Monday, March 16, 2015

Research: Two Wars, Three Romances in A Touch of Stardust

Just finished listening to A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott.  I snapped it from the library shelf because of the picture of Carole Lombard on the cover and was delighted to find out that it centers on the making of Gone With the Wind.

Although the novel is a romance (well, three romances actually: Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, and that of the heroine, Julie Crawford and Andy Weinstein), it also anchors the reader in the late 1930s with some history.  
  • General History: Two wars, the Civil War and the Second World War as well as the US and Hollywood’s attitude toward Jews and African-Americans, Hitler’s build-up of arms and campaign against non-Aryans and Jews, and America's general attitude toward women
  •  Specific History: The movie industry, popular music, clothing, slang, social mores including attitudes toward premarital sex.

This is all good stuff for me as I try to get my mind into the late 1940s. Yes, they're different eras – a world war of difference – but reading the novel has brought up some questions I need to investigate further.  How much did Hollywood and American change in their attitudes toward Jews, African-Americans, and women in those ten years?  

I think I know the answer, at least for women.  Rosie the Riveter proved to men and women alike that females were capable of doing much of the work that was traditionally done by men.  The Civil Rights Movement gained strength slowly after the war, but eventually grew into a powerful lobby against Jim Crow laws and inequality. To quote Sam Cook, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”  As for Jewish refugees, their lot during the war and just after war, revealed the high level of Anti-Semitism in America and other western countries. However, awareness of the Holocaust began to influence younger generations and some of that prejudice lessened. 

My characters, Billy Eastlake, Ambie, Alma, who are key to the prequel lived in the world when change was on the cusp but still far into the future.  Reading Alcott’s book has suggested to me that, as she revealed the prejudices of the time in A Touch of Stardust –  I need to consider adding new characters who will do just that.  I'll need to do more than this little bit of research.

As for the specific history gleaned from this book I've taken notes.  I have no intention of copying any of this - clothing, music, slang of the forties is just a Google away.  Rather it is  the feel of the era of the 30's I've come away with and it is this same experience  of time and place that I want to create for my readers. And yes, I'm aware that it is fictionalized history.

About A Touch of Stardust as posted on Amazon:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker comes a blockbuster novel that takes you behind the scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind, while turning the spotlight on the passionate romance between its dashing leading man, Clark Gable, and the blithe, free-spirited actress Carole Lombard. 

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. 

The young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, but 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 films 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. 

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 offscreen, 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 her career aspirations and her own budding romance with the outsized personalities and overheated drama on set. Vivid, romantic, and filled with Old Hollywood details, A Touch of Stardust will entrance, surprise, and delight.


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