Joe Eszterhas

József A. Eszterhás (/ˈɛstərhɑːz/; Hungarian: [ˈjoːʒɛf ˈɛstɛrhaːʃ] born November 23, 1944) is a Hungarian-American writer. He wrote the screenplays for the films Flashdance, Jagged Edge, Basic Instinct and Showgirls. He has also written several books, including American Rhapsody, Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith and an autobiography entitled Hollywood Animal.

Joe Eszterhas
BornJózsef A. Eszterhás
(1944-11-23) November 23, 1944 (age 76)
Csákánydoroszló, Hungary
  • Screenwriter
  • author
Notable works
Gerri Javor
(m. 1974; div. 1994)

Naomi Baka
(m. 1994)

Early life

Eszterhás was born in Csákánydoroszló, a village in Hungary to Roman Catholic parents, Mária (née Bíró) and István Eszterhás.[1] Eszter has lived as a child in a refugee camp in Austria. The family eventually moved to New York City, and then to immigrant neighborhoods in Cleveland, where Eszterhas spent most of his childhood.[1][2] Eszterhas learned, at age 45, that his father had concealed his World War II collaboration in the Hungarian government after the German occupation of Hungary and that he had "organized book burnings and had produced anti-Semitic propaganda."[3]p.201 After this discovery, he cut his father out of his life entirely, never reconciling before his father's death.[4]


Eszterhas went on to be a senior editor from 1971 to 1975 for Rolling Stone. He became a National Book Award nominee for his nonfiction work Charlie Simpson's Apocalypse in 1974.[5] Cantrell v. Forest City Publishing (1974)[6] involved Eszterhas and is one of only two false light cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. As a reporter for The Plain Dealer, Eszterhas covered the aftermath of the collapse of a bridge across the Ohio River.[7] The article included a supposed interview of the widow of one of the fatal victims of the collapse. Months after the accident, he and a photographer visited the home of Margaret Cantrell. She was not home, but he talked to the children as the photographer took photos. His Sunday magazine feature focused on the family's poverty and contained several inaccuracies. Eszterhas had made it seem as though he spoke to her, describing her mood and attitude in the story. Cantrell filed suit for invasion of privacy, and won a $60,000 judgment in her favor. The decision was overturned in the Court of Appeals on First Amendment grounds, but in the end, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the original judgment in her favor.[6]

Screenwriting and fame

Eszterhas' first produced screenplay was F.I.S.T., directed by Norman Jewison. Eszterhas contributed to the script of 1983's highly successful Flashdance, and wrote the screenplays for Jagged Edge, Jade, Betrayed, Sliver, and Basic Instinct. In 1989, Eszterhas planned to leave Creative Artists Agency because an old friend was restarting his agency. Michael Ovitz, then the chairman of CAA, threatened to prevent CAA actors from acting in Eszterhas' future projects. Eszterhas wrote a letter that loosened the stranglehold that CAA had on Hollywood.[failed verification][8]

In 1995, Eszterhas wrote Showgirls, which won that year's Golden Raspberry Award for "Worst Screenplay". Despite the negative press, the film enjoyed cult success on the home video market, generating more than $100 million from video rentals[9] and became one of MGM's top twenty all-time bestsellers.[10]

Following the success of Basic Instinct, Eszterhas produced two films in 1997, both of which he wrote: Telling Lies in America and An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn. Burn Hollywood Burn, about a director named Alan Smithee who films a big-budget bomb and then tries to destroy it, flopped at the box office. It did win several Golden Raspberry Awards, four of them awarded to Eszterhas himself: Worst Picture (Eszterhas was the film's uncredited producer), Worst Screenplay, and both Worst New Star and Worst Supporting Actor for a brief on-screen cameo.[citation needed]

The failure of Burn Hollywood Burn took a toll on Eszterhas' career: none of the screenplays he wrote between 1997 and 2006 were produced. However, Children of Glory, a Hungarian language film based upon his screenplay, was released in 2006. The film focuses upon both the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the Blood in the Water match at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Children of Glory was entered by invitation in the official section of 2007 Berlin Film Festival.[citation needed]

In 2011, it was announced that actor-director Mel Gibson had commissioned a screenplay from Eszterhas: a historical biopic on Judah and The Maccabees, titled M.C.K.B.I.[11] The film was to be distributed by Warner Bros. The announcement generated controversy.[12] In a 2008 interview, Eszterhas had written that "Mel shared the mind-set of Adolf Hitler."[3]

