The Limits of Limelight

Written by Margaret Porter
Review by Janice Derr

Sixteen-year-old Helen Nichols is pretty and intelligent but has never seen herself as someone special. However, her cousin, rising star Ginger Rogers, sees potential in her and invites her to move to California to try her luck in pictures. Quickly renamed Phyllis Fraser, the fresh-faced Oklahoman is whisked off to an exciting life of screen tests and auditions. But getting a big break is hard. She finds herself struggling to get small roles, and many of those end up on the cutting room floor. Phyllis is lucky to have Ginger and her aunt for emotional and financial support; not all her friends and fellow actresses are so fortunate. She begins to wonder if she should continue her pursuit of an acting career or whether she should follow her childhood dream of becoming a writer.

Porter offers up a captivating novel about Hollywood in the 1930s and ´40s. Plenty of celebrities make an appearance, including Katharine Hepburn, Anne Shirley, Howard Hughes, and the doomed Peg Entwistle. Rather than focusing solely on the glamour of the movie-making industry, the author provides plenty of details about the hardscrabble life working performers faced, providing a more realistic and multifaceted view of the era. Also engaging are the strong female friendships Phyllis has with other actresses and her relationship with her family, a group of determined, ambitious women. This book is a real treat for those looking for a peek inside Hollywood’s Golden Age.