In Julia Phillips’s recently reissued memoir, “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again,” from 1991, the late movie producer offers the following reflection: “In L.A., there are only three things to do: work, drugs, and have a nervous breakdown. In my case the work was for the drugs and the drugs were for the work, and then when there was no work at all I had the nervous breakdown.” The observation, despite its glibness, concisely sets up the central dynamics of Phillips’s tale, which appears to be about drugs but is more significantly about work and the difficulty of escaping the ouroboros of production and consumption. In 1973, at only thirty, Phillips—who died in 2002, of cancer—became the first woman to win a Best Picture Oscar, for producing “The Sting” along with her husband at the time, Michael Phillips, and their business partner, Tony Bill; she later produced classics like “Taxi Driver” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Her cocaine-fuelled rise up the ranks of the newly risk-taking Hollywood of the nineteen-seventies was as swift as it was heady. “I get on a plane at night, meet a new P.R. guy, read my list of interviews for the next day, have dinner, take a valium, sleep, wake up, have some blow, knock ’em dead and get on a plane,” she writes of promoting a movie as a young producer. The automaton-like cycle repeats itself for quite a long time, until it doesn’t—until the “grandiose expression of consumption that coke inspires: cars, jewelry, furs, trips, houses, presents and messengers” sinks Phillips financially, and the “frenzy of overconsumption” becomes more toil than fun.
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