PERSONAL: Married; children: two daughters. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, travel, tennis, motorcycling, and cooking.
ADDRESSES: Home—Los Angeles, CA.
CAREER: Writer. Adjunct member of faculty, University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism. Staff writer for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Variety, and Newsweek. Columnist and reporter for radio, television, and the Internet.
High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
(With Charles A. Moose) Three Weeks in October: The Manhunt for the Serial Sniper, Dutton (New York, NY), 2003.
(With Howard Dully) My Lobotomy: A Memoir, Crown Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
The Ivory Coast, St. Martin’s Minotaur (New York, NY), 2002.
After Havana, St. Martin’s Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.
WITH STEVEN R. SCHIRRIPA
A Goomba’s Guide to Life (nonfiction), Clarkson Potter Publishers (New York, NY), 2002.
The Goomba’s Book of Love: How to Love Like a Guy from the Neighborhood, Clarkson Potter Publishers (New York, NY), 2003.
Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family (young adult fiction), Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2005.
The Goomba Diet: Living Large and Loving It (nonfiction), Clarkson Potter Publishers (New York, NY), 2006.
Nicky Deuce: Home for the Holidays (young adult fiction), Delacorte Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, and TV Guide.
SIDELIGHTS: Charles Fleming’s book High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess documents the excesses of life behind the scenes in Hollywood. The book focuses on producer Don Simpson, who died in 1995 at age fifty-two. Simpson, with a filmmaking partner, was responsible for launching a new genre of action-packed, loud, and violent thrillers, such as Beverly Hills Cop, Crimson Tide, and Top Gun. Simpson was known for his demanding excesses; on the set of Top Gun he hired prostitutes and dressed up as an animal trainer, forcing the women to engage in demeaning games. After rising rapidly through the ranks at Paramount Studios, Simpson spent incredible sums on prostitutes, drugs, and other perks. Later, his career fell into ruin, helped in part by an employee’s sexual harassment suit and by a studio system, under his direction, that favored excessive production costs and exorbitant star salaries. According to a Publishers Weekly review, the author’s true aim in the book is a recounting of the indulgences of Simpson and his peers, rather than a discussion of the transformation in film-making that Simpson helped facilitate.
Time reviewer Jeffrey Ressiner found the treatment of Simpson’s life sad, although he admitted that fans of the “big American popcorn movie” would probably be fascinated with the details of excess on a Hollywood movie set. Ironically, Simpson’s life, lived hard and with lots of drug use, ended when he suffered a heart attack sitting on the toilet and reading. Ressiner implied that Fleming tells his readers more than they might want to know about Hollywood decadence (such as a chapter that mentions testosterone implants in Simpson’s buttocks). Reviewer Eric P. Nash wrote in the New York Times that the book “at times reads like a Jackie Collins novel with footnotes,” and further claimed that the author “fails to get under [Simpson’s] skin.” A Publishers Weekly reviewer, however, gave Fleming credit for offering up juicy information “in a dishy, insider’s finger-wagging style.”
Fleming collaborated on several books with Steven R. Schirripa, the actor who portrayed the character of Bobby Baccalieri in the Mafia-themed television show The Sopranos. A Goomba’s Guide to Life, The Goomba’s Book of Love: How to Love Like a Guy from the Neighborhood, and The Goomba Diet: Living Large and Loving It, all of which humorously look at the lifestyle of urban Italian Americans, were best sellers. The two men also collaborated on two young-adult stories, Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family and Nicky Deuce: Home for the Holidays. The title character in these books is a suburban teenager who has never visited the Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood where his Italian-American father grew up. Unexpectedly, he is sent to live there for a while after his summer camp is forced to close. Nicky learns about his family’s culture and develops a fondness for his uncle, Frankie, despite his fear that Frankie is involved with organized crime.
