From the New York Times bestselling author of Fifth Avenue, Five A.M. and Fosse comes the revelatory account of the making of a modern American masterpiece
Chinatown is the Holy Grail of 1970s cinema. Its twist ending is the most notorious in American film and its closing line of dialogue the most haunting. Here for the first time is the incredible true story of its making.
In Sam Wasson's telling, it becomes the defining story of the most colorful characters in the most colorful period of Hollywood history. Here is Jack Nicholson at the height of his powers, as compelling a movie star as there has ever been, embarking on his great, doomed love affair with Anjelica Huston. Here is director Roman Polanski, both predator and prey, haunted by the savage death of his wife, returning to Los Angeles, the scene of the crime, where the seeds of his own self-destruction are quickly planted. Here is the fevered dealmaking of "The Kid" Robert Evans, the most consummate of producers. Here too is Robert Towne's fabled script, widely considered the greatest original screenplay ever written. Wasson for the first time peels off layers of myth to provide the true account of its creation.
Looming over the story of this classic movie is the imminent eclipse of the '70s filmmaker-friendly studios as they gave way to the corporate Hollywood we know today. In telling that larger story, The Big Goodbye will take its place alongside classics like Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and The Devil's Candy as one of the great movie-world books ever written.
Praise for Sam Wasson:
"Wasson is a canny chronicler of old Hollywood and its outsize personalities...More than that, he understands that style matters, and, like his subjects, he has a flair for it." - The New Yorker
"Sam Wasson is a fabulous social historian because he finds meaning in situations and stories that would otherwise be forgotten if he didn't sleuth them out, lovingly." - Hilton Als
About the Author
SAM WASSON is the author of many books including the best-selling Fosse and Fifth Avenue, 5 AM: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. He lives in Los Angeles.
A New York Times bestselling book
"The wondrous thing about Sam Wasson’s new book is that it feels both necessary and inevitable - as if Chinatown couldn’t (or shouldn’t) exist without it. Reading The Big Goodbye, something strange happens: it acquires the historical, dizzying, incestuous gravitas of the film itself. Wasson has a habit of making vividly thematic, compassionately revelatory art." - Bruce Wagner, author of Force Majeure and I Met Someone
"Sam Wasson has written a smart, human and utterly engaging book about an iconic American movie. With its rich depiction of 1970s Hollywood, The Big Goodbye is grounded in marvelous reportorial detail and moves with novelistic urgency." - Julie Salamon, author of The Devil's Candy and An Innocent Bystander
“A fascinating dive into Hollywood”
—Maureen Dowd, New York Times
“Chinatown (1974) was a watershed moment in a colorful era of American filmmaking. Wasson looks past the myth to tell the true story of its making.”
—USA Today, “Winter Reading Guide: This Season’s Must-Read Books”
“If you love Chinatown, then you’ll love The Big Goodbye—and it’s good reading for any American cinema buff.”
“Inimitable Wasson…argues convincingly that Chinatown was one of the last great Hollywood films… this portrait of a neonoir classic will cast a spell over cinephiles.”
