Working as an assistant to exuberant blonde actress Carole Lombard, who hails from her hometown, Julie gets pulled into the activity surrounding the filming of Gone with the Wind, costarring Clark Gable, the still-married man Carole loves (and vice versa). On and off the set, considerable drama unfolds; all the actors and crew are subjected to the single-minded vision of its controlling producer, David Selznick.
Both Carole and diminutive brunette Vivien Leigh light up the page in their scenes, and Julie’s story line holds its own alongside theirs. As she sheds her midwestern naïveté and works hard on a screenplay in her free time, her romance with a Jewish assistant producer draws in themes of prejudice and hypocrisy.
The briskly paced narrative captivates as it lets readers view the creation of silver-screen magic, and it’s also a terrific tribute to the industry pioneers, like screenwriter Frances Marion, who helped others jump-start their dreams.
A Touch of Stardust will be published by Doubleday next month ($25, hardcover, 304pp). I wrote this starred review for Booklist's November 15th issue. Some additional notes:
- "Kate Alcott" is a pseudonym for veteran novelist and journalist Patricia O'Brien, and this is the only novel of hers written under this name that I've read (the first, a breakout hit, was The Dressmaker).
- However, I thoroughly enjoyed her earlier novel written as O'Brien, Harriet & Isabella, about the relationship between 19th-century sisters Harriet Beecher Stowe and Isabella Beecher Hooker as they revisit the adultery trial of their brother, charismatic preacher Henry Ward Beecher. Apparently this book didn't perform well sales-wise, which eventually led to her adoption of a pseudonym, but I suspect that had less to do with the quality of the story than the fact that the Beecher family are no longer household names. I love this period in American history, though, and highly recommend this underrated novel. I interviewed O'Brien about Harriet & Isabella here back in 2008.
- In addition to everything I mentioned in the review, Alcott also smoothly intertwines a secondary thread involving the African-American actors (Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen) in GWTW, particularly their conflict between the breakout opportunity the film was for them and the demeaning roles they played. Although they were respected as professionals by their fellow actors, this wasn't the case everywhere. In the novel, as in history, Clark Gable was outraged and outspoken on their behalf when they experienced instances of segregation on set and at the time of the film's premiere.
- The cover design has changed since the ARC; the final one, above, is an improvement in my opinion. Very classy.
- A Touch of Stardust is one of 10 titles on the February 2015 LibraryReads list. These are the top 10 reads for a given month selected by public library staff members across the U.S. (as an academic librarian, unfortunately I can't participate in this initiative, but I enjoy seeing what this group comes up with). I've read three of the ten for February and will be posting reviews of the remaining two (The Siege Winter and The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy) shortly.