by Terri Schlichenmeyer
White suits with shiny polyester shirts. Remember those? Remember handkerchief-hemmed, floaty dresses and platform shoes on a blinking dance floor? The thumpa-thumpa-thumpa of the beat, and the hazy feeling of strobe light on mirror ball?
If you’re “Of a Certain Age,” these are either good memories or disco nightmares. Either way, in the new book Party Animals: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr by Robert Hofler, you’ll read about one man who never wanted to stop the music.
Growing up as an only child in Highland Park, Illinois, Alan Solomon always got what he wanted. And why wouldn’t he? His parents, divorced by the time he was a teenager, had plenty to spend on their son and happily funded several large theater productions before the overweight, bespectacled Alan was even 18 years old.
Later, though he had minor success with a theater production in Chicago, fate apparently wanted Alan Solomon elsewhere. After failing college and hiring a lawyer to change his name, Allan Carr landed in Hollywood to work as a talent director for Hugh Hefner. This fortuitous connection introduced Carr to “the world” of talent booking.
After Hefner’s project ended, Carr became manager to the stars, a job that fully utilized his skills. Calmly negotiating, he could soothe feuding celebs’ anger and jealousy (though anyone who angered Carr himself received a blistering tirade). He could charm anybody, often sweet-talking “sponsors” into funding his lavish, legendary parties so he didn’t have to pay for food or drinks for his guests. More than one person knew him as a first-class schmoozer who never failed to get his way.
But Carr had a dream: he wanted to be a movie producer. So when he fell in love with a lesser-known Broadway production called Grease, he knew he could “reinvent” it for the big screen. He got the rights, tweaked the show, and the rest is history. Carr’s career took off … for a while.
Though blessed with golden powers of persuasion, Carr’s sense of timing was ultimately poor and his visions, bloated. Following the mega-success of Grease, planned projects flopped or never went anywhere, and when Carr finally got his Oscar chance, the entire world witnessed the mess. His last production, sadly, was a party that he never lived to attend.
Filled with big names and little scandals (Allan Carr was gay when gay was taboo to talk about), Party Animals is exhaustively researched, over-the-top snarky, sarcastically funny, and teetering on the very edge of boring.
For the most part, I enjoyed this biography of tenacity, flamboyancy, and debauchery, but—maybe because the stories are relentless and often similar—I sometimes found myself drifting while reading. Yes, author Robert Hofler tells the tale like a true insider, but there were times when the details became so insider-ish that I realized that I was lost, and didn’t really care.
If you’re an over-40-something behind-the-scenes Hollywood die-hard, you’ll enjoy this book. For the rest of us, these Party Animals fail to roar.
Terri Schlichenmeyer has been reading since she was three years old, and she lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.