The adventures of Tookie De La Crème: 13 surprising celebrity novelists

The adventures of Tookie De La Crème: 13 surprising celebrity novelists

1. Lauren Graham, Someday, Someday, Maybe (2013)
For those who have accrued even a modicum of fame, it’s practically a requirement to write some kind of book. Most end up being some kind of memoir or that other favorite celebrity accessory, a children’s book—few people attempt to write novels, and even fewer do it without a professional collaborator or writing thinly fictionalized romans à clef. Although actress Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood) denies that her debut novel is autobiographical, it’s easy to read her life into it: Like the lead character, Franny Banks, Graham was a struggling actor in New York in the mid-’90s, and the book is set in 1995, just before Graham moved from New York to L.A. and landed her first TV gig. Even if the other elements of the story aren’t directly autobiographical, they’re familiar to the “struggling actor” narrative: a dwindling bank account; supportive but doubtful parents; the perfectly good ex-boyfriend waiting back home to settle down; the tug-of-war between the urge to give up and keep going. Franny could continue to follow Graham’s path further: Ballantine Books has asked the actress for another book, and she’s considering moving the story to Los Angeles in a sequel. If Franny ends up on a show called 3rd Stone From The Sun or something, then we’ll know Graham’s entered roman à clef territory.

2. 50 Cent, Playground (2013)
Like most hip-hop superstars, 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) has parlayed his success on the charts into a corporate empire, shilling clothes, movies, and Vitamin Water. Unlike most superstars, he also wrote a YA novel about bullying. Jackson started his literary career with a series of “urban fiction” paperbacks co-written with mono-monikered K’wan. Playground was his first solo venture, about a pudgy young man named Butterball whose conflicted emotions about his mother’s lesbianism leads him to violence. The book is surprising for those familiar with 50 Cent’s oeuvre: It’s light on swearing and gangsta posturing and heavy on suburban life and the issues of young sexuality. The book isn’t a triumph by any means, but it does suggest that behind his usual stories of violence and drugs, Jackson is acutely aware of the struggles of adolescence.

3-4. Naomi Campbell, Swan (1996), Tyra Banks, Modelland (2011)
Models might not be renowned for their intellect, but Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks have managed to churn out novels—about modeling, but novels all the same. Campbell’s book, Swan, tells the story of Swan, the supermodel so globally beloved that she only uses one name. Although Swan has some superficial similarities to Campbell—they’re both English, they’re both models—Campbell models to this day, and Swan bows out of the industry in her early 20s while being blackmailed over the mysterious death of her sister. Banks’ novel, Modelland, is a little less soapy and a little more futuristic, with main character Tookie De La Crème being snatched out of relative obscurity courtesy of a well-placed smize talisman and thrown into a sort of post-apocalyptic model factory, complete with a Thigh-High Boot Camp. De La Crème is trying to run the Catwalk Corridor gauntlet to become an Intoxibella (a supermodel), so Banks clearly modeled some of the character’s situations on her own, but the prose is so ridiculously punny and hokey that there’s no way that any of it is ripped directly from the Top Model host’s life—hopefully, at least.

5. Molly Ringwald, When It Happens To You (2012)
Although engrained in the minds of a generation as the quintessential 16-year-old, Molly Ringwald has found a way to mature, with a role on The Secret Life Of The American Teenager, a midlife memoir (Getting The Pretty Back), and last year’s novel-in-stories, When It Happens To You. Ringwald’s book revels in midlife suburban malaise: an affair with a babysitter, awkward encounters with children at a neighborhood park, parents hiding their grown children’s drug problems. Though her range is limited, Ringwald draws a few compelling characters, including a young boy ardently convinced he’s actually a girl who’s at first encouraged and then shielded by his single mother, and a former children’s television host figuring out what to do with his fledgling acting career.

6. Sidney Poitier, Montaro Caine (2013)
Sidney Poitier hasn’t taken on a film or television role in more than a decade, but the 86-year-old actor has kept busy writing books: 2008’s Oprah-approved The Measure Of A Man: A Spiritual Autobiography, 2009’s Life Beyond Measure: Letters To My Great-Granddaughter, and this year, his first novel, Montaro Caine. It begins with a mysterious coin found in a baby’s hand, which is sent to an MIT lab where the titular student determines that it’s made of materials not found on Earth. Decades later, when another coin surfaces, a larger mystery unravels connected strangers from around the world.

7. Gene Hackman, Wake Of The Perdido Star (1999), Payback At Morning Peak (2011)
Of all the collaborations for Gene Hackman to pursue, a series of historical-fiction novels with underwater archaeologist Daniel Lenihan was probably the least expected. Their first project together, the seafaring 19th-century pirate adventure Wake Of The Perdido Star, was published in 1999, and two more collaborative novels followed after Hackman retired from acting in 2003: 2004’s Depression-set Justice For None and 2008’s Escape From Andersonville, about a Civil War prison break. Although Hackman reportedly has some voiceover work in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film The Wolf Of Wall Street, he’s been far more prolific as a writer recently. His first solo novel, a Western paperback called Payback At Morning Peak, came out in 2011.

