"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"I'm not an actor! I'm a movie star!" -- Jack and the Jungle Lion, a Novel by Stephen Jared

When I finished reading Stephen Jared’s new novel, Jack and the Jungle Lion, I thought immediately of that terrific line from My Favorite Year, a film about a swashbuckling star who knows what he is and proudly proclaims it. Jared’s fictional 1930’s-era action movie hero, Jack Hunter, is just such an archetypal movie star. In the grand tradition of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, Jack is a handsome, dashing champion of damsels in distress and fearless adventurer on screen. In his private life, Jack is everything you might expect in such a star, and less. He is handsome, charming, a little bumbling and rather spoiled in luxury, with a very healthy ego, and no more fearless than the average moviegoer. Jack discovers a lot about himself as the story develops, and Jared creates a delightfully endearing character that you just can’t help but like.

Jared describes Jack and the Jungle Lion as “A Romance of Adventure,” and that is exactly what it is. Set in the dazzling years of 1930’s movies, the book takes the reader on a sharply-paced, first-rate ride from Jack’s sumptuous Hollywood home to an unexpected and dangerous trek through the jungles of South America and back again. Jack the spoiled movie star returns from his all too real adventure a better man, just as charming and irresistible as ever, but with a genuine strength and realistic insight into his own character. He also stumbles upon love for a most unusual woman in a most unusual situation.

Jack Hunter’s story is narrated by a man who remembers Jack as his father’s friend. Jack had thrilled the young boy with many of his tales of adventure, and the captivated youngster never forgot them. The boy, now grown, introduces himself in the book’s prologue, then steps out of the way to let the story unwind on its own. We first meet Jack in his home, where he lives in a convenient but loveless marriage with Theda Lomond, a star of silent films whose career has stalled. Theda is determined to get back in the limelight, and very little else matters to her, including her husband. It isn’t really a hardship for Jack. He is not exactly emotionally invested in the showbiz marriage either. The household includes Jack’s tight-lipped, all-seeing butler, Mr. Quigg, who rarely makes his personal opinions known except with an upraised eyebrow or artfully silent response.

In the midst of studio ballyhoo and screaming fans, Jack climbs aboard a shining Ford Trimotor airplane to fly to South America to shoot his latest film on location. Jack’s idea of “on location” is a lovely city where he can get all the cocktails and comforts he wants. He boards the plane to find that he is accompanied by the movie’s animal trainer and two children, Tyler and Lindy. We also meet a key character, co-pilot Clancy. He is star-struck and childishly overjoyed to meet Jack Hunter. He is friendly, and he is also a drunk. The animal trainer, by the way, is a beautiful and tough lady named Maxine Daniels. During the flight, Jack does get to South America, but not the way he expected. The plane goes down into the uncharted jungle, and the adventure begins.

“Action Jack” as he is called, finds himself in a situation where his talents are of no use, at least not in the beginning. Jack, still dressed in his best tuxedo, does not feel the least bit heroic. He falls into a hole with sharp sticks on the sides, and Max informs him that the Jivaro tribe makes such traps and the sticks are poisoned. However, she serenely informs him that the poison must be old or he would be dead already:

Turning white as a sheet, he slapped at his torso and limbs for more sticks, and removed his jacket and fiercely shook it. Perspiration dripped from his forehead.
“All right, just calm down,” Max said soothingly.
“Calm down? Calm down? I’m not used to these kinds of circumstances! You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little hysterical!”
....... Tears welled in the actor’s eyes. “I feel funny,” he said in a high-pitched, breaking voice.
“I’m telling you, you’re fine.”
“Well, that’s great!” said Jack, nearing a state of emotional collapse. “I’ve got a few more minutes to live till something else happens! Our plane crashed! We’re lost somewhere in South America! I fell in a poison-stick pit!”
....... ”Here’s a hanky for your nose,” offered Max.

Thus begins the relationship between Jack and Max, which makes as many circles and turns as the plane on its way down. Jared’s characters are as colorful and appealing as any in Jack’s adventure movies -- Max, the children who adore Action Jack, Clancy, a native boy named Chonjo, a trader named Umberto Allejandro Quinto (“Call me Pepe”), and a capuchin monkey who adopts Jack for his own. The odd troupe of stranded strangers have to work together through the dangers and perils of the jungle, and Jack, finding courage in himself he didn’t even know he had, strives to live up to the image most of them believe about him, particularly the children:

“Captain Gunner and the Lost City of Gold. Revenge of the Python Men.” The marooned maintained their westerly direction while Tyler rattled off names of pictures that starred his movie hero, Action Jack Hunter. “Fighting Ace and the Spell of the Voodoo Women. And the one with that jewel that would get real bright…”
“Desert Paradise of Doom,” Jack recalled.
“No, it was Treasure of the Sahara Sky.”
“It was? Oh, that’s right.”
“You were in the desert in Africa. Don’t you remember?”
“Or the ever versatile Culver City. Sure, I remember. Oh, the fun we had.”
……. Lindy’s blue eyes looked up at Jack through thick glasses. “Do you remember the scene where you danced with the princess in that ballroom in Cairo?....... That was my favorite part.”
“I’d be happy to show you a few steps once we’ve returned.”
Lindy bit her lower lip, embarrassed, and said “Okay, thanks,” and hurried to catch her brother …….

