A Touch of Stardust
Gone with the Wind is one of the best-selling books of all time, and would go on to be made into one of the greatest films of all time, garnering ten Academy Awards. But in 1939, production was fraught with problems, at times seeming as if the film might not make it into the can at all. This forms the backdrop for Alcott’s protagonist, Julie Crawford, a Smith-educated girl from Indiana who travels to Hollywood with dreams of being a screenwriter. Through a series of coincidences, she finds herself in the employ of Carole Lombard while pursuing a romance with Andy Weinstein, indispensable assistant producer to studio bigwigs such as control-freak David O. Selznick. Through Andy and Carole, Julie effortlessly achieves what most only experience as dashed dreams – entrée into the glittering world of the Hollywood elite.
Fans of women’s commercial fiction will probably devour this. While the plotting seems contrived and the exposition handled clumsily, the characterization of Carole Lombard, in particular, is engaging. Dubbed the “Profane Angel,” Carole is genuine, unpretentious, hilariously outspoken, and smart – she handles the poisonous Louella Parsons and macho Clark Gable with equal adroitness. In short, she’s amazingly likeable, and underpins the novel much more than its imagined protagonist. As for the rest, it’s a love story with some surface tension created by the fact that small-town Julie’s paramour is Jewish, older than she, and has some relationship baggage. There is passing reference to “colored” people’s treatment during this time period and the fact that Andy’s grandparents, still in Germany, face the concentration camp. But these attempts at adding dimension are a bit incongruous in such a frothy novel. The parts of the book that focus on the film’s production problems – changing directors midstream, disposing of screenwriters like used Kleenex, ego conflicts caused by a whiny Vivien Leigh and overly masculine Gable – are, frankly, more interesting than the love story and, along with Carole Lombard, what makes this novel well worth reading.