In a February 2012 interview with Andrew Goldman of The New York Times, Goldman said to Eszterhas: "[Gibson's] film The Passion of the Christ was widely considered anti-Semitic. Then, during a 2006 arrest for drunken driving, he ranted that 'the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.' Is he the right director?" Eszterhas' reply was: "... Adam Fogelson, Universal Pictures' chairman, said to [Gibson], 'Why do you want to do this story?' Mel said, 'Because I think I should.' I liked that answer very much." When asked about their shared Catholic faith, Eszterhas said of Gibson, "In my mind, his Catholicism is a figment of his imagination."[13] By April 2012, Warner Bros. had cancelled the project; the film's last draft was dated February 20, 2012.[11] Eszterhas claimed the break was caused by Gibson's violent outbursts and anti-Semitism,[14] while Gibson blamed a bad script.[15] Eszterhas later wrote a book, Heaven and Mel, about his experiences working with Gibson.[16]

Other works

Eszterhas has written several best-selling books, including Hollywood Animal, an autobiography about politics in Hollywood,[17] which superimposes his life as a young immigrant in the United States on his life as a powerful Hollywood player. A third book, The Devil's Guide to Hollywood, was published in September 2006.[18]

His book Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith was published in 2008.[3] It tells the story of his return to the Roman Catholic Church and his new-found devotion to God and family after surviving a throat cancer diagnosis in 2001. Eszterhas admitted smoking four packs of Salem Light cigarettes a day, as well as drinking heavily.[19] He underwent surgery to remove 80% of his larynx, and had a trachea fitted.[20]

Eszterhas wrote a book about his experiences with Mel Gibson and anti-Semitism, titled Heaven and Mel, wherein he portrays Gibson as a man fueled only by hatred, prone to violent outbursts.[21] Among many damning statements is Eszterhas' claim that while staying at Gibson's Costa Rican estate to work on a script, he became so afraid that he slept with a golf club in his hand.[22]

Personal life

In 1974, Eszterhas married Gerri Javor. They had two children together and divorced in 1994. That same year, Eszterhas married Naomi Bakar, and they had four children.[citation needed] In 1990, Eszterhas learned that his father was then being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice for writing anti-Semitic propaganda in Hungary during the 1930s and early 1940s. He refused further contact with his father after this revelation, which he later claimed to have regretted, saying "When [my father] was in a Hungarian old-age home, the nurses kept calling and saying, 'He's dying, and he needs to see you.' Not going was a huge mistake. I’ve asked God to forgive me, but I don’t think I’ll be forgiven."[13] Eszterhas is a Republican.[23]


Unproduced screenplays

  • The Doctor's Wife based on the novel by Brian Moore for director Karel Reisz (1977)[24]
  • The Plutonium Project – based on the life of Karen Silkwood – for Jane Fonda (1977)[24][29]
  • Rowdy – about the Alaska pipelines – with director Alan J. Pakula (early 1980s)
  • Nark – adapted from one of his own books (early 1980s)
  • City Hall – written with Jim Morgan – sold for a then-record price of $500,000 (early 1980s)
  • Bad Guys (1984) – a thriller for Lorimar[30]
  • Platinum (1981)
  • The Bouncer (1980s) – a thriller set at a resort
  • Beat the Eagle (late 1980s)
  • Sacred Cows (1990) – about the US president who has sex with a cow[31]
  • Original Sin (1991) – woman who enlists a talk show host to put her on his show to find an ex-lover. The lover in question shows up, and our heroine is soon involved with both him and the talk show host.
  • Reliable Sources (1990s) – about a young reporter whose actions covering a story leads to someone losing their life. Based on an experience Eszterhas had while a young journalist.
  • Male Pattern Baldness (1990s)
  • Foreplay (1994) - paid $1 million advance[32]
  • Gangland (1994) – biopic of John Gotti.[33] Eszterhas was paid a record $1.6 million (against $3.4 million).[28]
  • Die Shot
  • The Maccabees (2012) – film for Mel Gibson


  • 13 Seconds: Confrontation at Kent State, Dodd: Mead 1970, with Michael Roberts
  • Charlie Simpson's Apocalypse, New York: Random House, 1973, ISBN 0-394-48424-X, OCLC 650572.
  • Nark!, San Francisco: Straight Arrow Books, 1974
  • American Rhapsody, Vintage, 2001, ISBN 978-0-375-41144-1, OCLC 44602385
  • Hollywood Animal, Alfred A. Knopf, 2004, ISBN 0-375-41355-3, OCLC 52858561.
  • The Devil's Guide to Hollywood, 2006, ISBN 978-0-312-35987-4, OCLC 65207145.
  • Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith, St. Martin's Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-312-38596-5, OCLC 213300974.
  • Heaven and Mel, Amazon Kindle Single, 2012, ASIN B0087PTQ96


