A novel of a rebellious young actress in the early twentieth century, by the PEN/Hemingway Award–winning author of A Way of Life, Like Any Other.
Back in the days when Shakespeare still meant something to a lot of people, I wanted to be a great dramatic actress. Before I knew it I was in Hollywood . . .
So begins this remarkable novel, in which Margaret Spencer tells us of her own journey from the vaudeville stage of the Midwest, to performing as a child in Buenos Aires, through sexual awakenings to Broadway success, and her arrival, against her will, in the Hollywood of 1927.
I was only one among numberless hordes of fatherless girls who, with mothers pinching at their elbows, had descended onto Hollywood as the fruit flies on the citrus groves.
But Margaret is anything but ordinary. Feisty, lusty, tart-tongued, willing to use her body as well as her brains to stay afloat, Margaret has her mind and heart set on liberation in every sense of the world. She demands freedom—sexual, artistic, and financial—and her battle to achieve it makes her a heroine well ahead of her time. Margaret in Hollywood is the tale of a young woman who refuses to be owned and will not be cowed, and whose love of life propels her onward.
A well-written, solid novel of character and situation, O'Brien's newest book (after the nonfiction Murder in Little Egypt ) presents an authentic picture of vaudeville, the theater and the movie industry in the 1900s. The protagonist is based on the author's own mother, a star of the silent screen. The indulged daughter of a vaudeville impresario who dies nearly penniless, Margaret Spencer is thereafter under the thumb of her greedy, manipulative mother. Now the family breadwinner, teenage Margaret is put to work as a model. Enrolled in the Manhattan's Professional Children's School, she wins the part of Juliet in a school production and (in an insufficiently detailed transition) leaps to a starring role on Broadway. But her mother signs a contract with chicaning agents, thereby sending a reluctant Margaret to Hollywood, where, ironically, Mrs. Spencer loses her firm grip on Margaret's salary. Finally independent, Margaret decides that ``the tricks and lies and twists of fate that brought me to Hollywood . . . turned out to be all for the best.'' Margaret is a spirited, clear-eyed and candid young woman, always willing to indulge her strong libido. But O'Brien's unsentimental account fails to give her emotional appeal, and thus Margaret never earns the reader's strong attachment.