It's Gruesomely Graphic! Appallingly Violent! And Only $19.95!
Booksellers are bracing for the arrival of American Psycho, the latest tome from brat pack author Bret (Less Than Zero) Easton Ellis, scheduled to hit bookstores the first week of 1991. Published by Simon & Schuster, American Psycho has aroused considerable prepublication concern in Big Apple book circles due to its gruesomely graphic depictions of the activities of a psychopathic killer. A snippet published in Spy magazine read in part: "I keep spraying Torri with mace and then I try to cut off all of her fingers and finally I pour acid into her vagina which doesn't kill her, so I resort to stabbing her in the throat and eventually the blade of the knife breaks off into what's left of her neck, stuck on bone, so I stop."
Most Chicago-area book dealers apparently bought the book weeks ago, as part of a mass order of winter offerings, with no clear sense of its bloodcurdling contents. Last week, veteran bookseller Stuart Brent professed total unfamiliarity with Ellis's book, though Simon & Schuster Chicago sales rep Vicki Warthen said copies had been ordered for his high-toned Michigan Avenue shop. (Added Warthen knowingly: "It won't be a big seller for him.") Pat Peterson, co-owner of Barbara's Bookstores, has only recently gotten a sense of what's inside American Psycho, and late last week she was admitting to second thoughts about carrying the book. "It's horrific stuff," says Peterson. But other booksellers are convinced the book will move off the shelves no matter how ugly it is. "I'm sure the book will sell because of its shock appeal," says Chris Kennelly, trade book buyer for Unabridged Books, adding that "there are people who are fans of Bret Easton Ellis." Even so, Unabridged's initial order of American Psycho, is only about 10 copies, considerably fewer than the 200 it ordered of David Leavitt's comparatively tame new collection of short stories A Place I've Never Been. Ray Carroll, chief trade book buyer for the Kroch's & Brentano's stores, also says he was unaware of American Psycho's violent content when he placed an order for around 100 copies. "The book certainly wasn't presented to me as sensational," says Carroll. Still, the Kroch's buyer maintains a realistic attitude about the public's seemingly insatiable appetite for murder and mayhem. "There's always a market for outrageous stuff," he says. Simon & Schuster is trying to keep prying eyes away from American Psycho while stoking the flames of curiosity about it. An S&S publicist says there will be no advance galleys of the book, which runs 400 pages and will list for $19.95, while sales rep Warthen promises it "will be controversial." Adds Warthen: "American Psycho was written to shock people out of their complacency about the 1980s."
No Stars at Steppenwolf
The stars can come to the new Steppenwolf theater, but they won't shine excessively as long as artistic director Randall Arney is in charge. British stage and film star Albert Finney will appear in Another Time, the Ronald Harwood play set to open Steppenwolf's new 500-seat space at 1650 N. Halsted on April 14. Finney will share the stage with four other performers who Arney hopes will come from the ranks of the Steppenwolf ensemble. But whoever the other cast members are, Finney will be listed alphabetically along with them in the program and will receive the same "$400 or so" per week, says Arney. Though he did not dismiss the possibility that ensemble member John Malkovich, likely to be another major draw for the company, might also wind up in the cast of Another Time, Arney said stars won't be a staple in Steppenwolf's new home. Still, some obviously see a connection between the new space and big names. "With our new home, the stars will want to come to work with Steppenwolf," says one board member.
Oh What a Feeling: Toyota Makes Loyola Theater Student an Overnight Sensation
Budding playwright Christi Rankin is enjoying plenty of attention these days thanks to a two-page Toyota ad in the New York Times Sunday magazine. The ad, which ran with a large, beaming photograph of the Loyola University theater major, talked at length about her experience as a participant in Pegasus Players' 1990 Young Playwrights Festival, which the Toyota Foundation funded last summer with a $25,000 grant. Rankin's one-act play Off Highway 21 was one of four produced as part of the festival. Since the ad ran in the November 4 Times, both Rankin and Pegasus have been besieged with calls. Among others, a New York play publisher telephoned to inquire about publishing Rankin's work, and agent Leo Bookman, from New York's prestigious William Morris Agency, called Rankin to find out more about her. "He wanted to know my future plans," says Rankin, who is sending him her play to read. But living in the spotlight hasn't kept Rankin from her play writing. She is working on a new piece about how children in a day-care center reflect their parents' personalities. Already Rankin sounds like a seasoned pro. "It's a three-act play right now," she says, "but I may cut it down to two."
Here Come the Christmas Movies
The Christmas movie season is about to begin, and the lineup is weighed down with the "important" pics that typically pop up at this time of year. This time they include Francis Coppola's Godfather III, of course, and Sydney Pollack's Havana, starring a Robert Redford who appears to be aging especially badly. But at least one local film booker is concerned that Hollywood's holiday fare is short on hard-core action flicks for those who don't take their filmgoing quite so seriously. "I think we could have used at least one to round out the offerings," says the booker. Elsewhere on the film front, local industry watchers are waiting to see if Cineplex-Odeon moves to change its bargain admission prices here as it has done in an apparent experiment in Washington, D.C. In the nation's capital, the Canada-based chain recently lowered its bargain price to $3.25 from $3.75 and made the new price good for all shows starting before 6 PM. Currently in the Chicago area, both Cineplex-Odeon and Loews offer a $3.75 admission only for the first screening of the day, provided it is before 6 PM. General Cinema discounts all shows before 6. Some exhibitors believe that moviegoers are resisting higher admission prices and that most Chicago-area grosses have been low lately as a result. A Cineplex-Odeon spokesperson said he knew of no current plans to revamp the chain's bargain-price policy in Chicago.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.