You had me at "Hollywood's Golden Age."
In Such Mad Fun: Ambition and Glamour in Hollywood's Golden Age, historian Robin R. Cutler undertakes a daunting task—a biography of her own mother, Jane Hall, who worked as a screenwriter, fiction writer, and journalist during the 1930s and early 1940s. Jane Hall is a character worthy of her own Hollywood movie, and thanks to Cutler, she pops to vivid life from these pages.
Born in 1915, Jane Hall inherited her father's gift with words: Dick Wick Hall authored numerous short stories for Saturday Evening Post and others before he died prematurely in 1926. Throughout her adolescence and teen years, Jane published stories, essays, and poems, and her prolific output garnered her praise as a "literary prodigy."
When Jane's mother passed away in 1930, an aunt and uncle in New York City took in the teenager and her brother. In her tony life as a debutante, Jane flitted between Park Avenue and the Virginia countryside, but she still focused on pursuing her dream—a career as a writer. While she was in her early twenties, her work found homes in popular women's magazines like Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, building a steady income that afforded her independence. Her stories about college girls and single working women appealed to a new demographic of middle- and upper-middle-class female readers; magazines touted her as "a deb with a difference."
It wasn't long before Hollywood came knocking. As part of MGM's stable of screenwriters, Jane worked alongside and befriended F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom she called "a charming burned-out genius." She wrote women-centered films such as "These Glamour Girls" and "It's a Date," and penned backstage reports for magazines about the filming of classics like "Gone with the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz"—all while living at the legendary hotel and villa complex, the Garden of Allah. At only 24, Jane Hall's career was at a peak.
But her life took a U-turn when she married theatrical producer Robert Frye Cutler in 1943. She found herself torn away from writing by the demands of her spouse's alcoholic neediness, and her previous subject matter—single women—felt remote to her. Just a few years after her marriage, she wrote with regret in her diary, "What a fool I was to throw such a career away." Her writing had come to a complete halt by the early 1950s. "I feel peaceful, quite resigned, and also, much of the time, dead," she confided in her diary. With her marriage faltering, Jane embarked on a long-term affair with a married Swedish count.
Cutler has carefully pieced together her mother's story through diary entries, letters, and other documentary evidence. Her portrait of Jane Hall is a rich, poignant account—not just of one woman's life or of a single glamorous decade, but of a time when women writers forged names for themselves and enjoyed fulfilling careers.
Read an excerpt from this book.
Robin R. Cutler is a historian and producer of the acclaimed PBS documentaries "Indian America" and "Roanok." In addition to Such Mad Fun, Cutler published another history, A Soul on Trial: A Marine Corps Mystery at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (2007). She blogs about history here.
StoryCircleBookReviews.org has received a copy of this book for review from the author, publisher, or publicist. We have received no other compensation.
Authors/Publicists: For promotion purposes, you may quote excerpts of up to 200 words from our reviews, with a link to the page on which the review is posted. ©Copyright to the review is held by the writer (review posting date appears on the review page). If you wish to reprint the full review, you may do so ONLY with her written permission, and with a link to http://www.storycirclebookreviews.org. Contact our Book Review Editor (bookreviews at storycirclebookreviews.org) with your request and she will forward it to the appropriate person.