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Stories of Studios and Stars

A GRAVEYARD FOR LUNATICS: ANOTHER TALE OF TWO CITIES, By Ray Bradbury, New York: Alfred Knopf, 285 pp., $18.95

HYPE AND GLORY, By William Goldman, New York: Villard Booksm, 306 pp., $19.95

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`WE need our storytellers,'' William Goldman writes. ``Somebody's got to keep us alive through the dangerous night when the flames are flickering and the wolves howl.''

Since those days, listeners have asked for larger-than-life figures: heroes without blemishes, knights of extraordinary prowess, athletes of supreme grace, maidens of unassailable virtue, beauties lovely beyond description, villains wallowing in corruption and a venality that can make a listener gasp.

Mythic forefathers once made up these gigantesque figures. Later members of the nobility provided them - often doing harm to history, as England's King Richard III might attest.

For the past 70 years or so, Hollywood has given these figures to American culture, spawning a vast literature that extends from movie magazines through ``Hollywood novels'' (``What Makes Sammy Run?'' ``The Day of the Locust,'' ``The Last Tycoon'') and movie bios, both tawdry and insightful, to sober studies of Hollywood business practices, and even to anthropological monographs.

The two very different books under review here attest to Hollywood's continuing capacity to fascinate the imaginations even of insiders. The authors are well-known, well-admired writers to whom Hollywood has been kind.

Ray Bradbury's ``A Graveyard for Lunatics'' is a joyful phantasmagoria of a novel, a 52-pick-up of elements drawn from Hollywood studio backlots, circa 1954.

This is the novel Huckleberry Finn might have written if he had gone West with actors who toured the gold fields, had had his imagination honed by campfire ghost stories and scrapes with Indians, had signed on as a junior sci-fi writer at a studio run by Scott Fitzgerald's Monroe Stahr or Orson Welles's Citizen Kane, and had gotten hooked by ``Phantom of the Opera'' and Bible rewrites for religious epics.

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It possesses a boyish, gee-whiz quality. When characters curse, they say, ``crud.'' There's no sex here to offend anyone. But there is wonderful irreverence about religion: a failed screenwriter/priest, for example, and a bibulous one-role actor known as J.C.

All at once, the novel is hilarious and boring, insightful and obvious, hi-jinksy, maybe symbolic, confusing, fast-paced and yawny. In other words, a fine Bradburyan mix.

``Hype and Glory'' by William Goldman tells how a fine and famed screenwriter gets through a bad patch.

The year is 1988. At age 56, Goldman finds himself getting divorced from his wife of 27 years. It's all very amicable; they are living together as usual, trying to make necessary arrangements, but not sitting together at weddings. But it's also a little embarrassing. Goldman can't manage to tell us about it until page 41.

Still, Goldman makes an amusing tour guide. His style is chatty and sometimes catty. There are good laughs, some fine gossip, and insider insights. In the concluding chapter Goldman almost makes his title seem organic, not just dreadful movie-title pun. But there's a sow's ear at the core of this book. Goldman's craft is so truly admirable that he almost makes you think for a moment that you're holding a silk purse.

But it's a sow's ear with classy stitching. Even so, any guy who can sew like that deserves to be read.

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