Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood book cover.png
First edition cover
AuthorQuentin Tarantino
Audio read byJennifer Jason Leigh
CountryUnited States
PublisherHarperCollins/Harper Perennial
Publication date
June 29, 2021
Media typePrint (paperback, hardcover), e-book, audiobook
ISBN9780063112520 (paperback)

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel is the 2021 debut novel by Quentin Tarantino. It is a novelization of his 2019 film of the same name.

It debuted at number one on The New York Times' fiction best-seller list.


See also: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood § Plot, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood § Character details

According to Tarantino, the novel is "a complete rethinking of the entire story" and adds details to various sequences and characters, including multiple chapters dedicated to the backstory of Cliff Booth.[1] The novel also departs from the film; the film's finale occurs towards the beginning of the novel, and its aftermath includes Rick Dalton earning newfound fame as a regular on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.[2] It also focuses on Charles Manson's pursuit of a music career[2] and the "inner worlds" of Sharon Tate and Trudi Frazer.[3]

There is a chapter dedicated to the Manson Family's "creepy crawls". In it, Manson instructs "Pussycat" to break into a wealthy, elderly couple's house while they are sleeping.[4]: pages80-97  Manson encouraged going into wealthy unvacated homes, which the Manson girls would enter and steal valuables. He taught them to wear dark clothing and "crawl" through the house. The term "creepy crawl" was invented by the Manson girls.[5]: 163 

Tarantino explains the inner thoughts of the controversial Bruce Lee–Cliff Booth fight, saying that Booth tricks Lee into the fight and Booth is fighting his own instinct to murder Lee more than Lee himself.[6] Booth is a "ringer," a stuntman brought in and paid on the side to hurt actors who "tag" (hit for real) stuntmen. Lee does this and Booth believes Lee's kung fu is all for show and screen, and that judo is a superior martial art. Booth is brought in as a ringer to the sets of Hurry Sundown and The Wild Wild West, where he hits Otto Preminger and Robert Conrad in the face, "knocking [them] on their ass[es]".[4]: pages202–215  "Pussycat" refers to Booth as "Mr. Blond," the alias of Vic Vega (Michael Madsen) in Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.[7]

The novel includes an entire chapter on the career of Lancer lead, James Stacy.[8] It also contains a chapter detailing how Booth came to own his pit bull, Brandy,[9]: stated at:59:00–1:00:00  and another chapter focused on Booth living in France after escaping from a Filipino jungle as a POW.[4]: pages259-269  Tarantino based the Brandy and POW chapters on true stories.[9]: stated at:1:00:00–1:01:00 

Critique is given on a large amount of mid-century films and filmmakers through the minds of Tate, Dalton, and Booth.[8] The latter is a movie buff, who believes Michelangelo Antonioni is a fraud and has given up on the films of Federico Fellini. However, he is a fan of Akira Kurosawa, Alan Ladd, and erotic films, some of which he views at the (now Tarantino-owned) New Beverly Cinema. When he goes to see I Am Curious (Yellow), "Cliff wanted to lick the screen."[8][2] The character's appreciation of pop music is expressed in the novel as well. While Roman Polanski hates Bubblegum music, Tate silently likes it. She notably enjoys Ohio Express's "Yummy Yummy Yummy" and "Chewy Chewy," Bobby Sherman and his song "Julie, Do Ya Love Me," and The Royal Guardsmen's "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron". "She liked The Monkees more than The Beatles." Booth is an avid Tom Jones fan, and especially of the song, "Delilah," because as Tarantino states, "Cliff is partial to songs about guys who kill their women."[8]

Tarantino wrote another scene in the novel that he also had in the screenplay of the film and shot but did not include because of pacing and timing concerns. It is the final part of the novel and involves a phone call between Rick Dalton and Trudi Frazer played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Julia Butters in the film, on the evening after their day shooting Lancer together. They do a line reading and reminisce about the day and Trudi reminds Dalton how lucky they are to do what they do, making him genuinely realize "for the first time in ten years... how fortunate he is and was." Tarantino said, "that was my favorite scene in the script. I think it was probably Leo's favorite scene that he shot. We were in tears... Julia and I were in tears every time we finished every take."[10][4]: pages392–400 

Lancer plot

The novel includes several chapters detailing Lancer's backstory as a "mini-novelization-within-a-novelization."[8] It has been described as though "you've landed in a Louis L'Amour novel."[11]

In Royo del Oro, California Scott and Johnny Madrid Lancer arrive on a Butterfield stagecoach. The two brothers each received telegrams summoning them. They are greeted by their little sister, eight-year-old Mirabella and ranch hand Ernesto. Their father Murdock is the richest man and owner of the biggest cattle ranch in the territory. Mirabella's mother died in a tragic accident.

Scott Foster Lancer, like his brother Johnny was born on the ranch but left at age three. He moved to Boston and was raised by his mother's wealthy family in Beacon Hill. Scott is a Harvard graduate and military veteran of the British Indian Army's Bengal Lancers where he earned two medals of bravery. He is currently earning a living as a riverboat gambler and rumored to have killed the son of a United States senator in a duel.

