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'Party Animals,' the fabulous life of Allan Carr

PARTY ANIMALS: A Hollywood Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll Starring the Fabulous Allan Carr, by Robert Hofler. Da Capo Press, 308 pp., $15.95 paper.

The excesses and outrageous misjudgments of Allan Carr, the openly gay, morbidly obese, caftan-loving talent manager, party promoter and producer, are best exemplified by two projects he oversaw that bookend the 1980s: the disco-disaster Village People movie "Can't Stop the Music" (which he also co-wrote) and the infamous Academy Awards show of 1989, which opened with Rob Lowe and Snow White singing a hooray-for-Hollywood version of "Proud Mary." There were triumphs, too: Carr produced the 1978 smash "Grease," the highest-grossing movie musical of all time until 2008's "Mamma Mia!," and 1984's multi-Tony winner "La Cage aux Folles." Energetically chronicling Carr's hits and misses, author Robert Hofler champions the completely apolitical but consistently outré Carr as an "accidental gay activist," whose "unspoken goal" was "to bring gay into the Hollywood mainstream."

Apart from the occasional awkward construction ("On that breath of contentious air") and factual goof (drag activists the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are identified as the Sisters of Perpetual Indignity), the worst part of Hofler's breezy book is its unwieldy, misleading, vanilla title - suggesting a frat-house kegger in which Carr has only a supporting role. (Odder still, there's a photo of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in their "Grease" costumes on the cover.) Yet Hofler, a senior editor at Variety and the author of "The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson," clearly delights in documenting the popper- and cocaine-fueled bacchanals at Carr's Beverly Hills residence/ pleasure dome, where he hosted such legendary events as the Rudolf Nureyev Mattress Party while rent boys, muscled Hollywood hopefuls and A-listers of both genders grooved (and then some) in Carr's basement "AC/DC Disco."

In fact, Hofler is so fascinated by his subject's unapologetic flamboyance and voracious appetites (for food, men and drugs) that he devotes just one chapter to Carr's childhood and background. It's a wise structural decision, with little armchair psychoanalysis to interfere with the story of how a spoiled, tubby, movie-mad only child born Alan Solomon in Highland Park, Ill., in 1937 became both the ringleader of Caligulan orgies and a shrewd showman. Or, as Marvin Hamlisch, one of Carr's clients, puts it: "There was the wild guy for public consumption and then there was this very smart guy who listened to people and listened to ideas and knew when to act on them and knew how to get things done."

Not everyone thought so highly of Carr. "Grease" co-star Stockard Channing calls him "a nasty mother figure"; Arthur Laurents, Jerry Herman and Harvey Fierstein, the creative team behind "La Cage aux Folles," referred to the moody producer as "Flo," short for menstrual flow. Though no one can claim that Carr, who died in 1999, left behind a great cinematic legacy, Hofler attempts to redeem "Can't Stop the Music" by calling it "Hollywood's first, and only, big-budget gay musical." Carr's greatest production may have been himself, fiercely flaming in deeply closeted Hollywood and unafraid to call out higher-ups like then-Paramount chief executive Barry Diller: "Barry can't believe that a queen who wears caftans and is so out and visible could make as much money as I did. Because of 'Grease,' I made him sign the biggest check he has ever signed, and he will never forgive me."

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