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Underfoot in Show Business (1961)

by Helene Hanff

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2581090,200 (3.92)1 / 36
It's a book about show business, where fame is the stock in trade. Each year there are hundreds of stagestruck kids arrive in New York determined to crash the theatre, firmly convinced they're destined to be famous Broadway stars or playwrights.
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As a young adult, Helene Hanff won a contest and a $1,500 prize from the Theatre Guild that sent her to New York and an attempt to make it as a playwright in the 1940s. But as she tells you at the beginning, she completely failed at this and learned the "immutable truth" of Flanagan's Law: "whatever happens to you, it's unexpected."

Hanff's memoir is an absolute delight. She may not have made it as a playwright, but her stories of dealing with agents and producers, becoming friends with a usually-out-of-work actor named Maxine, or the shenanigans an aspiring playwright goes through to have a roof over her head and still watch as many shows as possible, are unfailingly entertaining and frequently hilarious. ( )
  bell7 | Apr 5, 2022 |
This is my original review posted to my blog in 2008 It stills matches my thoughts even after reading this book for the 2nd time - some 12 years later!!

**** SPOIILERS****

This is the story of Helene's life in New York trying to break into show business as a playwright. She was never successful. But she did write a funny book about her life in show business. This book was originally published in 1961. Her second book was published in 1971. That second book, was the one that made her famous.

Helene was born and raised in Philadelphia by parents who loved the theatre. The family went to see theatre plays on a regular basis. Helene was inspired to write plays herself. After the end of the depression (I'm thinking around 1936 when she was 20), Helene submitted several plays to a playwriting competition run by the Theatre Guild in New York City. Then she received a letter from Theresa Helburn, the renowned Director of the Theatre Guild. Helene rushed up to NYC and was interviewed by Theresa Helburn. Helene underwent 4 days of playwriting tutoring. She travelled to NYC every Tuesday to be tutored by Theresa Helburn.

When the three winners of the scholarships were announced, Helene was one of the winners. By this time Helene had done one year of college and another year of working in various jobs as a secretary. So Helene packed up and moved to NYC permanently.

Helene writes about being involved with the Theatre Guild. Many of the Theatre Guild plays were flops but there was one musical that became a huge success. It was called Oklahoma, but that's not the name it started out with. It had another name, and Helene writes about what the PR team had to go through to change thousands of media releases, posters, programs etc.

As a theatre guild scholarship winner, Helen was required to attend a play during the entire scholastic process, from rehearsals to performance to reviews. In one of these plays, Helene met a young actress Maxine who was about the same age. They became fast friends and Maxine shows up a lot in this book. Because Helene was a poor writer, she would frequently have meals and sleep at Maxine's parents house.

Helene also writes about her roommates - or rather the others who lived in her floor. She writes about having to move from one building to a second to a third. She even mentions the orange crate book shelves. But not once does she mention writing letters to London, England. We know she was writing the letters during this time, because of her address changes. If you remember in 84 Charing Cross Road, she had her address at the top of all the letters. The two addresses in that book are the second and third apartment buildings she lived in. I believed she lived at the third apartment address until the year she died. (Helene died in 1997)

This is written in exactly the same humorous style as all the others. There is no change. No matter if you read this book first or last of all the 6 books that Helene wrote, the style is exactly the same. There are two reasons why I like Helene so much. One reason is because of her humour. And the second reason is because just like me, she loved history and was not keen on fiction. ( )
  Robloz | Sep 23, 2021 |
Helene Hanff is best known for her much loved memoir [84 Charing Cross Road]. This book, also a memoir, was published almost a decade previously. This is about Hanff's life in the forties and early fifties when she is trying to become a playwright and writer in New York City.

The first half of the book is about the early years when just surviving is being successful. The last half of the book is about the period when she has begun to become established and I found it the most interesting. I particularly enjoyed reading about her experience as an outside writer, a person who is the first reader of a manuscript for a publisher. One of those she read was [The Lord of the Rings]! ( )
  clue | Jun 5, 2018 |
Loved it even more than 84 Charing Cross Road. What a delight! ( )
  armbrusm | May 6, 2013 |
Underfoot in show business is Hanff's account of her failed start as a play writer who moonlights as a script reader for movie studios and then discovers her talent as a TV writer. Unfortunately, the industry moves from NY to LA which robs Hanff of her success (as she is unwilling to leave New York).

As always, following her ups and downs is hilarious and bittersweet. In no way is reading her "mental torture", which she claims to have experienced in speed-reading and summarizing Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, charging 40 dollars extra to the studio (duly paid). Still her later works are a bit better, ( )
  jcbrunner | Jul 31, 2010 |
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This book is for Maxine.
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We'll begin with the law that governs the life of everyone of the 999 from the day he or she first arrives in New York, which was first explained to me by a stage manager named Bill Flanagan. Flanagan's law of the theater is:
"No matter what happens to you, it's unexpected.
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It's a book about show business, where fame is the stock in trade. Each year there are hundreds of stagestruck kids arrive in New York determined to crash the theatre, firmly convinced they're destined to be famous Broadway stars or playwrights.

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