Old Hollywood—or the glorious days of the studio system that produced epic film productions starring the world’s most fabulous stars—calls to mind temperamental stars, glamorous red carpets, antipatiko genius film directors, simpering publicists, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering by the studio execs who hold true power in Tinsel Town. While much has been written and filmed about Hollywood, not a lot explored the female experience—especially those of women working behind the scenes.
Originally published in the 1930’s, Jane Allen’s (the pseudonym of Silvia Schulman Lardner and Jane Shore) I Lost My Girlish Laughter is a lost literary gem chronicling what it’s like to be working in Hollywood for a woman out of the limelight. This roman à clef follows the plucky, capable, and sassy heroine Madge Lawrence, a New York native who struck out west to work in the movies. She finds employment as the secretary of big-time producer Sidney Brand (inspired by Lardner’s former boss David O. Selznick, who produced Gone With the Wind) and an unlikely leading man figure in Jim Palmer, Super Films’ rakish publicist. Juicy rumors among stars and events unique to the film business ensue—but as entertaining as these are, they’re only a springboard for the author’s talents.
This workplace satire plays out in a most entertaining form—experimental and quite radical for those days—Madge’s Hollywood adventures (or misadventures) are told through a series of documents: diary entries, letters, telegrams, meeting notes. The prose has the now-archaic yet rapid wit of Old Hollywood dialogue, and reading through the novel, you can almost hear the distinct staccato of Trans-Atlantic accents.
Apart from the cleverness of the form and the heroine’s charming cattiness, another strength of this novel is in the kindness the author shows the characters. No one is simply a caricature or an archetype—there’s always something weaved into descriptors and scenes to show another facet to a character. This, despite the efforts from the characters to play up to their archetypes.
Simmering in the background is the romance between Madge and Jim, which can be relatively muted compared to the fanfare, tantrums, and power moves happening around them as Super Films and Brand try to make the next big Hollywood masterpiece. When they eventually end up together—nothing steamy, all Hays Code-friendly—we have a happy ending, just like in those Old Hollywood romantic comedies.
I Lost My Girlish Laughter is more than just an entertainment story or deliciously wicked satire; it’s an interesting look into the lives of women who were not immortalized in the silver screen. Our heroine Madge—and the woman who created her, Schulman Lardner—might have had their Hollywood dreams dashed by the system, but what they got out of their time in Tinsel Town still makes for a great, heartwarming story.
Limited copies of I Lost My Girlish Laughter are available at Fully Booked. Email us to reserve your copy.
Palo Garcia is a writer by trade and a book hoarder at heart. She hopes to one day conquer the behemoth that is her to-be-read pile. She sometimes talks about books and films on social media (@palollibee on Twitter and Instagram).
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]