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Joe Eszterhas

Joe Eszterhas

Josef Eszterhas is a controversial Hungarian-American screenwriter best known for his work on the films Basic Instinct and Showgirls. He is the son of Istvan Eszterhas, a Hungarian novelist.

Early forays in journalism

Prior to his involvement with screenwriting, he was a reporter with the Cleveland Plain Dealer and, later, a writer for Rolling Stone.

During his stay at the Plain Dealer, he gained his first touch of notoriety due to his handling of color photos of Vietnam's My Lai Massacre, which depicted American soldiers murdering Vietnamese civilians.

Although annoyed at his newspaper's apparent lack of belief in the authenticity of the photos, the paper permitted Eszterhas to try and sell them for $125,000. Some media outlets, however, used the photos without permission, causing the photos to decline in value. He ended up receiving only $20,000 from Life magazine.

Screenwriting and fame

His first screenplay to be produced was F.I.S.T., directed by Norman Jewison, although most of it was rewritten by Sylvester Stallone. He then contributed to the script of 1983's highly successful Flashdance. Most of Eszterhas's other work in the 1980's was in relatively low-profile films.

Eszterhas came back into the limelight in 1992, writing the screenplay for Basic Instinct. The screenplay resulted in him being accused of homophobia and misogyny; nevertheless, he was paid $3 million for the screenplay (the highest amount of money paid for a screenplay until Shane Black received $4 million for The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996). In 1995 he wrote Showgirls, which was directed by Paul Verhoeven who also directed Basic Instinct. His screenplay appeared to confirm earlier accusations of misogyny and won that year's Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Screenplay.

He turned his eye to producing following Basic Instinct, making two films in 1997, both of which he wrote. The first one, Telling Lies in America, was generally well-regarded with critics and audiences, but was not a great box office success. The second was the infamous flop, An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn, which won several Golden Raspberry awards, of which Eszterhas won two: another Worst Screenplay and one for Worst Supporting Actor (a cameo in which a caption described him as a penile implant). Afterwards, the Worst Screenplay award was renamed The Joe Eszterhas Dis-Honorarial Award.

None of Eszterhas's screenplays have been produced since 1997. However, he currently has nine undeveloped screenplays which have sold for a combined total of $20 million. He has also written several novels.

He has been married twice, has six children, and is currently recovering from throat cancer after having been a militant smoker. Due to his current advocacy against tobacco in movies, the New Jersey anti-tobacco youth group REBEL awarded him the Fight the Good Fight award in 2004.


Note: This profile was written in or before 2005.

Joe Eszterhas Facts

OccupationScreenwriter, Producer
BirthdayNovember 23, 1944 (72)
SignSagittarius
BirthplaceCsakanydoroszlo, Hungary

Selected Filmography

Not available.