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"Poignant memoir of a not-so-typical New York Jewish family’s experiences in the midcentury Hollywood demimonde … Equal parts emotional tissue-party and shrewd cultural history." - Kirkus Reviews
In 1958, young Sheila Weller was living a charmed life with her family in Beverly Hills. Her father was a brilliant brain surgeon. Her mother was a movie-magazine writer whose brother owned Hollywood's most dazzling nightclub, Ciro's. Then her world exploded after she witnessed her uncle's brutal attempt to kill her father.
In Dancing at Ciro's, Weller has written a deeply felt memoir of her family's life contrasted with those most glamorous days of Hollywood's forties and fifties. While vividly describing Lana Turner's, Frank Sinatra's, and Sammy Davis Jr.'s evenings--and breakdowns--at Ciro's, Weller casts a keen eye on her own family's turmoil and loss.
Journalist Weller (Raging Heart: The Intimate Story of the Tragic Marriage of O.J. Simpson and Nicole Brown Simpson) reconstructs the social striving and psychological excesses that plagued her family and relatives, owners of the posh Hollywood nightspot Ciro's. In the early 20th century, her father (Daniel Weller), mother (Helen Hover) and uncle (Herman Hover) moved to California. They were New York Jews moving west seeking fame and self-reinvention, she explains. They found it: Daniel became a respected neurosurgeon, Helen a celebrity journalist and Herman the proprietor of Ciro's. Much high life followed, until 1958, when Herman tried to kill his brother-in law, who was involved with Herman's wife. Divorce, professional decline, the closing of Ciro's, Sheila's estrangement from her father and more followed before that generation of her family died. While Weller claims to have written this as a love letter to her family, she doesn't succeed in making readers feel their story is exceptional or representative enough to merit telling. A few images, like the Hover family heading west, are iconic. It's also entertaining to learn the intricacies of Ciro's design and tidbits about stars like Sammy Davis Jr. But when Weller concludes that sometimes "empathy and epiphany is not in the cards," readers may be left wondering why Weller bothered to tell the story. Despite the meticulous research and American themes, Weller's memoir doesn't enliven her family or enlighten her readers.