your Pocket? is everything it should be. An insider's view -- and a not too attractive one, at that -- of Hollywood complete with firsthand glimpses of some very large stars, all put together in the style of the ultimate girlfriends book. Journalist Abramowitz' first foray into a book-length work delivers on all of its promises. | June 2000
Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.