Fiction is the only way you can tell the truth in Hollywood.
So now Joyce Haber tells America. For nine years, until her axing in 1975, she was known as “Joy Saber” or “Hedda Haber,” the L.A. Times syndicate’s bitchier successor to Hopper. Back then she was already into the fictional form with her gauzily veiled blind items exposing Mr. X’s indiscretions with Mrs. Y. Once Haber even got the goat of Julie Andrews, who snapped: “She needs open heart surgery, and they should go in through her feet.” Undeterred, Haber has now presumably and finally broken through into the total truth. It is her first novel, the best-selling The Users.
As in the case of Ragtime (where the resemblance ends), real, or at least Hollywood, folks intermingle with her composite characters. To satisfy libel laws, a pill-popping, over-bisexed superstar daughter of a deceased superstar combines elements of Liza Minnelli and Jane Fonda, among obvious others. Socialite Denise Minnelli Hale (ex-wife of Liza’s dad) is supposedly a model for super-hostess “Elena Brent,” who fled East Berlin thanks to sleeping with a border guard, but she denies it. “You can believe if I had to escape by going to bed with somebody,” cracks Denise, who herself fled from Yugoslavia, “it would be a commander.” In all, there’s more name (and trouser) dropping than plot. The upshot is that the New Hollywood is toujours gay, and so orgy-ridden that even Haber’s writer friend Irving (The Fan Club) Wallace was taken aback. “They couldn’t be going at it as persistently as Joyce has it in her book,” he marvels. “When would they make movies?”
Haber’s own concession to literary extravagance is the volume’s dedication to her children, “Courtney and Douglas—who may read this book in 15 years.” By then, the kids (by her ex-husband, TV producer Doug Cramer) will be 21 and 24. At that point, though, who will still care about the spillings of her yellowing notebooks or the settling of scores—IOUs stroking folks who stood by her when she was fired, vendettas against those who didn’t? Is it of any moment to posterity, as she records, that Richard (All’s Fair) Crenna is the fussiest dresser in town, male or female, or that actors are by and large cheapskates, with David Janssen the exception? The author might have had the good grace to supply an index so that the wet kisses to allies (Rex Reed, sometime escort Gene Kelly and Johnny Carson’s ex-wife Joanne), as well as the slap shots at foes (Johnny Carson, agent Sue Mengers), could be clucked over without fighting the full 421 pages. Likewise for those with fictionalized names, such as Henry (“Victor Kroll”) Kissinger, whose postcards to Haber from China and Russia are framed on her piano.
That career-long tropism to power was the undoing of her syndicated column. Fixated on the behind-the-scenes dealmakers (one of them, Robert Evans, flogged her to finish the book) and the social hostesses on the “A” list (her own legacy to the jargon), Joyce lost her audience. They just wanted to read about the on-screen stars. Never personally stagestruck (though she made three Hal Roach shorts at 4), Haber grew up in New York, the daughter of a v.p. of Philco International. She took a B.A. from Barnard in English lit., and broke through the then-sexist barrier at Time, advancing from $55-a-week newspaper clipper to Hollywood correspondent.
For The Users, agent Swifty Lazar got her a $250,000 advance, then another $200,000 on an upcoming ABC miniseries adaptation. There’s no “special” Mr. X or Y in her life now, and Haber seems content at 46 to bounce between coasts and sop up scandal for her next two books. Her advance is $1 million-plus this time. Keeping the manse is a housekeeper, a part-time Chinese couple, a pool man and gardeners. The property has six bedrooms, seven baths and two outbuildings (her office and a screening theater)—plenty of seclusion for the kids to sneak off and read Mommy’s raunchy novel.