Death Valley Superstars by Duke Haney
“If it goes by, I’ve always known it was fickle,” Marilyn Monroe once said of fame, an overriding theme in this collection of essays, profiles, and memoir by showbiz survivor Duke Haney. Fame proved faithful, of course, to Monroe, the book’s most iconic subject, while others, like the screen villain Steve Cochran, a “hard-drinking, bed-hopping cop magnet” off-screen, were widely forgotten before their untimely, often mysterious deaths. Haney takes an experimental tack in some cases, hiring a psychic medium to conduct a séance at Jim Morrison’s former residence and an astrologer to interpret the birth chart of an astrology-crazed film star-turned-bank robber. He attends the funeral of “the next James Dean” who became a raggedy street person, performs a cringeworthy nude scene in a movie produced by “King of the Bs” Roger Corman, and searches for the camper van where funk deity Sly Stone has been reduced to living. Painstakingly researched and compulsively readable, Death Valley Superstars offers a kind of midnight tour of Los Angeles past and present, highlighting hidden passages and little-heard anecdotes about a few of the many who, fooled by Hollywood’s mirages, found themselves caught in its quicksand.
Duke Haney, aka Daryl Haney, has spent most of his adult life working in the movie business, with twenty feature-film credits as an actor and twenty-two as a screenwriter. He used pseudonyms for some of the screenplays and went by “D. R. Haney” as the author of a novel, Banned for Life, and an essay collection, Subversia. After he was struck by a car in a crosswalk on Sunset Boulevard, a friend claimed he walked like John “Duke” Wayne and gave him the nickname by which most people know him and he has adopted belatedly as his pen name. He plans to follow Death Valley Superstars with a novel tentatively titled XXX.
“Duke Haney, one of my favorite writers, has produced yet another masterpiece. This time, Haney trains his one-of-a-kind vision on one of his signature obsessions: fading celebrity, of the kind peculiar to Hollywood. He imbues each subject with such reverence that the pieces become a collective intonation, a summoning of dead spirits (in the case of Jim Morrison, quite literally!); reading, we feel that no one cares more about these people than he does. Here is an author at the peak of his powers, writing with precision about a subject that is his absolute forte. No one else has the dark genius to conjure up a book like this, a great American tragedy, endlessly interesting.”
—Greg Olear, author of Totally Killer, Fathermucker, and Dirty Rubles
“Duke Haney tells the stories you think you’ve heard before but haven’t, and the stories you can’t believe no one else has told. He makes Hollywood more beguiling, more lurid, and more human while getting to the bottom of what it means to chase a dream.”
—Jim Ruland, author of Forest of Fortune
“Haney is a meticulous virtuoso of his craft, deft in his research, reflection, and prose. Slow read this book without distractions because writing and tales this exceptional must be savored.”
—Ronlyn Domingue, author of The Mercy of Thin Air and the Keeper of Tales Trilogy
“Like the best kind of writing, these tales, full of disarming charm and sly wit, both entertain and leave an ache in your heart.”
—Mary Guterson, author of We Are All Fine Here
"A smart, funny pop-culture cocktail, served straight, no chaser. Mixes smooth 100-proof prose with the street-level buzz of a punkish homebrew."
—Paul M. Sammon, author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner
"Haney bravely guides us like Dante into the searing inferno of our collective fantasy life."
—Brin-Jonathan Butler, author of The Domino Diaries and The Grandmaster
"I only have two requirements of book authors. One is that he loves his material. The second is that his sensibility yields insight. Duke Haney is one of a handful of writers I trust implicitly in both categories. In these times of lie and compromise, we need his truth all the more."
—Art Edwards, author of Badge
“I know what you’re saying. Yet another Hollywood book? As if. I’m on a Death Valley trip riding shotgun with Steve Cochran and Sean Flynn and I’m not giving up my seat. Even if there’s no escape hatch.”
—Donna Lethal, author of Milk of Amnesia