Before his death in 2009, legendary Texas author Edwin “Bud” Shrake completed a final novel, Hollywood Mad Dogs. This rollicking tale is based on his real-life adventures as a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1970s, where he penned films starring Dennis Hopper, Steve McQueen, and vampire bats.
Shrake met McQueen in 1979, when the actor hired him to write the script for Tom Horn. The two men, with a shared fondness for adventure, immediately bonded. But during the production, McQueen was often erratic and seemed to have a death wish. Unknown to nearly everyone, he was suffering from terminal lung cancer and would die soon after the film was released.
For years, Shrake toyed with the idea of writing a book about his often manic escapades with McQueen. He completed the novel in 2008, just a few months before he was diagnosed with the terminal lung cancer that would claim his own life. The book never made it to a publisher and the manuscript came to the Wittliff Collections as part of Shrake’s literary papers.
Word soon began circulating among Shrake aficionados about this final novel, and the family granted a few of us permission to view the manuscript. I was dazzled by the story and worried that few others would get a chance to enjoy this fine, final novel from Bud Shrake. But thanks to Bud’s caring and thoughtful sons, Ben and Alan, and to our publishing partners at Texas A&M University Press, Hollywood Mad Dogs has finally come to see the light of day.
In this new book, we meet screenwriter Richard Swift, who has been lured away from his cushy job at Sports Illustrated to write a movie for Jack Roach, a matinee idol famous for his electric blue eyes, dimpled chin, and a swagger that makes women swoon.
Swift and his new movie star buddy hurtle through days and nights of Hollywood madness as Shrake’s crystalline prose purrs like a Lamborghini speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway. There are spies and fake houses, mountains of drugs, weird sex crimes and bizarre feuds. Swift has memorable encounters with a Dairy Queen heiress and her son, a powerful mogul who styles himself the “Malibu Zulu.”
All Swift knows of the film is that Jack Roach will be an Old West gunfighter battling a gang of cattle rustlers. As the weeks fly by, Swift worries that not a single word has been written on the script. Roach assures him that their hanging out together is the real work: “Putting words on paper is just the typing part of it.”
Swift is becoming seduced by his new life in Hollywood and he is falling in love with a beautiful actress once pledged to
Jack Roach. Yet dangerous undercurrents are gathering. Rumors circulate that Roach is dying of cancer, and the star is insisting that the film should end with him getting hanged onscreen. The improbable love triangle with the actress is straining the men’s friendship. Swift is locked with Roach inside the star’s “Truth Room” for a tense session stocked with guns, a Bowie knife, and sandwich fixings. Through it all, Swift is learning that in Hollywood all truths are malleable.
In Hollywood Mad Dogs, Shrake deftly satirizes a world where a screenwriter is supplied with a bag of cocaine and given a week to write a script, a star demands that a pet cat be his sidekick on the trail, and two competing box office titans square off on a golf course, “each of them armed with a putter.”
This hilarious and insightful look at the Hollywood meat grinder is a story only Bud Shrake could tell. Hollywood Mad Dogs is a worthy addition to the author’s celebrated career, which includes some of the most highly praised novels written by a Texan.
Hollywood Mad Dogs is available now at The Wittliff Collections online store or wherever you buy books.