József A. Eszterhas (Count of Galanta)|
November 23, 1944
József A. "Joe" Eszterhas (Hungarian: Eszterhas József; pronounced [ˈjoːʒɛf ˈɛstɛrhɒʃ]; born November 23, 1944) is a Hungarian-American writer, offspring of the aristocratic House of Esterházy. He has worked on 16 films that have grossed approximately one billion dollars. He has also written several non-fiction books, including an autobiography entitled Hollywood Animal.
Eszterhas was born in Csákánydoroszló, a small village in Hungary, the son of Mária (née Bíró) and Count István Esterházy (Eszterhas). Eszterhas was raised as a young child in a refugee camp in Austria. The family eventually moved to New York City, and then to poor immigrant neighborhoods in Cleveland, where Eszterhas spent most of his childhood. Eszterhas' father was a Roman Catholic newspaper editor and author. Eszterhas learned at age 45 that his father had concealed his collaboration in the Hungarian Nazi government and that he had "organized book burnings and had cranked out the vilest anti-Semitic propaganda imaginable."p.201 After this discovery, he cut his father out of his life entirely, never reconciling before his father's death.
Eszterhas was a newspaper reporter for The Plain Dealer, in Cleveland, where he gained access to color photos of Vietnam's My Lai Massacre, which depicted American soldiers murdering Vietnamese civilians. Although he was annoyed at his newspaper’s apparent lack of belief in the authenticity of the photos, the paper permitted Eszterhas to try to sell them for $125,000. Some media outlets, however, used the photos without permission, causing the photos to decline in value. He ended up receiving $20,000 from Life magazine.
At the end of Eszterhas' career at The Plain Dealer, a fellow editor singlehandedly sailed a small sail boat from the United States to England and The Plain Dealer did not sponsor the editor's trip. However, as the gentleman neared the culmination of his trip, the Plain Dealer chartered an airplane to fly low and drop "Cleveland Plain Dealer" sweat shirts to the editor. According to the account Eszterhas wrote, the editor retrieved the sweat shirts and when he saw what they were, tossed them overboard. Eszterhas was subsequently relieved of his duties at the newspaper.
Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing (1974) involved Eszterhas and is one of only two false light cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a reporter for The Plain Dealer, he covered the aftermath of the collapse of a bridge across the Ohio River, which included a supposed interview of the widow of one of the fatal victims of the collapse. Months after the accident, he and a photographer visited the home of Margaret Cantrell. She was not home, but he talked to the children as the photographer took photos. His Sunday magazine feature focused on the family's poverty and contained several inaccuracies. Eszterhas made it seem as though he spoke to her, describing her mood and attitude in the story. Cantrell filed suit for invasion of privacy, and won a $60,000 judgment in her favor. The decision was overturned in the Court of Appeals on first amendment grounds, but in the end, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the original judgment in her favor.
Screenwriting and fame
Eszterhas' first produced screenplay was F.I.S.T., directed by Norman Jewison. Eszterhas contributed to the script of 1983's highly successful Flashdance, and wrote the screenplays for Jagged Edge, Jade, Betrayed, Sliver, and Basic Instinct.
In 1989, Eszterhas planned to leave Creative Artists Agency because an old friend was restarting his agency. Michael Ovitz, then the chairman of CAA, threatened to prevent CAA actors from acting in Eszterhas' future projects. Eszterhas wrote an influential letter that loosened the stranglehold that CAA had on Hollywood.
In 1995, he wrote Showgirls, which won that year's Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst Screenplay". The film enjoyed cult success on the home video market, generating more than $100 million from video rentals and became one of MGM's top 20 all-time bestsellers.
He undertook producing following the success of Basic Instinct, making two films in 1997, both of which he wrote: Telling Lies in America, and An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn. Burn Hollywood Burn, about a director actually named Alan Smithee who films a big-budget bomb and then tries to destroy it, quickly became infamous and flopped at the box office. It did "win" several Golden Raspberry Awards, four of them awarded to Eszterhas himself: Worst Picture (Eszterhas was the film's uncredited producer), Worst Screenplay, and both Worst New Star and Worst Supporting Actor for a brief on-screen cameo. (Fittingly, a character in Burn Hollywood Burn describes the movie-within-the-movie as "worse than Showgirls.")
The failure of "Burn Hollywood Burn" (as well as its potshots at the Hollywood establishment) took its toll on Eszterhas' career: none of the screenplays he wrote between 1997 and 2006 were produced. However, Children of Glory, a Hungarian language film based upon his screenplay, was released in 2006. The film focuses upon both the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Blood in the Water match at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Children of Glory was entered by invitation in the official section of 2007 Berlin Film Festival. His most recent screenplay was a historical biopic on Judah and The Maccabees. Titled M.C.K.B.I., its last draft was dated February 20, 2012. The project was subsequently shelved.