8. Johnny Cash, Man In White (1986)
Johnny Cash’s only novel, Man In White, is a fictional biography of St. Paul, the fanatical, murderous enemy of Christianity who experienced a visionary conversion on the road to Damascus and became an equally fanatical proselytizer for the new religion. The book, which Cash began writing in the ’70s, grew out of the same period as The Gospel Road, the 1973 movie about the last days of Christ that Cash produced, co-wrote, and narrated. (He eventually grew frustrated while writing the book and set it aside, only to resume work on it at the urging of Billy Graham.) By the time Man In White appeared, Johnny Cash, the reformed pill-popping wild man, was probably the best-known “saved” figure in popular culture, and the book is most notable for how openly he identifies with Paul, a figure who even hardcore Christians tend to regard as more than a little scary. 

9. Hugh Laurie, The Gun Seller (1998)
Before all the accolades and high ratings he earned as a curmudgeonly know-it-all on House, Hugh Laurie was best known as a comedian of many talents, thanks to his role in the Blackadder series and his comedy duo with Stephen Fry. When he decided to write a send-up of the spy genre, Laurie submitted The Gun Seller under a pseudonym and only revealed his identity once the book was under contract. The story centers on a former Scots Guards officer who gets caught up in a conspiracy of arms dealers, espionage agencies on both sides of the Atlantic, and of course, a few beautiful women. Instead of spoofing the genre like Austin Powers—released a year before The Gun Seller—Laurie injected some well-timed, old-fashioned British humor into a pulpy plot that would fit alongside the old James Bond novels. A sequel has long been in the works, but Laurie’s side-project focus lately has been his fledging music career.

10. Gene Wilder, My French Whore (2008), Something To Remember You By: A Perilous Romance (2013)
Gene Wilder hasn’t performed for film or TV in a decade—he was last seen on a pair of Will & Grace episodes—but the actor, who turns 80 this June, has written two novels in the past five years. The first, My French Whore, follows an American fighting in World War I who gets captured and assumes the identity of a famous German spy. He also falls in with the titular French prostitute, who also harbors a secret. The new Something To Remember You By shifts the setting to World War II, where another soldier falls for a woman who may not be what she seems. Where My French Whore found its protagonist treated like royalty behind enemy lines, Something To Remember You By has its protagonist going behind enemy lines to find the woman he loves. At this rate, maybe Wilder will have a historical novel around 2018 set during the Korean War.

11. Jimmy Buffett, Where Is Joe Merchant? (1992), A Salty Piece Of Land (2004), Swine Not? (2009)
Back in 1973, the liner notes of Jimmy Buffett’s first album were written by novelist Thomas McGuane (who later married Buffett’s sister), a reminder that he had started out as a “singer-songwriter” at a moment when that designation came with some literary cachet. By the time Buffett had become rich and famous as an entrepreneurial performer of novelty sing-alongs, most of that cachet had evaporated, and he finished off what was left of it with a string of books, including various memoirs, children’s stories, and the novels Where Is Joe Merchant?, A Salty Piece Of Land, and Swine Not? No less rambling and anecdotal than his other books, to say nothing of his songs, and loaded with wacky characters carried over from his other work, they suggest a giggly stoner’s imitation of McGuane’s early novels, and might make readers better appreciate Tom Robbins.

12. Sterling Hayden, Voyage: A Novel Of 1896 (1976)
Six-foot-five and once promoted as a “beautiful blond Viking god,” Sterling Hayden didn’t seem like the literary type, and Hayden himself later summed up his early performances as those of “a bumbling boob.” After abruptly quitting Hollywood to enlist in the Marines and serving in the OSS during World War II, Hayden returned to acting and worked with directors like John Huston and Stanley Kubrick, but remained impetuous. In the wake of a nasty divorce, for example, he sailed to Tahiti with his four children in defiance of a court order. When he published his autobiography, Wanderer, in 1963, reviewers were stunned by its quality but consoled themselves with the thought that he’d certainly given himself plenty of material. He impressed them again in 1976 when he published his only novel, Voyage: A Novel Of 1896, a 700-page sea adventure. The 60-year-old author, who steadfastly refused to take much satisfaction in his film work, told an interviewer that he “just bawled” when Voyage was chosen as a main selection by the Book Of The Month Club.

13. Michael Tucker, After Annie (2012)
Since he wrapped up playing cuddly tax attorney on L.A. Law, Michael Tucker has popped up occasionally on other shows, but he’s mainly devoted himself to writing. In 2008, he published “a memoir of food, wine, and love in Italy” called Living In A Foreign Language—its cover photo featured Tucker with his head in the lap of his wife and L.A. Law co-star Jill Eikenberry, in case potential readers were insufficiently jealous—and he made his debut as a novelist with last year’s After Annie. He didn’t have to look far for subject matter: Protagonist Herbie Aaron is half of a celebrity couple, but finds himself lost after his partner dies of cancer. In real life, Eikenberry is a breast-cancer survivor, so maybe After Annie is an alternate-universe version of Tucker’s life.