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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sue
Welcome to Shawna Williams as she passes through my blog on her tour to introduce her new book "In All Things". Nice to have you visit my blog again Shawna. Over to you.

Shawna
Hi Sue, 
Thank you for hosting me again. Since it wasn't that long ago that you interviewed me on your blog, I thought it might be interesting to just chat a little about my new book, and some of the interesting things I encountered while writing it.
In All Things is the sequel to my debut novel, No Other. It picks up with Meri and Jakob ten years later. A lot has changed for them. At the end of No Other, Jakob made a promise to his rival that he'd give Meri everything her heart desired. This promise encompassed a lot, not because Meri was asking for so much, but because Jakob couldn't stand the thought of failing her. 
At the beginning of the book we find out that Jakob made it his mission to see her succeed in Hollywood, whether she wanted to or not some might argue. Their marriage is under tremendous strain and when they travel home for the holidays many of the underlying issues – things they'd tried to forget – resurface. Meri and Jakob must learn to face these problems instead of bury them; and tragedy leaves them no other choice.
The story's setting is 1958-59, and the events are divided between Jakob and Meri's home in Hollywood and their hometown of Port Delamar, Tx. Since Meri is an actress, I spent many an hour pouring over books about the history of Hollywood, the studio system, film history, movie set etiquette and technical jargon, and the various roles and duties of the numerous positions involved in making a movie. I also read the biographies of Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, and Grace Kelly. It was important for me to glimpse the personal lives of actresses from the era spanning the 1930s-50s to get an idea of how their profession affected them once the cameras stopped rolling.
I discovered a number of interesting facts: Rita Hayworth's real name was Margartia Cansino, Marilyn Monroe was actually quite a talented actress who desperately wanted to be cast outside her stereotypical image, and Ava Gardner had to take serious diction lessons to rid herself of her deep suthren accent. I learned a lot about the images carefully created, not just on screen, but off screen as well. Marlene Dietrich had quite a behind-the-scenes scandalous life, and Grace Kelly wasn't as prim as we were led to believe. A couple of actresses' images did fit their personal lives. Debbie Reynolds was the wholesome girl next door, and Elizabeth Taylor was the volatile, irresistible seductress, which explains how she ended up with Debbie's husband. That was one scandal that Hollywood couldn't conceal.
Apart from the personal lives of these actresses, I also learned a lot about the inner workings of the studio system. In its heyday the studio was like a self contained industry. Actors and actresses were placed under contract as studio employees. They showed up to work each day often performing as extras and not knowing which film they'd be on until they were given an assignment. Everything was tightly controlled. If an actress caught the eye of one of the studio's higher ups they'd go to work in creating an image. Sometimes the image worked, sometimes not. The studio might try to revamp it, or just move on to a new possibility. They operated very much like a factory with a star producing assembly line.
Studios don't operate this way now. The transition from the old system to the current one began in the late 40s, starting with the Supreme Court ordering the sale of studio owned theaters. Over the course of decade the loss of assets and control branched into the studios' most prized possession; its stars.
Actors and actresses began working independently, seeking out agents to represent them in procuring movie roles. Jobs were negotiated and contracted on an individual basis. They hired publicist and stylists to help cultivate their image. Some hired managers to work the business angle. On the one hand, the actor or actress had more control over the types of roles they played and the image they projected, on the other, there was less security and one bad film – or an extended absence from the public eye – could doom a career. This is still pretty much how it is.
I thought this was an interesting dilemma to work in with Meri. Combined with the other personal struggles she deals with in the story it ramped up the tension. 
So, my hope is that this is not only an entertaining read that will keep you on edge, but also a story that takes you back in time where you come away knowing a little bit of the history of an industry that has defined our culture. 


6 comments:

Nike Chillemi said...

A very interesting article. I love the retro era. I think it was a time when America had a lot more class. Probably the studio system contributed to the notion that it was of value to have some class.

I think people want to read about that period. It was a time, despite all its warts, when America shined.

Shawna Williams said...

It was really interesting to research, Nike. There is a book called Star Machine, that I reccommend to anyone interested.

Sue, thank you so much for hosting me today.

Sue Perkins said...

Your welcome Shawna, it's a pleasure to welcome you here.

Celia Yeary said...

SHAWNA--I loved this blog on old movies and actors and actresses. They were something, weren't they? And your research was excellent. Sometime, though, I think some of those "scandals" were contrived just like everything else in Hollywood. Imagine living a life in which nothing was real, but orchestrated by the hollywood moguls. Good luck with your novel--I'm sure it will do great! Celia

Diane Craver said...

Fascinating article about the movie people - thanks for sharing it and sounds like the research in this time period was fun.

LK Hunsaker said...

A while back, I read John Jakes' American Dreams, which features a young actress and the way the movie business started out in America. Californians tried to chase them out because they were considered riff-raff and immoral. Interesting how things developed toward the era you highlighted and today. I think they did become classy and respected and have now turned around again, unfortunately.