—Library Journal, starred review
"Wasson…is one of the great chroniclers of Hollywood lore. And he has truly outdone himself this time." – The New York Times
“Wasson’s fascinating and page-turning description of the talent and ideas behind “Chinatown” is more than a mere biography of a landmark movie.” – Los Angeles Times
"It’s impossible not to fall for this love letter to a love letter that pastes together the often sticky collage of how talent plus perseverance can equal a classic film." – The Associated Press
"It’s the definitive book on Chinatown." – Vanity Fair
“[THE BIG GOODBYE] is as fine an unwrapping of the moviemaking process as I’ve read.” – Airmail
The Big Goodbye is a graceful and worthwhile elegy to a time dear to those who are lucky enough to remember it…It will be hard to find a better film book published this year. – PopMatters.com
The Big Goodbye is a fun and insightful read about the business of Hollywood and the complex, creative process. – Coachella Valley Weekly
An absorbing account of the making of ‘Chinatown’…Wasson is a stylish chronicler of Hollywood politics…”The Big Goodbye” evokes the care that went into every frame. – The Economist
“densely textured, well-researched… …Film fans will love the behind-the-scenes access to movie town legends, and buffs will relish the details. If you need to know the typewriter brand used by Towne, the reason Nicholson was called “The Weaver” when young, or the designer frock worn by Anjelica Huston at the Oscars, this is the book for you.” – The Sunday Times
"Cultural historian Sam Wasson swims in the muddy making of the 1974 film, the messy lives of its four main players, and the murky chronicles of L.A.’s studio system and the municipal water wars to produce a page-turner as suspenseful and spellbinding as the Raymond Chandler novel from which the book takes its name." – The AV Club
“Hollywood stories are hardly in short supply, but Sam Wasson can be trusted for some juicy, compelling discoveries. His latest investigates the making of Chinatown…his innovative approach: and assembly of mini-biographies of Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson, and more, each packed with intriguing revelations.” – Entertainment Weekly
"Sam Wasson does a wonderful job with this book... beautiful [and] meticulously researched." - CBS This Weekend
"Wasson’s book, which is compellingly told and meticulously researched, tells the story of the origins and making of Chinatown, and of the studio that produced it, Paramount, which was saved from collapse by the dynamism of its young head of production, Robert Evans. " - the Irish Times
"Sam Wasson's forensic account of Hollywood history in transition offers good reasons to revisit Chinatown's oft-visited depths...his insights are sharp enough to slit your nose...Wasson crystallizes a fleeting filmmaking moment at its departure point and leaves us marvelling anew that is ever came to be." - Total Film
"This is an exceptional film book, far more than the production history of Chinatown, and so vividly written you will want to seek out the work of Wasson's previous studies...Wasson writing about Los Angeles with the same love and diligence Towne brought to the script...I exclaimed aloud more than once, and even welled up over the final page. The Big Goodbye is worthy of Chinatown, this unforgettable movie—high praise indeed. - Sight and Sound
"This scrupulously researched and reported book is about not just a cinematic masterpiece but the glorious lost Hollywood in which that movie was born." - The New York Times, 10 Books We Recommend This Week
"In author Sam Wasson's meticulous new book "The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood," the film historian ("Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.") turns his eye to the minds behind one of the greatest, bleakest films ever to come out of the studio system. Delving into the lives of screenwriter Robert Towne, producer Robert Evans, star Jack Nicholson and director Polanski, he reveals the inspirations behind the film, as well as the aftershocks it left. And he makes it clear why "Chinatown's" themes of corruption and abuse of power have never seemed more painfully topical."- Salon.com
"A big, chewy read, with talented, larger-than-life rogues stalking its pages — men with names like Nicholson, Evans, Towne, Polanski. It evokes nostalgia for a movie that used nostalgia as a weapon, and it reminds a reader, once again, of how the works we take for classics came close to never happening." - Boston Globe
"The hottest new book about the movie business... [it]presents a vivid picture of a key moment in Hollywood history as well as the gripping odyssey of a writer struggling to convert his vision into great cinema." - Deadline
"There is no greater treat than Sam Wasson's new book... a completely fascinating account, filed with intriguing new information of the making of one of the undeniably great films of the modern era." - LA Times
USA Today “5 Books Not to Miss” and “Must-Read Books of Winter 2020”
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DailyBreak.com “These 10 Books of February are Like a Box of Premium Chocolates”
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Financial Times “2020 Vision: The Year Ahead in Books”
Kirkus Reviews “New Year’s Reading Resolution List”
The Criterion Collection’s The Current “November Books Roundup”
Connecticut Post "Sit, stay and Read"
Minneapolis Star-Tribune's "10 Books For At-Home Entertainment During Quarantine."