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Paste-ups by Mr. Brainwash | © SliceofNYC/Flickr
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8 Books with New York City Celebrity Cameos

Picture of JW McCormack
Updated: 5 September 2017
Celebrity cameos are, of course, the provenance of motion pictures, whether it’s Alfred Hitchcock making one of his signature walk-ons in The Birds or Vanilla Ice’s memorable turn in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. But authors occasionally get in on the action too: Stephen King frequently appears in adaptations of his work, Thomas Pynchon, Gore Vidal, and Jonathan Franzen have all appeared on The Simpsons and Slaughterhouse Five author Kurt Vonnegut put in an appearance in the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School. But occasionally literature gets to return the favor, with a few memorable walk-ons from celebrities that provide thematic color and choice dialogue. Below, a few New York personalities – and some Hollywood types – as they appear in eight contemporary works of fiction.

Tom Cruise in American Psycho by Bret Eason Ellis

The classic novel of 1980s excess in New York is famous for dropping names – and it’s the brands, chic nightspots, and soliloquy’s on the majesty of Whitney Houston that make American Psycho what it is. But one of the novel’s most hilariously sinister touches is having Tom Cruise live in the same building as protagonist Patrick Bateman, who manages to get the name of 1988’s Cocktail wrong, telling the movie star he loved him in “Bartender.”

Courtesy Vintage
Courtesy Vintage

Lenny Bruce in Underworld by Don DeLillo

Actually, the epochal Underworld is studded with historical figures who exude Americana, from New York Giants batter Bobby Thomson to Frank Sinatra and Richard Nixon. But comedian Lenny Bruce makes the most memorable impression, in an extended and unforgettable riff in which he repeats what could well be a mantra for all of DeLillo’s creations, “We’re all gonna die!”

Courtesy Scribner
Courtesy Scribner

Elizabeth Taylor in Crash by J.G. Ballard

Crash is one of the most dynamic, perverse, and unclassifiable English novels of the 20th Century, in which we enter into the underground world of car crash enthusiasts. The leader of this group of fetishists is the “TV Scientist” Vaughan, whose own fantasy is the ultimate collision, which he pursues in the novel’s climax, with a car containing none other than Elizabeth Taylor.

Courtesy Jonathan Cape/Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy Jonathan Cape/Wikimedia Commons

Nikola Tesla in Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon can do anything and, in the more than 1,000 pages that comprise Against the Day, he does it all. Dozens of characters appear in this sprawling 19th Century adventure story, which opens during the Chicago World’s Fair and is concerned with the technologies that will give us the 1900’s. Hence, it’s no surprise that Thomas Edison’s great rival Nikola Tesla should appear among the crowded cast of assassins, anarchists, and gentleman adventurers.

Courtesy Penguin Books
Courtesy Penguin Books

Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst in The Map & The Territory by Michel Houellebecq

The Map & The Territory is Michel Houellebecq’s Prix Goncourt-winning novel satirizing the contemporary art world before becoming a particularly cold-blooded murder mystery. So it’s natural that the two biggest (and most frequently maligned) stars of the modern art world – Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst – should appear in its opening pages. As a matter of fact, even Houellebecq appears in the course of the novel, as one of the killer’s victims.

Courtesy Vintage
Courtesy Vintage

Stan Lee in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay squeezes all manner of midcentury New York celebrities into its main story of comic geniuses Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, perhaps most significantly a set piece starring Salvador Dali. But in keeping with the book’s superhero themes, Marvel Comics’ own Stan Lee has the best cameo, which predates his cameos in Marvel Studios films like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Courtesy Random House
Courtesy Random House

John Milius in Zeroville by Steve Erickson

Although never referred to by name, Zeroville’s “Viking Man” is a dead ringer for the ostentatious John Milius, who wrote Apocalypse Now and directed both Red Dawn and Conan the Barbarian. Steve Erickson fits many more Hollywood legends into the Mason-era novel, perhaps the most perfect ever written about the City of Dreams. Meanwhile, Milius has proved a popular figure for caricature – he was one of the main inspirations for John Goodman’s character Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski.

Courtesy Europa Editions
Courtesy Europa Editions

Tom Hanks in Gump & Co. by Winston Groom

Gump & Co. is the 1995 sequel to Forrest Gump and continues that novel’s tradition of having the simpleminded Gump cross paths with virtually every historically relevant figure of the 1980s, which in this case includes a young Bill Clinton and – in one of the most meta cameos ever –Tom Hanks, who of course played Gump in Robert Zemeckis’s movie adaptation of the first book.

Courtesy Gallery Books
Courtesy Gallery Books