For awhile, all anyone in Hollywood talked about was Joe Eszterhas. Depending on whom you talked to, he was either the most brilliant thing to happen to movies and screenwriting or he was responsible for much of the sleaze in the mid-1990s. Whatever the case, Eszterhas had an impressive resume. He left a journalism career with Rolling Stone in the 1970s to pursue screenwriting, which led to films like F.I.S.T., Flashdance, Jagged Edge, and a couple other little films like Basic Instinct and Showgirls — which made him rich and famous and notorious and the whipping boy of culture warriors everywhere. Also he was known for being a chain-smoking, frequently drunk self-promoter with a foul mouth and an even fouler disposition. In a career retrospective, Slate’s David Plotz described Eszterhas as having “devoted his career to the artful composition of smut and violence.”
But other than a bestselling 2004 memoir called Hollywood Animal — which was praised for its rawness but also reviled because in it he boasted about all the actresses he’d bedded and roasted the entertainment industry execs who’d crossed him — he’s been out of the public eye for nearly a decade.
We learned this year, though, that Eszterhas found Jesus. His faith is one in a long line of surprising conversions, starting with Saul of Tarsus and continuing on through Bob Dylan and, well, Stephen Baldwin and that guy from Korn, I guess. Suffering from throat cancer and having left L.A. to return to Cleveland, where he grew up, Eszterhas hit the end of his rope in 2001. He gave up smoking and drinking and (apparently) cussing, and returned to the Catholicism of his childhood. He’s now a profoundly — if unconventionally — religious man, and this month saw the release of Crossbearer, his spiritual memoir about his conversion and the years that followed.
I haven’t read it, although I listened to an interview with him on NPR and he seems pretty sincere about his faith. Others, though, have questioned the timeline of his conversion. He got religion in 2001 and turned away from his wicked ways — to put it in evangelist-speak — yet somehow still wrote a tell-all memoir in 2004 that was peppered with all the familiar seediness and sleaze for which Eszterhas was known. Hollywood Animal, to put it bluntly, wasn’t a very Jesus-y book. (You can read some excerpts here, but be forewarned that you probably won’t want to read it with your grandparents or children or Sunday School teacher looking over your shoulder.)
Anyway, there’s not much point to this post except to say I love it when unconventional people end up pursuing or finding or surrendering to faith. It doesn’t always make us comfortable — wait, that guy‘s a Christian? — and we’re not always too pleased with the results. But if God could do great things with a mealy mouthed murderer like Moses or a murderous adulterer like David or a pretty much insane prophet like Ezekiel or a cowardly, impetuous disciple like Peter…well, surely he can use a naughty screenwriter like Joe Eszterhas. That’s the beauty of grace.