Thursday, January 7, 2010

Vintage Novels {No Mother to Guide Her}


From 1961, but set in 1930's Hollywood, it's No Mother to Guide Her by Anita Loos, the author of GPB and the notable and prolific screen writer of such classics as Red Headed Woman and The Women. As I said yesterday, I love Anita Loos and her wit, she's my second favourite 20th C. author.
No Mother to Guide Her is a glorious and fantastic satire on Hollywood and the society and people who made and publicized the movies and stars that it produced. The story is told in reflection by Elmer Bliss, a shy and good-natured soul who loves his mother (but not in a Norman Bates way). Elmer wanted to be a philosopher and spent several years in New York writing philosophical essays that no one would publish, until his mother suggested that he move to Hollywood. Upon doing so, he immediately got a job writing nice sentiments for picture postcards which were so popular that he was offered a column and a radio programme writing equally nice essays, praising the natural sunny beauty of California and it's stars. That is until the Braco Murder Case threatens the vice of the film colony and interrupts Elmer's campaign to rename Hollywood Boulevard as Santa Clause Lane. Calvin Barco had freely admitted to marrying seven women and then murdering them. He had also joined several of the faddy quasi-religious cults, which is where he generally met his wives. Not that Barco is an evil villain, murdering is just his thing: "As a member of an outdoor cult Jessie first encountered Barco. His intentions, aside from murder, were honourable". The problem is that one of the Mrs Barco happened to be the confidential cook/housekeeper of that glamourous star of the silver screen, Viola Lake, whom Elmer is infatuated with. Before she was married, Mrs Barco had had no social life and so wrote a diary of Miss Lake's social life. Since the courts now have the diary, it's only a matter of time until the naughtiest passages make their way into the papers and Miss Lake's career would be ruined on account of her sullied reputation. The head of the studio, Ben "Droopy Drawers" Goldmark (read L.B. Mayer) asks Elmer to use his connections in the newspaper business to prevent as little as possible from getting out.
Anita Loos uses her biting wit to retell what is essentially the story of Clara Bow's unfortunate downfall. What makes the novel great fun is to take a break from laughing so hard at the text and to imagine which personality she is making fun of at any point in the book. Along with a terrific read, you also get just wonderful descriptions of Hollywood parties and fashion (Miss Loos being something of a clothes horse herself). For example: Viola Lake was waiting on the porch dressed "in a gay, red tulle frock, with satin slippers and tennis socks to match, a silver head-dress on the Russian order, and an ermine evening wrap with white fox-collar, garnished with the inevitable shower of orchids". Just a too divinely dreamy outfit to imagine.
Also throughout the text are rather amusing cartoons to illustrate the characters in their setting and a chance to feel the joy that Alice got in reading books with pictures. Unfortunately, I forgot to scan some of them, but I promise to scan some from next week's novel (most of Miss Loos' books are illustrated).
The book has never been adapted and I hope that, at least with the current talent making today's pictures, that it never gets adapted. I think that if it were to happen, then the story would loose most of it's charm and wit and would fail miserably. It's definitely one of those books that one reads instead of waiting for the movie to come out.
The only bad thing that I can say about the book is that it isn't long enough.
The novel has been reprinted once about ten years ago, so your library or favourite used bookstore should have a copy, it not then you can order it from AbeBooks for a song (I think that I spent $10 for my first edition).

1 comment:

Jessica Cangiano said...

Your book reviews are positively wonderful, Jennifer. Your synopsis summaries are delightfully engaging and instantly make me want to read the books you cover (this one and The Enchanted April included).

Thank you for putting together such comprehensive overviews, they're a treat for fellow book lovers such as myself.

Big hugs & joyful Friday wishes,
♥ Jessica