When notorious (and somewhat mysterious) Hollywood journalist Nikki Finke debuted her latest venture earlier this month, the concept was immediately intriguing. After nearly two years away from Deadline Hollywood, the site she founded and left after an epic falling-out with owner Jay Penske, Finke was returning to media not with her signature brand of aggressive industry coverage, but with fiction — short stories written by Hollywood insiders, to be precise. The name? Hollywood Dementia.
The new site raised a few questions. What would fiction sanctioned — and in some cases, written — by Finke look like, exactly? Which show business insiders would be contributing? And most importantly, would Hollywood Dementia’s invented stories be as dishy, and as entertaining, as Finke-era Deadline’s true ones? Since its August 3 launch, Hollywood Dementia has been publishing at a steady clip of about a story (plus original artwork!) per weekday, and it’s been without a paywall since August 9, so I read through the site’s already-substantial archives to find out.
Hollywood Dementia’s presentation is certainly pure Finke: its logo is a sorta-glitzy, sorta-garish Walk of Fame star with DEMENTIA stamped over it in bright red, and its motto is “friction fiction presented by Nikki Finke.” The comments section, like that of Deadline, is active — Finke herself occasionally weighs in — and comes with the warning that reader input “is a privilege, not a right.” Both here and in the cable news-style crawler at the top, there are reminders that the stories “do not depict any actual person or event” and “this is Hollywood fiction, remember?”
The disclaimer is, of course, a winking one. Finke’s most valuable asset is her insight into what really goes on in Hollywood, and that’s what she’s selling to the advertisers and donors who will support the site in lieu of a per-story paywall. (Per Finke herself: “It’s Hollywood in its unvarnished honesty. I’m really finding that you can be much more honest in fiction than you can be in journalism.”) That’s what Hollywood Dementia’s stories, stylistically varied as they are, have in common: the unifying theme of “you wouldn’t believe what goes on in this town,” followed by sordid, scandalous, and decidedly unsubtle stories that purport to tell us what does.
Hollywood Dementia’s offerings transcend genre. There’s humor, in the form of a pair of “letters” from a washed-up comedian by longtime Letterman writer Bill Scheft. (Money quote: “I am not bitter. I’m just relentlessly realistic.”) There’s adventure, like when a professor gets caught up in the search for Ernest Hemingway’s mythical lost suitcase — and, um, the movie rights to its contents — in… “Hemingway’s Suitcase.” And there’s romance, as when an aging, indebted actress meets a dashing businessman in “Lipstick.”
By far the most dominant style, however, is the expletive-ridden exposé of behind-the-scenes backstabbing. A character in Doug Richardson’s “High Noon” uses the term “cunt” no fewer than 17 times (0.3% of the story’s total word count!) to describe a female studio executive. Cynthia Mort’s “Diary of a Mad Executive,” best synopsized as American Psycho-lite, is narrated by a striver who self-identifies as a “former fatty fag.” The protagonist of James Dawson’s “Hollywood Eclipse” is at one point offered “24 of the hottest, horniest sluts you’ve ever seen, guaran-fucking-teed” as his co-stars in a porn parody of his own twin brother’s hit sitcom.
Between salacious bits like these, however, Hollywood Dementia’s stories often adopt a tone that’s oddly pedantic. “Hollywood Eclipse,” for example, washes down an explanation of the power of the foreign press with some… colorful language: “The way those foreign fuckers get gifted and pampered by the studios is positively shameless. That’s because a lot of movies make more money outside the United States than domestically.” Nat Segaloff’s “Rapture in Rimini” spends a paragraph summarizing American film’s 1970s heyday: “The old-line studios like MGM, Fox, Paramount, Columbia, and Warner Brothers were chasing their own frightened tails against an explosion of films coming from ad hoc indie companies.”
It’s a house style with obvious roots in Finke’s background, and is unsurprisingly epitomized by what might be Hollywood Dementia’s most anticipated offering: “Dying on a Bed of Nails,” a short story from Finke herself about a group of female managers at a male-dominated firm “who made up for in swagg [sic] what they lacked in looks or stature.” In the middle of a heated conversation with a colleague, one manager pauses to expound on the difference between agents and managers: “You work with a hundred clients, you can’t get a producer credit on anything, and the agencies have even less female partners than the management firms.” But the exposition is bookended by sentences like, “Livvy found an older alternative acceptable to all the filmmakers. #BOOM” and “Added another [male partner], ‘Bros before hos.'”
So: is Hollywood Dementia worth reading? It’s not exactly great prose — some selections, like Peter Davis’ “Girl of My Dreams,” make up for in cringe-worthy details like “Rag Daze, a special calendar for charting the menstrual cycles of the important actresses on the lot” what they lack in any discernible plot — but ultimately, the site delivers what it promises. Most contributors are, in fact, industry vets, as evidenced by the sheer number of bios that end with, “This excerpt is from a [novel and/or screenplay].” And their stories are, frankly, fun.
Ultimately, you probably already know if you’re in Finke’s target audience, either because a) you work in entertainment or b) you already know your tolerance for, or even enjoyment of, showbiz navel-gazing. The more addicted you are to Finke’s brand of gleeful tell-all, the better a place Hollywood Dementia is to get your fix.