Darlene Craviotto’s non-fiction book AN AGORAPHOBIC’S GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD: How Michael Jackson Got Me Out of the House is an interesting, instructive tale of how to get along in Hollywood. It also is the story of how Craviotto, an actress and screenwriter, met Michael Jackson in 1990, how and why she worked with him on a screenplay adaptation of “Peter Pan,” and about how she somehow had to circumvent her long-time case of agoraphobia in order to better fulfill her contract with Disney Films (who’d hired her to write the screenplay in the first place).
AN AGORAPHOBIC’S GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD may sound highfalutin’, but it’s actually written in a down-to-earth manner that adds insight to the overall drama going on. And there was a great deal of drama, though only some of it can be grasped right away.
You see, Jackson was a very shy man, something Craviotto figured out right away, yet as a superstar he was often treated as an object, not as a person. To get past that, Jackson met Craviotto for the first time at a secluded apartment where he stayed “to get away from it all.” At this apartment, he had no servants, no entourage, and was much more low-key than most people would ever believe Jackson could be.
Along the way, Craviotto and Jackson formed a good partnership. (Note that Craviotto, solo, wrote the screenplay, but a major project as it had been conceived by Disney Films — originally, Steven Spielberg was set to direct — must have the input of its superstar, too. That’s one reason why Craviotto listened so hard to Jackson’s input.) His meeting her initially at his private residence was a stroke of genius, as that took some of the pressure off and allowed them both to get down to business.
Later meetings, though, took place at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. (Neverland was named that because Jackson was a huge fan of J.M. Barrie, the man who wrote the various stories about Peter Pan in the first place.) This necessitated longer trips and lengthier stays, all of which tested Craviotto’s mettle.
Along the way, Craviotto rented an office and furnished it (as prior to this, she’d been writing at home; thing is, with little kids growing up, that wasn’t so easy any more), she started taking longer walking trips by herself (starting with a few steps, graduating to a block, then longer as she went), and eventually started driving her car again. Note that while her office was only one block away from her home, this was still a significant step as at first she wasn’t able to walk or drive there by herself; later on, she could do either one.
Eventually, she wrote a dynamite screenplay for “Peter Pan” that was mysterious, spooky, and realistic. This relied upon a more powerful version of Peter than ever previously realized; she’d obtained that insight due to her work with Jackson.
However, by that time, Spielberg has been presented with a different script — one that was more fanciful, one that made Captain Hook into more of a good guy than most “Peter Pan” adaptations — and thus her version of “Peter Pan” never got made.
As a screenwriter, Craviotto points out that this is something she’s had to deal with before. But it had never hurt this much before; that she, personally, had enjoyed Barrie’s work to begin with, then grew to love it even more due to all her work on the screenplay with and without Jackson, made the fact that her screenplay never saw the light of day sting all the more. Craviotto doesn’t flinch from explaining how she felt, either, for which I give her great credit.
The upshot of AN AGORAPHOBIC’S GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD is that it’s an honest piece of non-fiction. It’s wry, insightful prose helps the reader understand a great deal about screenwriting, Hollywood, and Jackson. But it also is a moving rendition of how a professional woman took back her life and career, and juxtaposing the two is far from easy.
The only drawback, and it is quite minor, is that due to Craviotto’s screenwriting background, there are unusual formatting throughout — mostly having to do with underlines and capital letters. These are not wrong, mind you, but they are the more old-fashioned way of doing things when it comes to actual books. Never fear, though; readers should have no trouble understanding just what Craviotto is getting at.
— reviewed by Barb