Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll
Everybody loves to watch a tragic fall--including Variety's Robert Holfer, whose Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr begins with a real-estate gawking of an infamous Los Angeles home and ends with a painstakingly detailed autopsy of the 1989 Oscars telecast, still regarded as the worst awards show in its history. The man responsible for both the basement-installed "Studio 54 as imagined by an ancient Egyptian midget" and the still-ridiculed Oscar intro that featured Rob Lowe singing an altered "Proud Mary" with Snow White was one Allan Carr, a man who came up with some monumental outpourings of showbiz audacity.
That Carr is best known as the party thrower and the failed producer is the sort of love/hate relationship with fame that defined his life--at least as it's portrayed here. Born and raised in Chicago, Carr scored his first modest successes in theater, earning a healthy reputation as a party/event planner and promotions whiz, but he wanted his hands to be closer to the industry's pie. By the mid-1970s, Carr's successful ad campaigns for movies and performers enabled him to leverage himself into production deals, and he would soon have two money-making hits that made him the toast of both coasts. It was the unapologetically but apolitically gay Carr who shepherded Broadway musical Grease into 1978's box-office smash and La Cage aux Folles on to the American stage in 1983. And the sort of wealth and notoriety that comes with success gave Carr the currency to throw the sort of decadent parties that make you want to fill a Ciprofloxacin script just reading about them.
That the book's very title alludes to the masses that came through to partake of party favors focuses its narrative: Its main story line charts Carr's decadent 1970s Hollywood rise through his 1989 Oscars wreckage. It's as if the parties made the man's legend, even though Carr himself sounds more like an enabler than a hedonist. (Carr endured weight problems his entire life, along with other health complications, and lost his battle with liver cancer in 1999 at 62.)
Sprinkled between the remembrances of Louis B. Mayer's daughter "chatting up some young hustler" and flying in 50 pounds of octopus for Carr's Tommy release party in a New York subway station, though, are some engaging backstage stories, none more intriguing than the one about the American adaptation of La Cage. As recounted here, that the production ever saw the light of day is a minor miracle, a feat outpaced only by its success. La Cage is an unquestionably proud and modestly campy gay storyline with a book being written by one of theater's then-most unapologetically gay figures in Harvey Fierstein and music from one of the 1960s better showtunes men in Jerry Herman, a production--with drag queens--they were going to test in Irish Catholic Boston, and which was going to hit Broadway just as AIDS activism and awareness was heating up. Was mainstream American theater--and, by proxy, mainstream America--ready for a sincere love story about an old gay couple? La Cage's four-year run of 1,761 performances and six Tony awards said, well, perhaps.
Carr had more flops--Can't Stop the Music, Grease 2, Where the Boys Are '84--than hits, though, and none more devastating than his Oscars production stint. Roughly the last 50 pages of the book's 256 dish the blow-by-blow run-up, broadcast, and reaction to the telecast, and the severity of it starts to feel a little like punishment for the previous two decades of sins. But the book reads like those things are what the people interviewed wanted to talk about--the highs and lows of one man's life in the wickedly unforgiving entertainment industry. If the book suffers at all, it's in offering a sense of how Carr's promotional brain worked--which is too bad only because it sounds like when Carr was on his game he could've sold oil to OPEC in the '70s. As is, though, Party Animals offers an irresistible entry into some of the more decadent parties of one of the more decadent eras.