When the real perils begin, Jack finds the hero in himself who wants to save the companions he has come to care for, and he puts himself in real trouble to do so. When Max is embroiled in what Jack and Clancy believe to be an insurmountable danger, Jack sees the great disappointment in Tyler and Lindy:

……. Devastated, Tyler dragged his feet to a hammock, sulking. His sister’s shoulders slumped.
Jack watched the children for a moment and then again cast his gaze into the dark jungle ……. “What are we if we have no courage, Clancy?”
The tubby copilot ……. took deep breaths and rubbed his potato head, having a pretty good idea where this was going.
Jack whirled to the kids ……. “What do you say we rescue the beautiful princess from the dreaded chest pounders of doom?”

Jared has written a book that plays like a movie in the reader’s head. It probably should be a movie – I would spend the money for a ticket. I would like to enjoy more stories about Jack. Actually, I would like to meet Jack! Jared has published articles in the style of journalism, but Jack and the Jungle Lion is his first foray into the genre of novels. His book is a great read, and like the formula of movie success for Pixar, it has that unique mix of humor that adults appreciate, as well as what I believe is a book well-suited to the 10-14 age group of readers as well.

Stephen Jared is a working actor and writer, and if you would like to know more about him, visit his personal website at http://www.stephenjared.com/.  Be sure not to miss Jared’s special website about Jack and the Jungle Lion at http://www.jackandthejunglelion.com/.  It includes wonderful pictures and materials, particularly a fictional 1935 interview with Jack by a critic who is a caustic cross between Alexander Wolcott and H.L. Mencken. The critic considers Jack kind of a no-brained ninny, and the interview is hilarious. The beautifully nostalgic artwork for Jared’s novel was created by Paul Shipper of PS Studio, DPI. Shipper has a page on the website for Jack and the Jungle Lion, and you can learn more about him at his own site, http://www.myblog-blog.psstudiodpi.com/.   The book can be purchased through its website, at select bookstores and through Amazon.

Reviewed by Rebecca Barnes, March 15, 2011


  1. Rebecca, this sounds exactly like my kind of book! But I've never heard of it. Thank goodness I checked your blog today! Great review!

  2. Becky,
    I feel like a proud sister today! So excited for you and this was such a beautifully written book review. I know Mr. Jared is very proud of you as well.
    Cheers and congrats!

  3. Becky,
    Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Sounds like the kind of read we classic film fans will love!

  4. Becky, What a wonderful book review. This does sound like a book that I would like.

  5. great review, becky...It actually made me WANT to read the book...I like your comment about Wolcott and Mencken....throw in Dorothy Parker and you have CERBERUS!!!

  6. Hi Becky: You did a better job than I in reviewing the book. Check out my post for a five-questions interview with Stephen: http://www.classicfilmboy.com/search/label/Stephen%20Jared He was a great guy to communicate with via e-mail, and I've like him to continue the series!

  7. Thank you all so much -- I was lucky to have a really fun, good book to review. I think any classic film lover would get a real kick out of it. (I can say that in good conscience because I get no monetary reward for it! LOL)
    Classicfilmboy, that is quite a compliment from you, but I bet it isn't true. I tried to pull up your interview, but had no luck. I'll try again -- maybe I typed something wrong.

  8. We have a mutual admiration society going on ... people are going to start talking LOL You did a grat job. The important thing is that Stephen get the recognition, and I want him to write another installment.

  9. Ah, CFB, let 'em talk! If writers don't appreciate each other, a lot of the time nobody else will! LOL! I really hope Stephen does another one too.

  10. Great review Becky - I'll have to check out that book! I'm proud of my big sister!


  11. Becky, I don't read a lot of fiction, but this sounds like an adventurous and comical read. Enjoyed reading your review. BTW, I kind of kept thinking of William Powell when you were describing Jack...not sure why, but he sprung to mind a few times.

  12. Thank you, Caftan Woman! It's a really good read.
    Amy, I'm glad you liked my review. You know, I think Maddie would get a real kick out of the story of this book. I'm going to have Tony and Eileen read it.
    Kim, Powell could be really good. Jack made me think of David Niven or Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in their young years.

