March 31, 2003 12:00 PM

Hollywood History from the Bottom Up
By David Rensin

There’s a classic joke about a man who cleans up after the elephants at the circus. Told of a better job elsewhere, he flatly rejects it, saying, “What, and leave show business?”

That punch line echoes as 100-plus talent agents (including now Hollywood biggies Barry Diller and David Geffen) recount degradations endured at the start of their careers, including being forced to deliver a stool sample and getting ordered to come to work despite the stomach flu. (“You can throw up in our bathroom,” says a boss.) Their trial by ire came in the mailrooms of the William Morris Agency and its competitors, going back to 1937. The upside? Glimpsing female stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Uma Thurman barely dressed when delivering packages to their homes.

Rensin, who cowrote books with Tim Allen and Chris Rock, refers to this fascinating, if repetitive, collection of interviews as “oral anthropology.” Margaret Mead would have been impressed. (Ballantine, $24.95) BOTTOM LINE: Really delivers

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