  1. "Joe Eszterhas Biography". Retrieved 2010-10-07.
  2. Chutkow, Paul (December 24, 1989). "From the 'Music Box' Emerges the Nazi Demon". The New York Times.
  3. Esztherhas, Joe (2008). Crossbearer: a memoir of faith. New York City: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 978-0-312-38596-5. OCLC 213300974.
  4. Waxman, Sharon (March 18, 2004). "In a Screenwriter's Art, Echoes of His Father's Secret". The New York Times. Retrieved December 20, 2019.
  5. "National Book Awards – 1975". National Book Foundation. Archived from the original on 2011-09-09. Retrieved 2016-11-25.
  6. Cantrell et al. v.Forest City Publishing Co. et al., 419 245 (U.S. (1974)).
  7. Eszterhas, Joe (August 4, 1968). "Legacy of the Silver Bridge". The Plain Dealer Sunday Magazine. p. 32, col. 1.
  8. "Tuesday, 23 October 2012". Letters of Note. 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
  10. "MGM's official page for Showgirls DVD". 2007-04-28. Archived from the original on 2007-04-28. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
  11. Waxman, Sharon (April 16, 2012). "The Joe Eszterhas 'Maccabees' Script: Bloody Butchery, Heroic Jews". The ducjk. Los Angeles. Retrieved August 8, 2012.
  12. "Jewish Leaders Slam Mel Gibson, Warner Bros. for Judah Maccabee Movie (Exclusive)". Retrieved 2020-06-16.
  13. Goldman, Andrew (February 2, 2012). "Joe Eszterhas Sure Cleaned Up". The New York Times.
  14. "Joe Eszterhas' Letter to Mel Gibson". The Wrap. Los Angeles. April 11, 2012.
  15. "Eszterhas and Gibson part ways on Maccabees". TMZ. April 11, 2012.
  16. Rabin, Nathan (August 21, 2012). "Joe Eszterhas' Heaven And Mel: proof he and Mel Gibson deserve each other". The A.V. Club. Los Angeles: j2 Global. Retrieved September 20, 2016.
  17. Eszterhas, Joe (2004). Hollywood Animal. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-375-41355-3.
  18. Eszterhas, Joe (2006). The Devil's Guide to Hollywood: The Screenwriter as God!. (U.K. edition) Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7156-3670-1.
  19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-08-09. Retrieved 2016-07-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. "February 6, 2009 ~ Joe Eszterhas | February 6, 2009 | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS". Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2020-06-16.
  21. Eszterhas, Joe (2012). Heaven and Mel, Amazon Kindle Single. ASIN B0087PTQ96
  22. Joe Eszterhas' interview on The Howard Stern Show, June 27, 2012
  23. Waxman, Sharon (July 20, 2016). "Joe Eszterhas: Trump Is an 'A–hole,' but I'm Still Not Voting for Hillary (Exclusive Video)". The Wrap. Los Angeles.
  24. Kilday, Gregg. (Apr 2, 1977). "Stallone Wins Heavyweight-Purse". Los Angeles Times. p. b6.
  25. Lee, Grant. (May 28, 1977). "FILM CLIPS: Tony Bill's Open Door Policy". Los Angeles Times. p. b6.
  26. MAUREEN DOWD (May 30, 1993). "Bucks and Blondes: Joe Eszterhas Lives The Big Dream: Joe Eszterhas Lives the Dream". New York Times. p. H9.
  27. "Paramount & Eszterhas: Not Your Basic Movie Deal". The Washington Post. Nov 11, 1992. p. B3.
  28. Eller, Claudia (14 October 1994). "COMPANY TOWN Top Dollar for Movie Idea Screenwriter Eszterhas Gets a Record-Setting Deal". Los Angeles Times. p. 1.
  29. Laskos, Andrew. (Apr 10, 1977). "The Detour in the Path of 'Silkwood': Movies A Legal Battle of Constitutional Rights in 'Silkwood' 'Silkwood' Snarled in Legal Battle". Los Angeles Times. p. n1.
  30. London, Michael. (Dec 19, 1984). "NAACP VOTES TO STAY ON 'QUIET DIPLOMACY' PATH: FILM CLIPS". Los Angeles Times. p. k1.
  31. Simon Brew. "The fate of the $26m scripts Joe Eszterhas sold in the 90s". Den of Geek. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
  32. CLAUDIA ELLER | TIMES MOVIE EDITOR (May 19, 1994). "Sale of Eszterhas Script Scores a Screenwriters' Breakthrough – latimes". Retrieved 2017-06-26.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  33. Dana Kennedy (1994-08-12). "Joe Eszterhas Opens Up". Retrieved 2017-06-26.