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Tinseltown, Meet Rust Belt

Esquire writer Scott Raab takes on Hollywood as only a native Clevelander can. We talked to him about his new book and found out why Sean Penn and Bill Murray are the celebrities most likely to fit in here.
Erick Trickey
Scott Raab is 56, a little pudgy, a loud-voiced quick talker, the exuberant boy he used to be one moment, a ranting man the next.

The Mayfield High and Cleveland State grad is our city’s voice in national-magazine racks, a writer for Esquire since 1997, GQ before that.

He doesn’t just happen to be from Cleveland, doesn’t just drop an occasional burned-river reference. Clevelandness runs deep through his chip-on-shoulder prose and attitude toward famous profile subjects.

“To the extent I am grounded, it helps keep me grounded,” he says over lunch with me and his son, Judah. He’s in town to promote Real Hollywood Stories, his new collection of 20 celebrity profiles.

“I’m a Clevelander. ... I’m not wowed by your money, I’m not wowed by your beauty, I’m not wowed by your fame,” Raab says, describing his approach to writing about Hollywood’s biggest names. “Let’s drop any pretense of top-down, and let’s try to have a real human connection.”

So in 1994, when basketball star Dennis Rodman would meet him only at a tattoo parlor — “I wanted to hang out, share his pain, ask him about Madonna” — Raab not only went along, he went under the needle and got Chief Wahoo inked into his forearm.

Raab took Drew Carey to a Los Angeles bowling alley, betting a dollar a pin. To test Carey’s hometown loyalty, Raab baited him with a single name: John Elway. Carey snarled hatefully that he still won’t perform in Denver out of revenge for the Broncos’ 1987 playoff comeback that kept the Browns from the Super Bowl.

“It was just a couple of fat guys from Cleveland, sitting around, still mourning a loss,” Raab recalls.

Real Hollywood Stories is filled with Raab’s judgments of the celebs he’s interviewed, from harsh to admiring.

Check back for the entire story Aug. 29.

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