Dustin Beall Smith


Books by Dustin Beall Smith
Key Grip
A Memoir of
Endless Consequences

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 father’s impossibly ordered life became a goad for Smith’s own reckless ascent into manhood. His journey included a stint as a pioneering sport-parachuting instructor in the late ’50s, a young man’s 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 man’s life.

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“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 book’s 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 Smith’s tale of coming  
of age two or three decades after most people do is filled with wit, scathing  
introspection, brilliant social observation, and compassion. And the writing!
He says more in each sentence than most writers do in an entire chapter.”
—Susan Isaacs   

“Devilishly subtle and brilliantly unpredictable,
Key Grip
is one of the best memoirs I’ve read in years.”
—Robert Atwan   

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Dustin Beall Smith
On the set of the movie
The Groove Tube (1972)