Johnny Madrid Lancer left the ranch when he was ten and was raised in Mexico by his mother Marta Conchita Louisa Galvadon, a musician, dancer and prostitute. After Marta left, Murdock spent five years searching for her and Johnny but to no avail. One of Marta's customers murdered her when Johnny was twelve. After the man was acquitted at trial, Johnny killed him and every member of the jury over the next ten years, which he took pleasure in. Ever since, he wanted to murder his father. Johnny has become an infamous gunfighter and dime novel legend being compared to the likes of Tom Horn and Billy the Kid. Murdock was finally able to track him down with the help of a Pinkerton detective.

Cattle poacher Caleb DeCoteau (an evil Hamlet-Edmund-cowboy De Sade) who is going insane due to syphilis, and his land pirates (Old West Hells Angels) had come to Royo del Oro to poach Murdock's livestock. They also terrorized the town, took over the saloon and hotel, whipped several men including the mayor and murdered Murdock's oldest friend and top ranch hand George Gomez. Once at the ranch, Murdock offered his sons equal stake in the ranch if they would help him fend off DeCoteau and the pirates.

DeCoteau and Johnny know each other and are on friendly terms. This and Johnny hating his father leads to him having an inner conflict and he considers helping DeCoteau. Johnny goes to town to meet with DeCoteau about possibly joining his posse but before he enters the saloon he is confronted by another hired gun of DeCoteau, Business Bob Gilbert. Johnny and Gilbert have a duel resulting in Gilbert's death. Johnny enters the saloon and sits down with DeCoteau without him knowing that he is Murdock's son. He agrees to join DeCoteau's gang but is still unsure if he will kill his father or DeCoteau.

DeCoteau later kidnaps Mirabella and negotiates a ransom with Scott. Mirabella is purity personified and the most precious thing to not only Murdock but also now Johnny and Scott. Scott walks into the saloon to see DeCoteau sitting on his "throne" with Mirabella in his lap. The negotiations lead to DeCoteau arranging for Murdock to meet him in Mexico with ten thousand dollars. With Johnny still in his gang DeCoteau discloses to him that if he is not paid he will murder Mirabella. Johnny reveals that he is Murdock's son, both men draw their pistols, and Johnny shoots DeCoteau dead. : pages130–140, 178–189, 236–240, 270–286, 311–321, 395–399 


In November 2020, Tarantino signed a two-book deal with HarperCollins. On June 29, 2021, he published his first novel, an adaptation of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood in paperback, eBook, and digital audio editions.[12] A deluxe hardcover was released on November 9, 2021.[13] The deluxe edition contains Once Upon a Time in Hollywood memorabilia, including a script for an episode of Rick Dalton's Bounty Law, entitled Incident at Inez written by Tarantino.[13][9]: stated at:33:00–35:00  Tarantino stated, "In the seventies movie novelizations were the first adult books I grew up reading ... And to this day I have a tremendous amount of affection for the genre."[12]

The audiobook is narrated by Jennifer Jason Leigh, who previously starred in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight.[14] According to Tarantino, her Hateful Eight character Daisy Domergue was "A Manson girl out west, like Susan Atkins or something."[15] On June 21, 2021, a trailer for the novel was released, containing never before seen footage from the film and narrated by Kurt Russell, who was also the film's narrator.[16]


See also: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood § Character details, and The Films of Rick Dalton

Many fictional and historical characters appear in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, including Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, and members of the Manson Family. Other characters who appear in the novel include:[4]

Other historical figures who appear as characters or are mentioned include[4]


Critical response

Dwight Garner of The New York Times said, "[Tarantino is] not out to impress us with the intricacy of his sentences. [...] He's here to tell a story in take-it-or-leave-it Elmore Leonard fashion. [...] He gets it: Pop culture is what America has instead of mythology."[2] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian wrote: "Tarantino made a career alchemising movie trash into gold [...] Now he's done the same with ... the pulpiest of pulp fiction. [...] The book is entirely outrageous and addictively readable on its own terms."[3] Charles Arrowsmith of The Washington Post praised the novel's "authentically pulpy atmosphere" and Tarantino's "explosive dialogue" as being "almost as effective written down as read aloud."[29]

Katie Rosseinsky of the Evening Standard wrote, "It's hard to escape the feeling that Tarantino is writing his own fanfiction - albeit with undeniable flair."[30] Kayleigh Donaldson of Pajibi said, "Tarantino's skills are not best suited to the form of the novel... It's almost fascinating how [the novel] makes the film less interesting."[31]


Upon publication, it became the number one selling book on Amazon.[32] The novel debuted at number one on The New York Times fiction best-seller list in its first week.[33]


On September 1, 2021, Quentin Tarantino won the 2021 Writer Of The Year GQ Men Of The Year award for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.[34]


Main article: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (music) § Novel

The novel contained printed lyrics of five credited songs not heard in the film with the permission of Hal Leonard LLC.[4]: 401 

Second novel

Main article: The Films of Rick Dalton

In June 2021, Tarantino revealed he wrote a complementary novel about the films of Rick Dalton, which he plans to publish.[9]: stated at:45:00–47:00 


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