Horns And Halos

Thoroughly engrossing and ultimately tragic, this fascinating documentary follows the strange story of Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President, the warts-and-all, horns-and-halos biography of George W. Bush, that briefly became a media sensation when Bush was on the campaign trail in 1999. A year earlier, St. Martin's Press...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Thoroughly engrossing and ultimately tragic, this fascinating documentary follows the strange story of Fortunate Son: George W. Bush and the Making of an American President, the warts-and-all, horns-and-halos biography of George W. Bush, that briefly became a media sensation when Bush was on the campaign trail in 1999. A year earlier, St. Martin's Press agreed to a proposal to publish a biography of the then-Texas governor by former science-fiction writer J.H. Hatfield, whose previous work included a Lost in Space trivia book and celebrity biographies of Patrick Stewart and Ewan MacGregor. St. Martin's thought they were getting a quickie campaign biography that would get a priceless publicity boost from Bush's candidacy. What they got was an extensively researched, highly unflattering profile that claimed in an explosive afterword that Bush had been busted for cocaine possession in 1972, and that his father, then future president George H. Bush, used his considerable influence to have the record expunged. The fact that Hatfield refused to divulge his anonymous sources didn't seem to faze St. Martin's, and the book hit the shelves in early October, 1999. It was quickly pulled less than a week later, and St. Martin's decision to "suspend publication" and recall some 70,000 books wasn't simply case of a corporate publisher bowing to pressure from Bush family lawyers. The truth was far more sensational. On October 21, the Dallas Morning News reported something that Hatfield had conveniently left out of his author's bio: In 1988, he'd had been found guilty of attempted murder. But the story didn't end there. Undeterred by the fact that Hatfield had lied about his past, Sander Hicks, the 29-year-old founder of Soft Skull Press, a tiny, New York City outfit with a punky attitude and the gumption to go where St. Martin's dare not, agreed to publish Hatfield's book — a decision that would nearly take down the company. Nothing about this story is quite what you'd expect (the inevitable defamation suit doesn't come from the Bush camp at all) and filmmakers Suki Hawley and Michael Galinsky do an excellent job of arranging their material for maximum effect, while remaining admirably objective. What could have easily devolved into a cheap infomercial for Fortunate Son is instead a tragic tale of an author with noble intentions and a sordid past, who became his own worst enemy.

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