(Joanna Neborsky)
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Lost Books

Stephanie Butnick
December 30, 2011
(Joanna Neborsky)

“Lost Books” is a weekly series highlighting forgotten books through the prism of Tablet Magazine’s and Nextbook.org’s archives. So blow the dust off the cover, and begin!

Well-known Hollywood writer and director Melville Shavelson’s 1964 film, Cast A Giant Shadow—which featured Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, and Frank Sinatra and boasted a hefty budget—was a huge flop. The best thing to come out of the whole fiasco, according to Larence Levi, was the book Shavelson wrote in 1971 based on the experience.

How to Make a Jewish Movie reads like the work of an expert comedy writer,” Levi wrote in 2007.

Practically every paragraph ends with a punch line; nearly every sentence has an ironic kick. Shavelson is talented enough to make the story of creating a flop irresistible, and humble enough to accept at least some of the blame. And while the pleasure of How to Make a Jewish Movie comes from the funny stories of difficult actors and shattered $40,000 camera lenses, the book is also a milestone: quite possibly the first book by a Hollywood director devoted entirely to the making of his own movie.

Read A Fine Mess, by Lawrence Levi

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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