Sure, we all know about The Great Gatsby and what it tells us about the Roaring Twenties, but some months ago, I came across an obscure novel that has been a gold mine of information about that era. It’s called The Hollywood Girl and was written by Beatrice Burton, published in 1927. I just ordered another of this woman’s books, one titled Flapper Wife, that she wrote in 1925. (Oddly enough, I tried to get these from our local library through Interlibrary Loan program, something I’ve done successfully dozens of times, but the few libraries that owned this book refused to send it out on loan, because it was so old and “valuable.” Valuable? I went online and bought a copy for $6.48. The one I just ordered was more expensive: $7.98. There were plenty for sale, if you should want a copy.)
Anyway, what did I learn from The Hollywood Girl? A lot of tidbits that give my novels the flavor of the times. Such as food specifics–just what did one eat for an impromptu supper at home? “A china bowl of cold chicken salad with mayonnaise piled on top of it, a glass pitcher of iced coffee, poppy-seed rolls, and a Lady Baltimore cake.” What about breakfast if you’re down to your last cent? “‘What I ought to be buying is Zweiback and instant coffee for breakfast tomorrow morning,’ she told herself grimly.” And what about ordering out at a restaurant on a date? “Then she ordered fruit cocktail, turtle soup, turkey with mushrooms under glass, tiny green peas, a vegetable salad in jelly, bran muffins, black walnut ice cream angel food cake, coffee and crackers and cheese!”
What did the store windows look like on Hollywood Boulevard? “Shoes were in the next window. White sport shoes with green or scarlet leather trimmings. Silver slippers for evening wear. Little lace trimmed satin mules for the bedroom. Deauville sandals, and beach sandals, painted with bright colors.” (Also some good ideas for shoe descriptions.) And furniture? How about “a cretonne-covered couch.” (I had to look it up.) A modest apartment cost $8 a week. Owning a radio was a sign of success.
But aside from the details like these, the language was helpful. Certain phrases that aren’t used today, like: “she had tried to get into the pictures” instead of trying to land a part in a movie, and “You jangle me all up,” and “I was a movie-mad girl.”
And the story itself? Remarkably insipid. A pretty girl leaves a boyfriend who wants to marry her and goes to Hollywood where she is successful in getting into the pictures, but chucks it all to return home to the boyfriend after she realizes that fame and fortune are not what a woman really wants–it’s marriage and a housewife’s life. Can’t wait to get the second book in the mail!