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Entertaining Books: Movies, Television, Music
By David Pitt

In 1993, Eric Hamburg, a Congressional aide, took a new job. He began working with filmmaker Oliver Stone, helping the controversial director to make his own brand of politically charged films. He expected it to be a different, wilder kind of life, but he wasn't prepared for the wildest, most flamboyant and mercurial part of his new life: Stone himself. JFK, Nixon, Oliver Stone & Me (PublicAffairs, hardcover) is Hamburg's memoir of his time with Stone, an entirely unique book about filmmaking told from the perspective of someone who had no desire to 'go Hollywood.' Its portrait of Stone as a combination tyrant-paranoiac-egotist- helpless child is thought-provoking and entertaining.

A Year at the Movies (HarperCollins, paperback), by Kevin Murphy, is the chronicle of one of the weirdest years anyone can imagine. Murphy, an avid movie fan -- he spent a decade writing and performing on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the hysterical television series that poked fun at bad movies -- went to the movies every single day for an entire year. I know, it seems almost too horrible to contemplate, but he seems to have enjoyed it. The book is a record of his audiovisual odyssey, a journal of 365 days at the movies and a tribute to the movie theaters themselves, those multiplexes and hole-in-the-wall cinemas scattered around the world that keep Hollywood in business.

Do you remember the XFL? The football league founded by the World Wrestling Federation's Vince McMahon was supposed to be bigger and better than the NFL, a television bonanza that would reap spectacular ratings for its network (NBC) and make heaping great wads of cash for everyone involved. Instead, the games pulled in ratings so low they made television's greatest failures look like top-ten hits. The league was laughed off the sports pages, ridiculed by stand-up comics, and disappeared in the blink of an eye. What happened? According to Brett Forrest's Long Bomb (Crown, hardcover), it was pretty much a foregone conclusion; the XFL was the misguided dream of a man incapable of bringing it to fruition, and its failure was dead certain. Vastly entertaining.

Speaking of vastly entertaining, here's Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live As Told By Its Stars, Writers & Guests (Little, Brown), by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. An oral history of the long-running comedy series from its inception in 1975, the book tells its story (almost) entirely in the words of the people who made the show. Pretty much everyone who had anything to do with the show is here: creators, writers, producers, stars, guest hosts. (Eddie Murphy, who for some reason seems to want to pretend he never had anything to do with the show, is not quoted in the book. His loss, not ours.) I love this book so much I've already read it twice; any SNL fan will want to own it.

Similarly, any fan of the Grateful Dead will want to own A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead (Broadway, hardcover), written by the band's official historian and (since 1984) publicist, Dennis McNally. You'd expect a man who's been on the inside so long to offer fans a comprehensive behind-the-scenes bio, and McNally doesn't disappoint. It's all here: the good, the bad, the happy, the sad. What's nice is that McNally lays out all the facts without ever sounding judgmental, or tabloidy. He genuinely likes and respects these men, and he likes and respects their millions of fans; this is a tribute to the Grateful Dead, not an exposi.

Bill Zehme has been writing about Hollywood movers and shakers for -- well, it seems like forever. Intimate Strangers: Comic Profiles and Indiscretions of the Very Famous (Delta, paperback) collects twenty-five of his most entertaining profiles, and they are, every single one of them, gems. Zehme has this knack of getting his subjects to open up, to drop all their barriers, to become almost totally uninhibited. An Bill Zehme profile is like no other: wide-open, unprotected, endlessly revealing. The man is also delightfully creative; witness, for example, At Home With the Simpsons!, his 1990 profile of the animated family who seem unaware there's a hit television series based on their lives. What enormous fun this is.

Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles on books, on a variety of subjects, as holiday gifts. Find more suggestions in our Columns.
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