Book Review: The Girl From Hollywood (1923)

Happy New Year to you all and welcome back to the Roaring Twenties!! While the 2020s will certainly be far different from the 1920s- I for one am gonna do my best to make the 2020s have a touch of 1920s flair and style.

With the generosity of LARB Books, I have the opportunity to do a authentic 1920s book review with The Girl from Hollywood by Edgar Rice Burroughs (best known for his Tarzan works). Written in 1922 in Munsey’s Magazine but published in 1923 in novel form, this story tells the tale of the Penningtons-  a brother and sister, Eva and Custer- who live on a ranch in California. It also involves characters such as  fallen actress Shannon Burke, and the Penningtons neighbors/ friends Grace and Guy Evans- another brother sister duo. Other characters include Wilson Crumb, a Hollywood director-actor and Slick Allen, a ranch hand for the Penningtons.

The Girl from Hollywood.jpg
The original book cover (Wikipedia)

At first I glance, I was shocked to discover this was never adapted into a movie, then began reading it and knew why: this novel has absolutely no likable character. Even though that description has perfect workings for a noir film, I then realized there would be no way to film the novel under the production code without completely altering the plot. Perhaps now that its nearly 100 years later, Hollywood producers should look at this as a possible adaption- at least it would be something never before seen!

Personally, the more I read this book, the more I disliked this book- and not due to the content (drugs, bootlegging, sexual favors for career advancement) it was just more and more despicable as the narrative went on. It then hit me that not even the plot could carry the novel, as if I don’t care about the characters, how could I care about the plot?

As mentioned, all characters in the novel are completely terrible- they all make bad decisions, and none of them have redeeming qualities. For instance, although Shannon has a “past”, she starts off as being very likable: refusing to sleep with bigwig for better parts. You even feel bad for her after she’s drugged by Wilson Crumb and becomes addicted to cocaine, however, she then loses her appeal when she becomes a drug dealer herself.

Other characters demonstrate the mold for many characters to come in both movies and books: Wilson Crumb is the typical scum in Hollywood, the one who is majorly successful by screwing over everyone else. Guy is the archetype drunk bootlegger character who tries to come out of it, but fails in in the end. Meanwhile, Grace is the young underdog who struggles to get roles, but gets herself tangled in the web. Cuter starts off as the wronged man, only to become what he was accused of. And Eva- while she is a bit of a side character, she sadly gets downgraded to that of plot device.

Overall, this novel really shows the dark side of the era, with taboo subjects and tragic endings. It reminds us that while the 1920s were liberating and free, it wasn’t immune from problems.

I would like to thank Alice from Coriolis and LARB books for sending me an e-copy of this novel. All opinions are my own and if you would like to learn more about LARB Books publication please click here.

The LARB Books edition (LARB Books)

Book Review: Merton of the Movies

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!

(LARB BOOKS)

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.

Merton of the Movies (1947 film).jpg
1947 release poster (wikipedia)

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.