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Talent agent Chris Snyder has written a surprisingly compelling book about working in Hollywood – not for the to-be-expected insights into the shark infested waters of the US movie business, but for the unexpected personal insights that add texture and intimacy, says Andrew L. Urban.

Of course there is the anticipated scorn for Hollywood, from an insider who now proudly boasts of having worked with the “maddest, baddest agent in town”, the foul mouthed Harradine, Iris Burton, for whom Chris Snyder eventually developed a sort of love. During an argument about Snyder’s status as an official agent (after his introduction to the business as her assistant), Iris is reluctant to do the paperwork to make him official. Here’s how Snyder records part of the exchange:

“I’ll do the paperwork, Iris.’
She slammed the refrigerator shut and reached for her pack of cigarettes. “It’s a piece of paper. Jesus fucking Christ, Chris! Don’t you trust me?’ She turned her back on me and lit her cigarette on the gas burner.

"Trust really wasn’t a word that pertained in Hollywood"

Whether I trusted her really wasn’t the issue. Trust really wasn’t a word that pertained in Hollywood. Iris didn’t trust anyone – not even her own son – so why would she trust me? And vice versa? If she trusted me she wouldn’t monitor my phone calls and check every paper and appointment for a mistake. It was funny that she would use that word in regard to our relationship.”

Snyder traces his relationship with Iris Burton, starting with the day of her funeral. As the flashback begins, we’re embroiled in the stormy last year of Burton’s star client, River Phoenix, the Oscar nominee whose life is spiralling out of control in a drug fuelled nose dive. Much later, Snyder regrets that he didn’t do more to try and stop the self destruction.

When he storms out of the Iris Burton agency one day and heads for a Greek island, we follow him and watch as he falls in love with a handsome visitor before returning, inevitably, to Los Angeles - and Iris.

"Hollywood is like an addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling"

He writes: “Hollywood is like an addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling. Any degree of success in Hollywood is a million to one shot and there’s no high quite like beating the odds. That’s what makes the game so intriguing. Iris made everything all the more interesting because she was the rogue swimmer, the one who swam against the current.”

Among the funniest anecdotes is the one about Iris Burton visiting her client Kirsten Dunst on a remote North Californian location during the shoot of a mini series. She was booked into a local motel and went out to dinner with Kirsten and her family. On her return, she found the hotel had rented her room for a short time to a local prostitute, who had not finished with her client when Iris returned. The scene is captured in all its hysterical glory in Snyder’s entertaining and candid book.

You don’t have to be interested in Hollywood to enjoy this memoir: it’s full of human nature.

Published April 16, 2009

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Hunting With Barracudas
By Chris Snyder
Hardie Grant Books (March, 2009, RRP $24.95)

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