Hollywood stinks. People say this in hushed, timid tones, but few have ever dared to cut through that stench for fear of what might be uncovered. But there's a hero on the horizon. Enter Bruce Campbell, revving up an unstoppable chainsaw called If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor.
Bruce is best known as the star of the infamous Evil Dead movie series, where his hapless character Ash does battle with hordes of zombies. Bruce is an accomplished actor, with an impressive list of movies, television shows, and video game voice-overs under his belt. If you haven't seen him in the Evil Dead series, you may have seen him as Brisco County Junior, or as the King of Thieves in the Hercules and Xena TV shows. You might have missed his appearances in Coen brothers films, or in big budget films such as Congo or McHale's Navy but Bruce wouldn't hold it against you. See, Bruce doesn't care much for star status. And in Chins, his autobiography, he aims to cut the complex machinations of Hollywood down to the level the average Joe would understand.
"Our fascination as humans with fame and fortune, that's an old story, it's just that Hollywood is the latest manifestation of it," Bruce muses. "Sports and entertainment, it's like the last of the Gold Rush, where a guy like Tom Arnold, who was a hog butcher ten years ago, bang!, on McHale's Navy he's making five million dollars or whatever the hell he made. As result, you get a lot of people who don't really deserve, or even know whether they should be there or not." Blame movies and television for transmitting misleading messages to the masses. "First of all, it's telling people that if you go to Hollywood you're hip, and then it's telling folks how endlessly fun it all is, and how you hardly have to work at all in order to make big piles of money, and you get carried around on pillows. I think all of those shows should be punished for bringing out the hordes of morons that should never have been there in the first place."
If anyone ever carved out a space in Hollywood, it was Bruce Campbell. Hailing from the grand vistas of Royal Oak, Michigan, Bruce got his first theatrical break at age 14, performing in The King and I. Bruce connected with pal (and now Hollywood director) Sam Raimi in a high school drama class in 1975. Raimi, Campbell, and a handful of others put together the Metropolitan Film Group to shoot such amateur epics as Three Pests in a Mess and Bogus Monkey Pignut Swindle.
Unlike most of his mainstream counterparts, Campbell has remained true to his humble beginnings in his book. "I kept a real basic record of events, and then another buddy of mine had copious journals that he wrote every day since the '70s, so he was a good reliable source if I wanted to find out the real scoop."
In writing If Chins Could Kill, Bruce wanted to tell the tale of the people who aren't on the A-list. "In Hollywood, the second tier really doesn't really exist," he explains. "It's like when you're running for president. If you're elected president you get everything — you get the secret service, you get Air Force One — you're the most powerful man in the world. If you lose, you gain 20 pounds, grow a beard, and teach. Hollywood and the media, frankly, don't really cover all the other thousands of people who work in a big industry and who actually do make a living. What's their story?"
Their story is Bruce's story. He writes about what he knows, with no-nonsense, dry wit. And he's even humble. "We got up to 19 on the New York Times bestseller list. I laughed my ass off. I got a call from my publisher, and he told me the book's on the New York Times list. I said 'What book?' The guy goes 'Your book, your book.'"
It's no surprise that Bruce has seen success in both the motion picture and publishing industries. We are attracted to his work because Campbell is clearly one of us. We understand his language, and are compelled to maniacally hack the Hollywood myth to bits.
"I just want the average person to know that Hollywood is just Hollywood, it shouldn't be that big of a deal one way or the other. I think that we've been putting celebrities and athletes and politicians up on pedestals for too long, and I think it's really dangerous. I'm just trying to represent what I think understand to be straightforward information, hopefully some of it's funny, and hopefully some of it's informative."
Originally printed in Exclaim Magazine, Nov. 2001 edition. James Keast, editor.