The memoir of Clancy Sigal, a writer who spent a few years at the tail end of Hollywood’s golden age as a talent agent. He has to manage clients, his bosses, and tries to navigate the anti-communist Hollywood blacklist.
Sigal frequently cites Bogart’s In a Lonely Place as one of his favourite films, and you call almost feel him channel the booze-and-cigarettes-at-a-typewriter-energy into this book.
He writes in the present tense and as such his hard-boiled, cynical but frank and candid tone is right in keeping with the era even though he wrote the book only a few years ago in the final years of his life. I find it hard to believe anyone thinks or talks this way for real but it really helps put you there.
And ‘there’ is the seedy world of Hollywood in the 1950s. Hustlers, stars, wannabes, whores, producers, writers—it’s exactly what you’d imagine and it’s fully realised here.
I love tales of Humphrey Bogart getting old lines from his movies wrong, but Black Sunset’s legacy will be its memories of the Hollywood blacklist. Friends selling friends out just keep their heads above water under constant surveillance from the FBI. Sigal is keen to shine a light on the inward anxiety that being followed and bugged all the time gave him (often manifesting in physical symptoms), and contrasts it with the adopted outwardly macho persona required of the business.
It’s a wild, breakneck ride that ends as abruptly as at begins—a great memoir from a unique voice.