Book Review: A Touch of Stardust
By: Kate Alcott
Published By: Doubleday
Publication Date: February 2015
Page Count: 296
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction
Living in the Atlanta suburbs for most of my life, Gone with the Wind and Margaret Mitchell are things that were hard to ignore. As a child, I was fascinated by Mitchell and her choice to become a writer in a time period when women were often little more than wives and mothers. I was fascinated by Scarlett O'Hara and the complexities of the South during and after the Civil War. Gone with the Wind was a story that seemed to transcend geographical boundaries and was a sensation throughout the United States. Its impact still lingers, but I never knew much about the people who made the movie or the complications of bringing such an epic story to the screen. I was excited to dive into A Touch of Stardust to get my fill of historical details with a touch of fiction.
The main character, Julie Crawford, is a recent Smith College, who moved the Hollywood to pursue her dreams of becoming a screenwriter. Her parents back in Fort Wayne, Indiana are appalled by her choice and wish that she would stop with the foolishness; they want her to marry her high school sweetheart and be an upstanding member of the Fort Wayne social set. When they release that there is no talking Julie out of moving to California, they agree to fund her adventure for one year, but if she hasn't managed to land on her feet by then, they will cut off her funds and force her to come home. Oh, what a different time period Julie lives in. I can't imagine going through rigorous coursework to earn a college degree simply to discard it to pursue the domestic arts. There is nothing wrong with that if women make that choice for themselves, but I don't think it should be dictated or expected. Julie is a girl before her time and she sticks to her guns - even when things look pretty bleak.
Julie is doing menial office work for the studios that are producing Gone with the Wind. It's the best way to get her foot in the door while she waits and hopes for a writing job. Besides, who wouldn't want to work on the set of the hottest movie in 1930's Hollywood? While at work, Julie's luck sends her in the direction of Andy, who will later become a mentor of sorts, and the beautiful Carole Lombard, another Fort Wayne girl who shook of the Midwest dust in favor of a little Hollywood sparkle. Carole is constantly on set with her love, Clarke Gable. I was largely ignorant about the Carole's story before reading this novel, but I found her to be fascinating.
I was also fascinated to get a more personal glimpse into the actors lives and to see how the movie came together behind the scenes. It looks flawless and easy on the screen, but there was so much work that went into breathing life into Mitchell's story.
In addition to the movie and learning about the actors, I was also intrigued by the status of race relations in the 1930's. So often people think the South was the only place where discrimination was prevalent, but that is simply not the case. Not only do the African American actors face discrimination during the making of the film, but many of the film industry workers, including Andy, are Jewish. They also face prejudice - especially as the Nazis begin to gain momentum in Europe. As the film is being made, the world is poised to enter another world war as Hitler continues to ravage Europe. The political climate of the time added another layer of tension to the novel. As America has not entered the war during the last days of filming and promotion, many of the male characters are safe from the onslaught in Europe, but Leslie Howard (aka Ashley Wilkes) is not so lucky. As a Brit with Jewish heritage, Howard immediately joined the war effort and missed most of the promotional events. I never knew this about him, but it made me respect him so much more. Sadly, he was killed in 1943, when a German fighter pilot shot his plane from the sky over the Bay of Biscay.
This is truly a story about Julie's metamorphosis. She leaves behind her proper naive college graduate persona in favor of a more worldly, grown up woman who is tenacious about her goals and fiercely loyal to those she loves. Julie's friendship with Carole will embolden her to try new avenues and will ultimately help her to find the right path to further her career.
If you're a fan of Gone with the Wind, a history lover, or someone who enjoys learning about the film industry, this novel is a must read.
One Last Gripe: I was annoyed by Julie from time to time.
Favorite Things About This Book: Learning about actors from the 1930's and the brief appearance of Margaret Mitchell
First Sentence: Atlanta was exploding right on schedule.
Favorite Character: Carole
Least Favorite Character: Louella
When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana for Hollywood, she never imagines she'll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie's provincial Midwestern hometown. Although the young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, the only job Julie's able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick —who is busy burning through directors, writers and money as he begins filming Gone with the Wind.
Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie's access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable—who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler.
Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio as Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blonde employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole's mouth, and--as their friendship grows - soon finds she doesn't want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie's model for breaking free of the past.
In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and off screen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance career aspirations and her own budding romance with outsized personalities and the overheated drama on set.