Party Animals focuses on the glamorous social life and dramatic career of late gay producer, screenwriter, promoter, and manager Allan Carr, a man responsible for such hits as Grease and such misses as Can’t Stop the Music. Author Robert Hofler—a Variety senior editor known for his book on Rock Hudson’s closeted agent Henry Willson—writes descriptively of Carr’s parties and professional dealings, but is much less concerned with his subject’s psyche.
For Carr, the parties were as much fun as a career necessity—a way for him to gain attention for various projects and clients. He threw grand affairs, whether they took place in his tackily decorated California home or in a New York City subway station. Hofler makes the reader feel like a VIP as he describes everything from Carr’s home décor (which included Mylar staircases) to the food (stone crabs from Florida) to who was screwing who (Rudolf Nureyev and a waiting line of approximately twenty-five men). But more fascinating than the parties was the man himself: kind but temperamental; flamboyant with a simultaneous desire to appeal to the mainstream; savvy and foolish; egotistic yet insecure. And while Hofler is happy to give us a brief sketch of his subject, we don’t ever get a full sense of what made Carr act the way he did. Plus, he doesn’t even get to be on the front cover, an honor reserved for Grease stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.
That being said, it could be that Hofler and/or Da Capo felt Carr’s unattractive mug wouldn’t really move books. And it could also be that Carr was so guarded about his personal feelings that Hofler just couldn’t find anyone who knew him that well. But there seems to be no possible excuse for Hofler not thoroughly exploring Carr’s childhood or the last few years of his life, which one would think would be fairly easy to research.
Hofler is on more solid ground writing about Carr’s business smarts, and it is fascinating to learn how much foresight the man had. Carr was able to accurately predict, for example, that Grease’s loyal young Broadway audience would transform into a huge turnout at movie theaters, even though, at the time, Grease was not exactly a show business darling. (Carr called it “the bastard child of Broadway.”) And even when producing what would be his biggest downfall—the 1989 Oscars—Carr could see the telecast’s appeal as a fashion show. Not to mention Carr’s knack for pumping up celebrities’ egos, such as Michael Bennett’s during the creation of A Chorus Line.
Ultimately, Party Animals works best if you look at it not as a biography, but rather as a chronicle of one of the craziest and most exciting times in show business (and gay) history. If you regret not being able to enjoy the 1970s Hollywood party scene in person, then consider this your official time-travel passport.
A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr
By Robert Hofler Perseus Books Group/Da Capo Press
Paperback, $15.95, 320p