I am a devout listener to the podcast You Must Remember This, which is quite terrific if you love classic movies and tales from old Hollywood. I highly recommend it. Last month, the podcast went on break and I was left filling a void as big as an “O” in the Hollywood sign. I filled it with fiction.
In Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in the Heavens, Sister Alda Ducci, forced to leave her convent, is hired to be the personal secretary of Loretta Young. The twenty-year old film star is in the middle of making Man’s Castle, but also in the middle of a relationship with Spencer Tracy. Both Young and Tracy are Catholic; Tracy is married. It doesn’t work out. Disappointment and heartbreak abound. But that only sets us up for the real drama: Loretta Young is chosen to star in The Call of the Wild with Clark Gable. The novel mainly focuses on what happens between Young and Gable as they film on location, as well as the fallout of their relationship. Trigiani individualizes each character and relationships are not portrayed as tawdry or depraved as the rumor mill at the time would make them out to be. I appreciated that Alda was a fully developed, interesting character, rather than just service as the framing for the Young/Gable vehicle. It is also a well-written, solid read and it left me wanting more.
So I picked up A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott. Alcott’s book, also published in 2015, is from the perspective of Julie Crawford, an aspiring screenwriter who takes a job as the personal secretary of Carole Lombard, who is in a relationship with (you guessed it) Clark Gable. Gable is getting divorce and filming Gone with the Wind, both very stressful experiences for him; Lombard, looking for a friend makes one of Julie. Unlike All the Stars, the Lombard/Gable romance is happening on the periphery. This is really Julie’s story, which follows her as she ends up working her way into the writer’s room at MGM, has her own relationship with one of David O. Selznick’s producers, and convinces her parents to let her stay in Hollywood, despite it being so different than Fort Wayne, Indiana. I mention Fort Wayne because Julie often states, pretty much every chapter, that Fort Wayne is indeed different than Hollywood. Sound forced? It felt so. Julie seems both naïve and sophisticated—whiny and easy-going—dependent and independent. She is a frustrating character that I didn’t quite understand. Contradictions in character are perfectly fine if earned.
Both books are fun, quick reads and ripe with references from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But All the Stars in the Heavens is by far the better of the two. Prefer to listen to the audiobooks? I really enjoyed Blair Brown’s reading of All the Stars in the Heavens. Also, The Call of the Wild is a great movie and a perfect match for our wintry weather.