Sunday, December 21, 2014

‘How to Survive in Hollywood and Keep Your Integrity’ (Book Review)

It often seems like everyone’s looking to “make it” as an actor in Hollywood. Not surprisingly, we can find a plethora of how-to books available to show the way. A recent one is How to Survive in Hollywood and Keep Your Integrity (2013) by Toni Covington (IMDb), an actress whose credits include parts in TV’s The Thin Man (1957–1959) and the films The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960) and Buster Ladd (1969).

Readers just getting started in their acting careers will probably get the most out of this book. They’ll learn how to outline an appropriate resume and navigate through the often confusing world of actors’ unions. There’s also some good advice about keeping a good attitude, making use of your other talents (like singing, dancing, and playing sports), and accepting unusual roles. The author encourages her readers to not limit themselves to the usual feature film, theater, and television trio but to consider “industrial films, documentaries, religious films, [and] training films” that will provide them with much-needed experience.

While on the surface How to Survive might look like a goldmine of information, I’m skeptical about how far it will really get an aspiring actor. Ms. Covington’s advice can be categorized as basic, outdated, or incomplete. Yes, the reader needs to find a good agent and photographer, but how exactly is that done? And it might make sense to accept unusual and small roles to build experience, but the author doesn’t show how to prevent getting stuck, as many actors do, in bit part and commercial work. Also, while this probably wasn’t intentional on her part, she perpetuates the idea that modeling is the gateway job to acting. Actors come in all ages, shapes, and sizes; models have to be perfect. I would hate to see someone who showed real promise in acting be discouraged because of not being able to infiltrate the cut-throat world of modeling first.

There’s also the matter of keeping one’s integrity, a central point of the book, which I thought needed a more serious treatment. The author tries to discourage her readers from trying to “sleep their way” to success. Ultimately, I think she fails. By her own telling, her acting career stagnated when she turned down a proposition from a TV and film executive (who, by the way, took seconds to find – thanks to Google, IMDb, and the prevalence of online obituaries – despite her attempt to mask his identity). In other words, the moral lesson appears to backfire. While the book might be about surviving, most readers are interested in succeeding. Ms. Covington never landed the big leads that would give her the credibility readers are looking for. Yes, How to Survive can provide acting novices with some things to seriously think about. But since most of the information can be found – better written and in far more detail – on websites, in other books, and directly from industry professionals like an acting coach and talent agent, I’m left unconvinced that she’s the authority to turn to.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book as a First Reads giveaway winner on There was no obligation to write a review.