A Memoir of
Houghton Mifflin, 2008
An award-winning account of life in the film industry.
A key grip, as Smith explains in this extraordinary memoir, is the
person on a film set who supervises rigging of lights, set wall
construction, dolly shots, stunt preparation, and more. Smith worked in the film industry throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s
For him, fame by association with the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Susan
Sarandon, and Robert DeNiro was just one of the seductive drugs
that fueled his days on the set. The intertwined stories in Key
Grip resurrect memories of how his fathers impossibly
ordered life became a goad for Smiths own reckless ascent
into manhood. His journey included a stint as a pioneering sport-parachuting
instructor in the late 50s, a young mans dream job that taught
the author all he needed to know about hiding fear behind bravado.
Much later, as a committed writer and unredeemed seeker in his fifties,
Smith lights out across the country in a brave, existentially failed,
and very funny attempt at a Lakota vision quest. Beautifully told,
reminiscent of both Robert Bly and Ian Frazier, Key Grip
is a fascinating record of the fault lines of one mans life.
Smith spent much of a tumultuous life in one glamorous endeavor, filmmaking,
wishing he were in another, writing. How he evolved from thrill-seeking, drug- and
alcohol-besotted low man on the Hollywood totem pole to sober, insightful writer is the
subject of this moving, gently written memoir made up of 12 loosely connected personal essays,
in which he touches on such diverse topics as love of skydiving, ambivalence about his family, and
struggling repeatedly with chemical addiction. As the books title implies, Smith also spends a lot of
time discussing the film industry—how he found work in it, whom he met, the niche he occupied,
what a key grip does (rigs lights, prepares dolly shots, does last-minute construction), and
why he stayed in the field despite long hours, grueling pace, and exploitative producers.
Altogether, a wise, intensely readable autobiography that should please those who
enjoy reading about transformation-filled life journeys and those who like
a spoonful of gossip to make the life lessons go down.
Jack Helbig, Booklist
Key Grip is a nonstop pleasure.
Dusty Smiths tale of coming
of age two or three decades after most people do is filled with
introspection, brilliant social observation, and compassion. And
He says more in each sentence than most writers do in an entire chapter.
Devilishly subtle and brilliantly unpredictable,
Key Grip is one of the best memoirs Ive read in years.
Purchase Key Grip