Thursday, April 30, 2015

Anne Pecheux Lang

Today would have been my grandmother’s 100th birthday.  Sadly, she died on March 9, 2015, a little more than six weeks short of that milestone. 
Anne in Kent, Connecticut, around 1995
As many of you have heard, Anne Pollard Pecheux was an attractive and headstrong young woman from Newburgh, New York.  Her father was married twice, and Anne was the fourth of seven children, and the first child of his second wife.   Her siblings were Justine, Ruth, John, Helene (her religious name was Sister Mary Christopher, OSU), Henry, and Joan.  My great-grandfather, Henry Pecheux, was born in 1872, and played baseball at Notre Dame for one year (probably about 1890 – the sport obtained official varsity status in 1892) before family finances forced him to return home.  Providing for a large family during the Depression was incredibly stressful.  My grandmother has told me how her father's accounting business went under and he worked a variety of part-time jobs to stay afloat.  His love of history and of books was something he shared with his children and grandchildren, bringing home the Oz books which he read aloud and everyone enjoyed.  Granny loved book 3 in the series, Ozma of Oz, and had a jeweled belt she pretended had belonged to the Nome King – nothing like bossing your younger sister around with a magic belt.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Touch of Stardust (Book Review)

Title: A Touch of Stardust
Author: Kate Alcott
Publication: Doubleday hardcover, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 1930s Hollywood
Plot:  When Julie Crawford arrives in Hollywood, fresh from Smith, she is just in time to witness the “burning of Atlanta” scene staged by David O. Selznick on the Gone with the Wind set – and she is hooked on show business albeit intimidated by the great man.  In a refreshing twist, Julie is not a wannabe actress but an aspiring screenwriter.  And on her first day, she also encounters legendary actress Carole Lombard – like Julie, from Fort Wayne, Indian – who is romantically involved with Clark Gable.  Julie also meets Andy Weinstein, Selznick’s right hand man.  Lombard gives Julie a job as her assistant, which gives Julie a front row seat at the glamorous life of Hollywood stardom.  And as Julie finds her place in the movie world, her friendship with Andy becomes something more.

Audience:  Historical fiction readers, readers who love old movies, GWTW fanatics
What I liked: Alcott does a fabulous job of bringing the reader into the magical world of Gone with the Wind.  Even casual fans know about the search for the perfect actress to play Scarlet but it’s even better when you feel you’re yards away when lovely Vivien Leigh visits the movie set and wills Selznick to choose her so she can be close to Laurence Olivier.  Telling the making of the movie story from the perspective of a bright young woman, new in town, is a clever technique.  We identify sufficiently with Julie to want her to succeed but it’s the glimpses of Lombard and Gable’s romance and of Vivien Leigh and the behind the scenes filming of GWTW that make this book impossible to put down. 

I especially liked how Alcott made Lombard so appealing in this book.  I wonder if she really was helpful to younger women trying to make their mark in Hollywood.  My admittedly limited knowledge of her indicated only that she was bawdy and died young.

I’ve had my eye on this author for a while but hadn’t got around to reading her earlier books.  She credits her husband, descended from Hollywood’s Mankiewicz family, with telling her stories about this era, and she even sets one scene at the home of writer Herman Mankiewicz. 

Readers who want to know more about the making of Gone with the Wind should take a look at The Making of Gone with the Wind by Steve Wilson.

What I disliked: Julie’s and Andy’s romance is not as interesting as Lombard and Gable’s.  It reminded me of something Susanna Kearsley mentioned at a recent reading, which is that when she writes a back and forth novel, she intends for the contemporary couple to be more of a foil for the historical.  Here, while I liked Julie’s character and enjoyed learning about her travails trying to make a living as a screenwriter and persuading her conservative parents not to drag her back to Indiana, I was much more interested what her life revealed about the movie.  Alcott acknowledges this, providing an epilogue describing what happened to the actors and stating that Julie is meant to be the Everywoman “who strikes out with a small arsenal of choices” and uses them to achieve her goals.  I did wonder if a nice girl from Smith would have been so quick to get physically involved even if Andy is strikingly handsome and kind. 

Andy’s depiction of the anti-Semitism in Hollywood seemed authentic and accurate, although it distracted from the movie, which I was more interested in reading about.

Source: I read pre-pub reviews and put this on reserve from the library, and it duly appeared several months later. Highly recommended. 4 1/2 stars.