Niven Busch (1903-1991) was successful as both a screenwriter and a novelist. He worked on some two dozen film projects between 1932 and 1955, including The Westerner and The Postman always Rings Twice. Beginning in 1939, Busch wrote fourteen novels over the next fifty years. About half have California settings. Many of his later books were best-sellers. The Actor marked the end of both his stay in Hollywood and his association with the film industry.
The Actor by Niven Busch. Simon and Schuster (1955), 248 pages.
Dan Prader, a former star of Westerns, is now a stunt man. Dan's income no longer matches his lifestyle. His wife's jealousy and his taste for younger women are making his marriage difficult. Old friends are put off by his insecurities. Dan has long been estranged from his son, Harold, a movie director. The son, who doesn't use his father's last name, has so far failed to make his mark in Hollywood. Then Harold gets his big directorial break on a movie for which his father may also land a job. Dan's task would be to perform a dangerous stunt that involves riding a horse off a cliff into the ocean. It's an open question whether father and son can work amicably together on the picture.
This novel appears to be heading for one sort of conclusion, so the ending is an unwarranted surprise. Aside from that, the book provides an acceptable read. The characters are thoughtfully if not compellingly drawn. They may not be fully under the author's control, however. The stunt man’s wife, for example, is probably more obnoxious than Busch realizes. The washed-up actor theme is a bit hackneyed, but the writing style is smooth. Absent is the concern for social issues that marks some of Busch’s earlier novels. Modern readers will probably find little of interest here, though fans of Hollywood fiction may enjoy the book.