Working with Mel Gibson
In 2011, it was announced that actor-director Mel Gibson had commissioned a screenplay from Eszterhas about the Maccabees. The film was to be distributed by Warner Bros. The announcement generated controversy. In a 2008 interview, Eszterhas wrote that "Mel shared the mind-set of Adolf Hitler". In a February 2012 interview with Andrew Goldman of The New York Times, Goldman said to Eszterhas: "[Gibson's] film The Passion of the Christ was widely considered anti-Semitic. Then, during a 2006 arrest for drunken driving, he ranted that 'the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.' Is he the right director?" Eszterhas' reply was: "... Adam Fogelson, Universal Pictures' chairman, said to [Gibson], 'Why do you want to do this story?" Mel said, 'Because I think I should.' I liked that answer very much." When asked about their shared Catholic faith, Eszterhas said of Gibson, "In my mind, his Catholicism is a figment of his imagination." By April 2012, Warner Bros. had cancelled the project. Eszterhas claims that the break was caused by Gibson's violent outbursts and anti-Semitism, while Gibson blamed a bad script. Eszterhas later wrote a book Heaven and Mel about his experiences working with Gibson, published on Kindle.
He has written several best-selling books, including Hollywood Animal, an autobiography about politics in Hollywood, which superimposes his life as a young immigrant in America on his life as a powerful Hollywood player. A third book, The Devil's Guide to Hollywood, was published in September 2006.
His book Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith was published in 2008. It tells the story of his return to the Roman Catholic Church and his newfound devotion to God and family after surviving a throat cancer diagnosed in 2001.
Esterhas wrote a book about his experiences with Mel Gibson and anti-Semitism, entitled Heaven and Mel, wherein he paints a terrifying picture of Gibson as a man fueled only by hatred, prone to violent outbursts. Among many damning statements is Eszterhas's claim that while staying with Gibson at Gibson's Costa Rican estate to work on a script, he became so afraid of Gibson that he resorted to sleeping with a golf club in hand.
In 1974, Eszterhas married Gerry Javor and they had two children together. In 1994 he married Naomi Baka. They have four children. In 1990, Eszterhas learned that his father was then being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for writing anti-Semitic propaganda in Hungary during the 1930s and early 1940s. He refused further contact with his father after this revelation, something he later regretted: 'When he was in a Hungarian old-age home, the nurses kept calling and saying, “He’s dying, and he needs to see you.” Not going was a huge mistake. I’ve asked God to forgive me, but I don’t think I’ll be forgiven'.
- F.I.S.T. (1978)
- Flashdance (1983)
- Jagged Edge (1985)
- Big Shots (1987)
- Hearts of Fire (1987)
- Betrayed (1988)
- Checking Out (1989)
- Music Box (1989)
- Basic Instinct (1992)
- Nowhere to Run (1993)
- Sliver (1993)
- Showgirls (1995)
- Jade (1995)
- Telling Lies in America (1997)
- An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997)
- Children of Glory (2006)
- Charlie Simpson's Apocalypse, New York: Random House, 1973, ISBN 0-394-48424-X, OCLC 650572.
- American Rhapsody, Vintage, 2001, ISBN 978-0-375-41144-1, OCLC 44602385
- Hollywood Animal, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004, ISBN 0-375-41355-3, OCLC 52858561.
- The Devil's Guide to Hollywood, 2006, ISBN 978-0-312-35987-4, OCLC 65207145.
- Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith, St. Martin's Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-312-38596-5, OCLC 213300974.
- Heaven and Mel, Amazon Kindle Single, 2012, ASIN B0087PTQ96
- Christopher Buckley (October 17, 2008). "Hallelujah Chorus". New York Times.
- "Joe Eszterhas Biography (1944-)". Filmreference.com. Retrieved 2010-10-07.
- Chutkow, Paul (December 24, 1989). "From the 'Music Box' Emerges the Nazi Demon". The New York Times.
- Joe Esztherhas (2008). Crossbearer: a memoir of faith. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-38596-5. OCLC 213300974.
- "Biography for Joe Eszterhas". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 3 August 2011.
- Cantrell et al. v.Forest City Publishing Co. et al., 419 245 (U.S.(1974)).
- Joe Eszterhas (Aug 4, 1968). "Legacy of the Silver Bridge". the Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine. p. 32, col.1.
- Letters of Note: Tuesday, 23 October 2012
- Wiser, Paige. "The beauty of 'Showgirls'", Chicago Sun-Times, July 27, 2004
- "MGM's official page for Showgirls DVD". classic-web.archive.org. 2007-04-28. Archived from the original on 2007-04-28. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
- http://www.thewrap.com/movies/column-post/joe-eszterhas-maccabees-script-bloody-butchery-heroic-jews-exclusive-37021 "The Joe Eszterhas ‘Maccabees’ Script: Bloody Butchery, Heroic Jews," Sharon Waxman, The Wrap, April 16, 2012. Accessed August 8, 2012
- Jewish Leaders Slam Mel Gibson and Warner Bros. for Judah Maccabee Movie.
- Andrew Goldman (February 2, 2012). "Joe Eszterhas Sure Cleaned Up". New York Times.
- "Joe Eszterhas' Letter to Mel Gibson". The Wrap. April 11, 2012.
- Eszterhas and Gibson part ways on Maccabees.
- Eszterhas, Joe (2004). Hollywood Animal. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41355-3.
- Eszterhas, Joe (2006). The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God!. (U.K. edition) Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7156-3670-1.
- Eszterhas, Joe (2012). Heaven and Mel, Amazon Kindle Single. ASIN B0087PTQ96
- Joe Eszterhas' interview on The Howard Stern Show, June 27th, 2012
- Joe Eszterhas at the Internet Movie Database
- Article in Slate
- Article in The Plain Dealer
- Article in The Christian Post
- Joe Eszterhas on Screenwriting on YouTube
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