The love affair of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn’s sass towards Spencer Tracy, Marilyn Monroe floating around set, Cary Grant dashing his way through every troubled situation, it was the golden age of Hollywood. And who isn’t obsessed with the rumors surrounding it, the classics made from it, the love, the hate, the legacies?
I think it’s safe to assume that Adriana Trigiani has the same obsession with classic Hollywood as the rest of us, considering her latest novel, All the Stars in the Heaven, is set in and around the golden age of Hollywood. But, not to get lost in the stardom, we forget that those classic eras actors and actresses aren’t just figments of our imagination or legends, they’re people with lives. With families built around the scandals the media grew, with loves publicized over every tabloid and radio show, with every aspect of their life folded hand-in-hand with the general public, it’s hard to be a star. Most notable example of such being Marilyn Monroe, now with Trigiani’s novel, Loretta Young as well.
Loretta Young, formerly known as Gretchen Young, was a child actress in 1917. Her film career, like many stars, was not a stable one. One good rumor could derail it, any movie executive could pause it, and it was love or the career, never both. This novel takes a biographic approach towards Gretchen, but there is one character you won’t find on her Wikipedia page, Alda Ducci. Formerly a nun kicked out of the convent before taking her final prayer steps, she found herself in the dutiful and unusual employment of Gretchen Young.
Although the paring was off-kilter from the start, and arguably to the very end, it was a life-long friendship which saw the pair through loves of every nature and all of the highs and lows of the golden age rollercoaster. The two became each other’s family.
But onto one of the main points of the plot, Gretchen Young and Clark Gable. I hope since this book is historical fiction and based solely around biographical information about the actress, that I’m not revealing too much when reviewing this book. Gretchen Young and Clark Gable starred in Call of the Wild in 1935. There on-screen chemistry and off-set isolation while filming became the basis of many rumors around their ‘relationship,’ so to speak. The first being a wildly passionate and short-lived relationship between the two which resulted in a pregnancy. All the Stars in the Heaven follows this rumor.
Judy Young was the child of Gretchen Young and Clark Gable, which was confirmed and confronted later and publicly in Judy’s biography. Although Judy resented her mother for many years and felt distanced in her own family as a result of the lies her mother told, it is easy to understand where Gretchen was coming from. The golden age of Hollywood was really only the golden age for the audience, it was a horror house for the actors and workers. Drugged up from morning to night to stay on set for hours on end, cigarettes and pills used to suppress their hunger, contracts so strict that the actors may as well have been caged up on company plots, and politics so controlling and unyielding that Hollywood was more of an authoritarian country rather than a business.
If it was known that Gretchen Young had been sexually active, she would have lost all of her contractual work, all of her royalties, and the press would have fed her to the world as a slut not worth the nickel or so the box office tickets would’ve cost. She would have been out of work, out of the public’s good graces, and disgraced until some other story came to the lime light. But she would have never worked in Hollywood again.
Now, if it was known that Gretchen Young was pregnant with a married man’s child, let’s just say the situation wouldn’t have been much better. So Gretchen came up with a wild scheme in order to maintain her relationship with her child and her career as well. A plan, only truly made possible by her friend, Alda Ducci.
The two saw each other through the lowest times of their life, when it came to love or business, and through the best years of their life, whether they were only in the papers or small moments, they made a life together. As problematic and hard as life is, through the years, through the heartbreak, through all of the crap, these two women endured together. And this is their story.
Something to think about while you’re reading is an alternative theory that came to light only some years ago of the relationship between Clark Gable and Gretchen Young. In 2015, Linda Lewis, Young’s daughter-in-law, publicized that Gretchen was actually raped by Clark while on set for Call of the Wild. Although neither theory can ever be confirmed since both players have long been deceased, it is not a wild notion for the time period. Gretchen herself never put two-and-two together until decades later when she learned of date rape and what it entailed. Prior to that, she believed it to be a woman’s duties to push away a man’s advances and that it was to her own failing that the relations occurred. And such a theory is not a Gretchen only one, it was the feeling of the time period.
So which theory do you believe? Read Trigiani’s novel and leave your answer in the comment below.