Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Shooting Bad Books

(Shooting David Bret's biography of Flynn, August 13, 2005)

“I never have insulted man or woman in my life but if you knew what a wholesome regard I have for damn liars and rascals they would be liable to keep out of my way.”

            - J.B. Hickok, from a letter to the Missouri Democrat, March 26, 1873

It was a hot, languid summer’s day at the lake when I said to my wife, “We’re about to shatter the day’s tranquility with the sound of gunfire and the acrid smell of gunsmoke.” She tossed me a smile. The screen door slammed behind her as she went to retrieve her gun. I followed her into the cabin and we emerged armed with our rifles and revolvers. We set our targets up between two small hills along a stretch cleared for power lines. This path borders a hundred yards of marsh, followed by a ring of hills thick with trees. The date was August 13, 2005. That was the day I shot David Bret’s book, Errol Flynn: Satan’s Angel, a piece of hackwork. I blasted six holes through the book which littered the forest with thousands of snippets of Bret’s Hollywood fantasy.

Over the years many people have asked me about David Bret’s book about Errol Flynn. This is natural since I am one of Flynn’s biographers. Bret’s many celebrity biographies have been universally reviled as trash and he is the constant focus of both angry fans and scholars alike. I have read two of Bret’s books – the Flynn book and his biography of Clark Gable. Both books were poorly written, historically inaccurate and rife with gossip and innuendo. The late scholar Lincoln Hurst held Bret accountable for what Dr. Hurst believed was one of the worst biographies yet published in the English language. As bad as the Flynn book was, Bret’s biography on Gable was worse. The Gable biography was a tortured, hateful affair.

David Bret is publicly antagonistic against anyone that criticizes him. Since a great many people have criticized him you can well imagine how busy he is ranting and raving. To this effect he has created multiple blogs where his venomous diatribes are on display for all the world to see. I won’t bother linking them here. Just google him and you’ll be knee-deep in this madman’s virulent world soon enough. He can publish what he wishes, and some people will believe his lies and innuendo. That’s their privilege, too. But recently I realized I shouldn’t remain silent about Bret. I think most reviewers see through his lies and this is the reason why most of his books are so poorly received. He is not well respected, and more than a few people regard him with contempt. I harbor no personal ill-will toward him, but I also have no sympathy for him. He has earned his reputation as a writer of garbage. David Bret appears to enjoy rolling in sewage the way farmyard animals root about in their own muck.
(Errol Flynn: Satan’s Angel DOA)
In a recent discussion with some friends via another blog Bret was mentioned again, and the bottom line is people seem to be horrified by him. He does cause a ruckus when he’s pissed off, which is often. But I have changed my mind about being silent because history does indeed matter, and David Bret is not an historian. Nor is he much of a writer. He’s pretty good at typing. Of course, having read only two of his books I’m guessing that his other books stink, too. It’s not a stretch to fathom that I’m right. If he ever publishes a book that garners widespread critical acclaim I will be happy to congratulate him. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. So for those who have brought up the subject with me this essay answers the question – what do you think about David Bret’s books?
 (A clean kill)
As a writer my impression of David Bret is that he doesn’t work very hard. I am reminded that scientists once taught a chimpanzee to type. The chimp typed all day. They fed him bananas. And Bret is fixated on sexual matters. He can’t type a paragraph without mentioning sex. He wallows in homosexual innuendo. But finally, the reason I find him contemptible is his blatant lack of honesty. His books are filled with lies, gossip and hearsay. No effort has been made to adhere to the rules of objective journalism. The two books I read were an insult to intelligent, educated readers who deserve a writer’s best effort. And a good effort that fails is preferable to no effort at all. Bret is contemptible because he takes his readers for granted and revels in his role as a purveyor of trash. Deep down inside I suspect he knows he can’t go the distance, but he struck a goldmine by catering to the baser instincts of willing participants who most assuredly tell him how wonderful he is.

Writing is a privilege. I write honestly and passionately and do my best to get it right. I’ve made my share of errors, too. I spent a decade on the material that I published about Errol Flynn. The book is over-priced by the publisher and far from perfect. But it’s still damn good. Some time ago Bret re-published his Flynn book with a new title. It’s re-packaged garbage. I can’t remain silent and allow David Bret to get away with biographical homicide. And I’m not alone in my feelings. Bret has made many enemies and I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. More than a few of the people and families of those he’s smeared are not going to let it go.

So I shot David Bret’s book. That’s my version of a review. As Humphrey Bogart once said in The Maltese Falcon: “When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it.”

Bret’s book was the first one I shot. The second shooting occurred on August 8, 2007. This time I was aiming at Charles Higham’s infamous Errol Flynn: The Untold Story. This is one of the books that began the continuous string of tell-all celebrity biographies written with an eye on a quick profit but whose contents are lacking in historical accuracy. Higham’s book is pure rubbish. I suspect that David Bret admires Charles Higham.
(I used a Henry rifle to finish off Charles Higham's book)

Writing a legitimate biography requires more than the ability to type. It requires an understanding of primary and secondary sources, and a strict adherence to bibliographic research and documentation. It helps to have a passion for your subject and a passion for writing. Talent helps, too. It has become fashionable for writers to embrace extraordinary lies in order to sell books. The standard ingredients of today’s “tell-all” potboilers are homosexual activity, Nazi spies or some other shadowy government activity, all with an eye on that lucrative market known as “the gullible public.” Writers such as Charles Higham and Kitty Kelley have done well with their trash, and so has Andrew Morton. I have read enough of their work to recognize it as garbage, and many professional critics agree. As for David Bret, I’ll bet he wishes he had the paychecks Kitty Kelley has received. But David Bret’s not even in that smarmy league; he’s so far down on the totem pole he might as well be underground.
(There wasn't much left)

So I shot David Bret’s book and I shot Charles Higham’s book, and I felt just fine pulling the trigger.

Naturally I am aware of the fact that since I’m stating this publicly my critics will use this opportunity to promote the idea of shooting my books. Maybe they’re fans of David Bret. Fair enough. I can dish it out and take it as well. So fire away, and please be careful not hurt yourselves. Of course this also makes me guilty of a self-serving approach to criticism, but I can live with that. I don’t know if I’ll shoot any more books, and I’m guessing that I won’t. I’ve made my point. Meanwhile, David Bret will continue typing, as is his right, and I will resist the urge to load my Baretta with 9 mm cartridges and go out target shooting.

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