This post is part of the 2015 Summer Reading Classic Film Challenge hosted by Raquel of Out Of The Past. Find out more about this event here and stayed tuned all summer for more reviews!
What better way to start this summer reading challenge than with a book that could be the perfect beach read for classic movie fans?
A TOUCH OF STARDUST by Kate Alcott is just that. It tells the tale of Julie Crawford, recent transplant from Fort Wayne, Indiana and latest arrival to Hollywood, and the filming of one of the most sprawling stories ever told, that of Gone With The Wind. Julie has no sooner gotten her first assignment on the set of Gone With The Wind when she becomes the latest victim of David O. Selznick and his emotional firings. Before she is fully dismissed from the lot however, she runs into two people who will not only save her job but change her life forever. One is the handsome, intelligent, and challenging assistant director Andy Weisnstein. The other is none other than the beautiful, clever, and free-spirited Carole Lombard. Julie soon finds herself falling in love with Andy and coming face to face with not only anti-Semitic attitudes and prejudices, but also the ever approaching shadows of World War II and Hitler’s Nazi regime. She also crosses paths with Frances Marion, witnesses the chaos on set due to the increasingly taxing demands of David O. Selznick, and becomes Carole Lombard’s personal assistant and friend.
Kate Alcott married into Old Hollywood, namely the Mankiewicz family, and she has used her family connections to help give this novel a unique “backroom look” into the goings on during the filming of Gone With The Wind. A TOUCH OF STARDUST is a treat for classic film fans who will recognize many names and places mentioned, such as Abe Goldman, Frances Marion, Culver City, and George Cukor, as well as the aforementioned Carole Lombard and David O. Selznick. Alcott has clearly done her research and included many historical facts and trivia bits about the filming of Gone With The Wind and the relationship between Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. To me, the best parts of the novel were the ones where Julie is experiencing the madness of the making of this epic film, the world of the directors, writers, and producers, and her interactions with Frances Marion and Abe Goldman. In these moments we get to see not only the fascinating and absorbing world of classic Hollywood in action, but also we are able to see the character of Julie growing and evolving into the self-assured, bold, and intelligent woman that we are hoping she is and that Carole Lombard seems to believe she is.
The descriptions of the relationship between Clark Gable and Carole Lombard feel quite real and very believable. More than just caricatures of themselves, both Carole and Clark are written as real people who we would love to get the chance to know. There is a bittersweetness to this however, for those classic film fans who know what the end of the relationship would hold for them. But in these pages Carole Lombard and Clark Gable come alive again, perhaps a little more so than their “co-stars” such as Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, and Hattie McDaniel, which is to be expected as this story is mostly about Carole Lombard and her affect on Julie.
The relationship with Julie and Andy is also a large part of the novel, and for the most part it is well done. I will say that the anti-Semitic attitudes of Hollywood and the general public is really only dealt with in two sections of the book, while the rest of the time it is mostly mentioned in Julie’s mind as she alternately worries about what her family would say if they knew and whether or not she is doing enough to show that she is not ashamed to be involved with a Jewish man. The encroaching influences of the Nazi party and World War II are far more prevalent on the story and are well done. There is a constant hum in the background of the increasing peril in Europe and even as the United States government maintains its neutrality, the inevitable sense that something will have to be done and soon is ever present.
I will say that for the most part I found the character of Julie sympathetic and welcomed her as my proxy into this world. Her relationship with Andy is also an enjoyable part of the story but there were some issues for me. For one, I found the beginning part of their relationship to be somewhat frustrating. Julie, perhaps intentionally, comes off a bit like a teenager getting offended by something Andy says or does every five minutes and then giving him the silent treatment for several days all while constantly thinking about whether or not he is going to come back and make the first move to reconcile. Thankfully this behavior does stop after a while, but it is then swapped out with the constant struggle of Andy keeping Julie at arm’s length and not being completely open with her because of hurts from the past and wanting to make sure that he doesn’t cause her to break due to his perception of her fragile state. So Julie then is always wondering why Andy won’t let her in and Andy is then telling Julie that she doesn’t understand life and love because she is too young. I get that they love each other, but so much of the novel is spent with Andy withholding emotionally from Julie that when the ending comes it lacks a bit of emotional punch because I didn’t feel as invested in Andy as Julie did.
A TOUCH OF STARDUST was at its best for me when it was describing old Hollywood, Gone With The Wind, and Carole Lombard. I was even inspired to buy a biography about Frances Marion just by reading about her here and wanting to learn more. And maybe this is the best thing about this novel. A TOUCH OF STARDUST is a fun and enjoyable read for anyone, but especially for a classic film fan who can really get and understand all the references and inside jokes. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this would be a great book to get someone who likes to read but doesn’t like to watch classic films. This could be a “gateway drug” to the uninitiated or at the very least, a great excuse to show them a Carole Lombard film.