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They Can Kill You but They Can't Eat You

Current Status:
In Season
Dawn Steel
Biography, Memoir, Movies

We gave it an F

You’re not free in life until you’re free of wanting other people’s approval,” Dawn Steel announces in one of the many intellect-numbing ”lessons” that crowd THEY CAN KILL YOU BUT THEY CAN’T EAT YOU (Pocket Books, $22) like studio guys at one of Heidi Fleiss’ come-as-you-are parties. ”It’s dangerous to follow orders without questioning them.” ”It’s not a good idea to date people you work with. Trust me on this.” With such a store of vapid cliches, Steel might do well as a Venice Beach psychic or Herbalife saleswoman. But as chronicler of her own remarkable life, the one-time president of Columbia Pictures, onetime president of production at Paramount Pictures, and onetime marketer of knockoff Gucci toilet paper makes a lousy spin doctor. In fact, what she needs is a script doctor. Because if this book were a studio production, the project would be in darkest turnaround. The pity is, the story of the angry, aggressive, alluring, annoying, powerful 47-year-old woman with the famous head of the industry’s thickest hair is fascinating and theoretically instructive: how she dropped out of college, started working as a sportswriter, wandered into merchandising at Penthouse, and gnawed her way into the boys club that runs Hollywood. How she battled family-induced neuroses, and how she screwed up with men (among her boasted romances are affairs with Richard Gere and Martin Scorsese) before marrying successfully and giving birth to a daughter at 40. How she hustled to the near-top of Paramount and was toppled, then soft-landed at Columbia. What wisdom she acquired the hard way. How she felt-really, honestly felt, minus all the tediously coy What did I know? shrugs with which she controls her view of history-when she knew she was being called Attila the Hun. The Queen of Mean. Steely Dawn. The Creep of the Crop. Steel Balls. Steel pays glossy lip service to the need for women to create their own sisterly ways to wield and share power and argues, distractedly, that women can learn from her own touching story. But nothing touches the average reader because nothing, apparently, ever really touches the author, defended in a severe Armani suit of Steel and supported (per her three pages of acknowledgments) by a ritzy army of girlfriends, among them writer-director Nora Ephron and gossip columnist Liz Smith. Besides, the average reader is hardly Steel’s concern in a book so clearly meant as literary payback, complete with major sucking up (to Barry Diller, Ray Stark, David Geffen, Barbra Streisand, Herbert Allen), manipulative flirtation (with Don Simpson, Bob Guccione), vengeful disemboweling (of screenwriter Tom Hedley, an unfortunate ex-boyfriend), and disingenuous dismissal (of David Puttnam, her predecessor at Columbia). Other than that, this memoir is poorly focused, lazily written, insincere, unrevealing, and might as well be titled They Can Publish It But They Can’t Make It a Book. There is, however, a lesson here: Revenge is not literature. Trust me on this. F