Julie Crawford, our main protagonist, attempts to deliver a message to producer David O. Selznick who is atop a massive tower supervising the burning of Atlanta, the first scene shot for the 1939 epic film Gone with the Wind. Skirting around the conflagration, she is accosted by Andy Weinstein, Selznick’s charmingly cynical assistant, who escorts her up the ladder and into Selznick’s own fire of ire. He strongly chides her for being late with the missive and then introduces her to the petite, green-eyed Vivian Leigh.
It is the Golden Years of Hollywood and Julie, newly-minted graduate of Smith Collage straight from the provincial town of Forth Worth, Indiana, is a young copygirl with stardust in her eyes. She has come to Tinsel town hoping to become a movie scriptwriter. Not getting the gruff and demanding producer the message on time does not bode well for Julie or her fledgling career. But after meeting vivacious and down-to-earth Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, reluctantly cast in the role of Rhett Butler, her luck changes. She becomes Lombard’s personal assistant and is swept up in the torrent and turmoil of the greatest love affair in celebrity history, Taylor/Burton and Pitt/Jolie not withstanding. Dating Andy and working with Lombard, the stardust falls from her eyes. She starts to learn the true realities of life – and love — behind and beyond what she soon realizes is a tarnished silver screen. All is not stardust, indeed, as Julie comes to grips with racial, class, and ethic prejudices; her strict, staid parent’s disapprovals; the overcast threat of war; and the uphill struggle to become a writer – a career whose doors are all but closed to women.
Alcott’s second literary historical novel (The Dressmaker is her first) reads like a finely crafted movie with true-to-life, well delineated characters playing out their roles in a succulently mesmerizing plot line set against the easily visualized scenery of a dazzling and daunting pre-WWII Hollywood. Alcott (pseudonym of novelist Patricia O’Brien) peppers her fictional narration of Julie’s forays into filmdom with historical facts and little-known Hollywood lore gleaned from her husband’s (Frank Mankiewicz) family. These personal touches salted throughout this engaging novel add dimensions of delight seldom found in other similar novels. Perfectly timed to be released during the continuing celebration of the 75th anniversary of the release of Gone with the Wind. A Touch of Stardust is an Oscar-winning novel not to be missed by movie lovers and literary aficionados alike.
Cut! And…Fade to black.
Reviewed by June J. McInerney
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