Here on The Flapper Dame, I’m always open to try something new, and today it’s fun to say my first movie related book review for my site is Merton of the Movies!
Written by Harry Leon Wilson, Merton of the Movies was first published 100 years ago in 1919 in the Saturday Evening Post. It was published in book form in 1922. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of its initial publication, LARB books is republishing the classic in a new edition that will feature an introduction by Tom Lutz and forward by Mitra Jouhari. The edition will be released By LARB books on November 19, 2019.
After reading the book, I am surprised the film adaptations have not been well known to the general public, as the plot has the making of a bon fide hit. The book has been adapted in radio, film, as a play, and as a musical. The movie versions were made in 1924 as a silent that has been lost, in 1932 under the title, Make me a Star, and in 1947 under its original name with Red Skelton in the lead.
The story of Merton at the Movies is the template for the “Hollywood Story” trope. In the beginning, Merton Gill of Simsbury, Illinois, is just a sales clerk for Gashwiler’s general store. But Merton has a love affair with all things related to Hollywood and the movies. He decides to take it one step further by taking acting lessons and setting out for Hollywood. What happens next is what all Hollywood newbies discover: The truth of the glamourous facade (for starters, Merton’s favorite actress, Beulah Baxter of the Perils of Pauline serials, has actually been married three times and does not do her own stunts!!!).
After failing auditions and interviews, Merton’s real big break takes off with a chance encounter with Flips Montague (real name: Sarah Nevada Montague) – a comedienne and stunts woman who has been in showbiz her entire life. She helps Merton financially and sets him up with her director friend Jeff Baird. From there, Merton (with a new alter-ego of Clifford Armytage) gets his big break through Baird and even falls in love with Flips.
The humor of all this and throughout the book is Merton wants to do drama and is a straight arrow in personality, but is forced into comedies for which he sees no humor in.
What I admired about this novel is the story, as its Hollywood behind the scenes. For a film industry so young at the time of publication, it really shows the beginnings of the craziness that would be more widely exposed in films such as Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and the Beautiful, and The Barefoot Contessa. I am amused by fictional Hollywood characters in works such this and the act of trying to figure out who their real life counterparts are. I also really adored the character of Flips. She’s sassy and funny- maybe even more enjoyable than Merton in my opinion!
The element I disliked was the excess of narration. It dragged the story down, and I prefer to read more about the interactions of characters. It could have been at least 50 pages less had the narration not went on and on. Moreover, I couldn’t completely get into the humor- perhaps the author’s style isn’t something that personally clicks with me, but then again, I don’t have a typical sense of humor (I have been told I’ve got a dry sense of humor)
Overall, I was very humbled to be asked to write a review for the re-release and thank Alice and the team at LARB books for reaching out to me and sending me an e-copy of the book to review.
If you get a chance to read the book, whether you buy the upcoming copy or can get a hold of an older copy, it’s well worth it and a fascinating look at early 1920’s silent era Hollywood.
*ALL OPINIONS AND THOUGHTS ARE MY OWN. I was given an advanced e-copy to read curtsy of LARB books. Find out more about the re-release copy here.