  13. Becky, because of the wonderful job you have done on your blog. Ive awarded you the "Stylish Blogger award" (Details over at Noir and Chick Flicks).

  14. Becky, I am a huge fan of 'the golden era' as well as action adventure. I went out and got the book on Amazon after reading your review - your a fantastic reviewer. This Stephen Jared is really talented! Man, I wish new Hollywood would get a hold of this book and make it into a movie. Course now I'm thinking about who they'd cast who has that classic debonair quality with a comedy touch - question everyone: who would you cast if Jack and the Jungle Lion was a movie? I think as Jack I would cast Robert Downey, Jr. and as Max I would cast - that's a hard one - all the young actresses today are too comtemporary. As the old pilot, I would cast Sean Connery and the kids...hmm again. Ideas anyone?

  15. Hey, I made a sale! It is a fun book, isn't it Anonymous (wish I knew who you are!) I can think of all kinds of classic era actors I would pick, but modern ...you know, I have always thought he does the wrong kind of movies, but Hugh Jackman is so handsome and funny (remember when he hosted the Oscars?), I think he could be a good Jack. In his tux with his charm, he looked like a 1930's type in every way!

    You are right about casting Max -- so many of the modern actresses in their 20's are so cookie-cutter similar, it's hard to single one out. Especially since they come and go like busboys in a restaurant, and there seems to be a Hollywood law that after they are 28, they disappear! LOL. I'll have to think about that one.

    Now my brain pictured a Thomas Mitchell type for Clancy the pilot. Irish, soused, stockier build. John Candy would have been good, but of course he is not available. But Lord, ANYBODY but Jack Black -- not my favorite, obviously. I need ideas for this one too. The kids from Jurassaic Park were wonderful, but what are they now, in their 40's? LOL

    I hope someone comes back to this post with ideas!

  16. Hello, it's Stephen Jared here. I read through all these comments and wanted to say thanks so much for the interest. Most especially, thank you Becky for the review being such that it has inspired feedback from your readers.

    As to the comment from anonymous, you do have me scratching my head, trying to think of appropriate modern actors. I like Becky's idea of Jackman. He did a great job in that film with Meg Ryan (can't think of the title) and Jack has a similar sensibility to the character he played there. I think Antonio Banderas could play Jack. He handled dashing hero while comedic goof really well as Zorro. I'm stumped as well on the actress. If this year was 1939 and I was a loudmouth movie mogul, I'd call Jean Arthur.

    My first reaction to Connery as Clancy was that he's not right, but now as I remember him being so funny in Indiana Jones, I think that could be a good idea, although he's getting up there in age (not to mentioned retired). Possibly Burt Young who played Paulie in the Rocky movies. Might be too old now as well though, I don't know.

    Thanks again for your interest! Any feedback on the book is always welcome and greatly appreciated. Best wishes, Stephen

  17. Hey anon here. Becky I like your idea for Hugh Jackman for the role of Jack. Can he do an American accent? I know I mentioned Sean Connery for the pilot - he probably wouldn't do an American accent, but hey - he's Sean Connery! Burt Young is also a great idea for the pilot...hmmm. Not sure I like the idea of Antonia Banderas for Jack..he's a great actor and very old Hollywood, but maybe too debonair. I am open to suggestions. Bottom line the book is stand alone as a great book. It's just so visually written and I love old movies. Anyone?

  18. Anon, you really aren't going to tell me who you are, are you? Ack! Drives me crazy -- however, you do have the right to remain silent! LOL!

    I did think of one contemporary actress who could do Max -- Amy Adams. She is one I like, and I think she might be able to pull it off. Hugh Jackman is still my first choice for Jack, but I thought of someone else too -- John Cusack. He is such a good actor, has done some bad movies, but I think he could do it! He has a great sarcastic subtlety in humor. Stephen's idea for Burt Young as Clancy is good, but I do think he might be too old now. I'll still have to think about that one. As for the kids, well, any good child actors could do it. They grow up so quickly you would have to wait until the shooting started to cast it anyway!

    As you said, Anon, it's fun to theorize casting a film of the book, but the book itself is just plain fun on its own merits.

  19. Hey, Anon, I just discovered I'm brilliant... John C. Reilly for Clancy. Remember him as poor husband Amos in "Chicago"? He'd be just right! Or, William H. Macy -- not quite the physical type as in the book, but that man can play anything!

  20. Becky, thanks for steering me toward your wonderful review of Stephen Jared's JACK AND THE JUNGLE LION! Between your loving, lively review and the Web site, you've really piqued my interest. Now the trick is for me to have both money AND time at the same time. I'll figure something out -- until then, I'm rooting for JACK... to be discovered and treasured by other readers with our superb taste! :-) Good luck to Stephen Jared!