Fleming also collaborated on several nonfiction books, including My Lobotomy: A Memoir, written with Howard Dully. Dully was a high-spirited child being raised by a stepmother who disliked him intensely when, in 1960, he was taken to Dr. Walter Freeman, who at the time was promoting lobotomy as a cure for all manner of personality disorders. Though Dully showed no real signs of mental instability, he was quickly diagnosed as a schizophrenic who could benefit from lobotomy. In a procedure that took approximately ten minutes and cost about two hundred dollars, Freeman inserted an ice pick behind Dully’s eye to damage the frontal lobe of the brain. Dully thus became one of 10,000 patients treated by Freeman in this way. Freeman, who did not have a license in psychiatry, was both celebrated and vilified at various points in time. He was the same doctor who lobotomized Rosemary Kennedy, the mentally retarded sister of former president John F. Kennedy; he was highly praised for his work in the New York Times, and he traveled around the country advertising the procedure from a vehicle known as the “Lobotomobile.” In many cases—including Dully’ procedure failed to produce the desired result. Dully went on to a life of abuse, homelessness, and drug use before eventually turning his life around while in his forties. At that time, Dully began investigating Freeman, his methods, and his motivations, as well as his own parents’ motivation for subjecting him to the procedure. Eventually, Dully narrated a documentary for National Public Radio that sparked widespread outrage over the practice of lobotomy. “His story is at once horrifying and inspiring,” said Deirdre Donahue in USA Today. Some reviewers were most impressed by Dully’s personal tale, relating how he took control of his own life. According to the Publishers Weekly reviewer: “What is truly stunning is Dully’s description of how he gained strength and a sense of self-worth realizing how both Dr. Freeman and his stepmother were themselves damaged by their own family histories, and then forgiving them for the damage they did to his own life. William Grimes mused in a review for the New York Times Online: “It is not clear whether he fully recognizes the other mystery that haunts his story: Was it the lobotomy or his feelings about it that shaped his life? As he delves into his wretched childhood and the twisted psychology of his father and stepmother, his operation seems less like a turning point than an overcharged symbolic event. In a curious way, this only makes the story more intriguing.”
Fleming offers fast-paced fiction in his two novels The Ivory Coast and After Havana. Both feature Deacon, a jazz trumpet player. The first novel is set in Las Vegas, where Deacon is asked by a casino owner to carry out a murder. The plot also turns on the planned opening of an all-black casino, an event that is threatened by the racism of Las Vegas’s top police officer. It is “a thoroughly engaging tale,” according to Bill Ott in Booklist. In the sequel, After Havana, Deacon has fled to Cuba and assumed the name of a murdered man, Peter Sloan. Working as a musician at the Tropicana nightclub, he is stunned when, one night, his lost love Anita walks in on the arm of a wealthy patron. When Anita is kidnapped by Castro’s rebels, a strange rescue party is put together to find her. The result is “rousing entertainment,” according to a Kirkus Reviews writer.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, January 1, 2002, Bill Ott, review of The Ivory Coast, p. 817; February 15, 2004, Bill Ott, review of After Havana, p. 1041.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of The Ivory Coast, p. 1629; November 1, 2003, review of After Havana, p. 1287.
Los Angeles Magazine, February, 2002, “Hail to the Chief,” p. 93.
New York Times Book Review, May 10, 1998, William P. Nash, review of High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, March 30, 1998, review of High Concept, p. 60; January 14, 2002, review of The Ivory Coast, p. 44; November 17, 2003, review of After Havana, p. 41; June 4, 2007, review of My Lobotomy: A Memoir, p. 40.
School Library Journal, December, 2007, Sarah Flowers, review of My Lobotomy, p. 162.
Time, May 11, 1998, Jeffrey Ressiner, review of High Concept, p. 82.
USA Today, September 27, 2007, Deirdre Donahue, review of My Lobotomy, p. 5.
All Readers,http://www.allreaders.com/ (March 7, 2008), Harriet Klausner, review of After Havana.
Charles Fleming’s Home Page,http://www.charlesfleming.com (March 7, 2008).
International Herald Tribune Online,http://www.iht.com/ (September 17, 2007), William Grimes, review of My Lobotomy.
New York Times Online,http://www.nytimes.com/ (September 14, 2007), William Grimes, review of My Lobotomy.