Wednesday, April 7, 2010
So, James Franco is headed to Yale. No, not for undergrad (he already completed that at UCLA, and nabbed an MFA from both Columbia and NYU, despite sporadic in-class snoozing).
Pending his decision to attend, he’ll become one of the most-degreed actors in Hollywood, because he’s headed to Yale to get his PhD. In English.
Recently, Esquire published a snippet from his upcoming collection of short stories, "Palo Alto: Stories". It involves a foot-long kitchen knife, a dragon bong, and the rambling stream of consciousness of its suicidal protagonist, Michael, who likes to bash his grandfather’s car into walls for fun.
You can read the full excerpt here, but it begs the question: can actors hack it as authors, or are they really just hacks?
Don’t get me wrong – I can appreciate a good stoner fic, and I’m definitely not one to judge would-be Yalies.
And I’m not dogging, Franco, either – I can also appreciate dreamy brown eyes and his self-deprecating brand of humor (Okay, so maybe I still have a few hyperkinetic texts saved from my UCLA-going BFF, who used to spot him at the Westwood Starbucks on the regular).
Plus, his mom, Betsy Franco, is a pretty established writer in her own right. But let’s take a look at others in the author/actor genre and see how they compare.
Rivaling Franco’s soul-boring stare (sigh), though hampered by the fact that he’s a down-and-dirty cheater (the nanny? Really, Ethan?), is novelist Ethan Hawke.
His debut tome, “The Hottest State,” which touched on the groping anxiety of 20-something romance, drew mixed reviews, with Publisher’s Weekly calling its too-cynical narrator a “flattened out, '90s rendition of Holden Caulfield.” Ouch.
However, his second attempt, 2003’s “Ash Wednesday,” was the quietly appreciated tale of an Army man gone AWOL with his pregnant wife. Better.
And though his recent films may be wasting away in On Demand land (Pink Panther 2, I’m looking at you) Steve Martin is brilliant.
His fictional debut, "Shopgirl", about a desolate sales associate living in Hollywood and her affair with an older man, hit cinemas a few years back, though its novella’s conception occurred in 2001.
Later literary gems include "The Pleasure of My Company"; right now, Martin is too busy touring the country winning Grammys with his banjo troupe, writing plays, hosting the Oscars and just being generally awesome to release any books, but I have a feeling something else is up his wild and crazy sleeves.
Meanwhile, Carrie Fisher made her literary debut in 1987 with her sort-of-fictional "Postcards from the Edge".
Her autobiography, “Wishful Drinking”, also a one-woman play, is supposedly hilarious - I haven’t had the chance to read it yet, but I think anything that involves Princess Leia self-effacingly staring down a shot glass is worth a go.
There’s also artist/actress/author/director/singer Miranda July.
Her C.V. includes three books, the award winning film Me and You and Everyone We Know (which she created and starred in), and several E.P.’s.
Her book of short stories, "No One Belongs Here More Than You," is a collection of her various pieces of published work, which have peppered the pages of Harvard Review, McSweeney’s, and Tin House.
And, like her stories, her websites are also in the same vein of quirky-cool.
Perhaps surprisingly, Franco has something that most of them do not: a degree.
July dropped out of college sophomore year; Martin, at age 21. Hawke deferred NYU’s English program to continue acting. Fisher, however, graduated from Sarah Lawrence, which she attended during her Star Wars reign.
"Palo Alto: Stories" will hit bookshelves this October, and Scriber editor-in-chief Nan Graham calls Franco a “surprising and powerful new literary voice.”
You’ll have to buy the book to judge for yourself (it’s available on Amazon for pre-order), but as those listed above affirm, talent doesn't necessarily need to follow the "Dr." prefix.