Hollywood novels often tell stories of aspiring young actors trying to make it big in the movies. They are at first lost among the other hopefuls. Then they have brushes with people in power. Sometimes they are “discovered” and become stars. Other times their quests prove futile and they turn to other pursuits, disillusioned and wiser. An example of this sort of novel is I Should Have Stayed Home by Horace McCoy, a longtime screenwriter best known for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
I Should of Stayed Home by Horace McCoy. Knopf (1938), 235 pp.
Two roommates, Ralph, naive and determined, and Mona, savvy and feisty, are among the throng of young people attracted to the movie business. They are lowly extras with hopes for stardom. When Mona gets some publicity by raising a scene in court, they are invited to a big Hollywood party. There Ralph catches the eye of Mrs. Smithers, middle-aged collector of handsome young men. She promises to promote his career and does help him on several occasions. In exchange, he joins her collection. Life begins to change for Ralph and Mona. The rest of the novel tells whether the changes will lead to the fulfillment of their hopes.
This is an entertaining tale of Hollywood in the 1930s. Like many exposés of the movie business, it aims to both outrage and titillate. So the reader learns about drunken orgies, interracial affairs, Lesbians, dirty movies, heartless studio executives, cynical publicity men, ineffectual unions, and a legion of poor and desperate extras lured to Hollywood by deceitful fan magazines. McCoy’s terse style, lack of descriptions, and reliance on conversation keep the story moving. The flat, world-weary first-person narration, however, seems out of character for Ralph, the unsophisticated and optimistic narrator.