One of the fun things about Hollywood novels is that they often come with stories of their own. For example, the producer in I Lost My Girlish Laughter was modeled on David O. Selznick. According to Anthony Slide, the novel's authors (Jane Allen is a pseudonym) were Jane Shore, a professional writer, and Silvia Schulman, who had worked as secretary for Selznick and later married Ring Lardner, Jr. Selznick believed incorrectly that Lardner wrote the book and never forgave him. Orson Welles made a radio adaptation, which sadly does not use the voice of the novel's narrator.
I Lost My Girlish Laughter by Jane Allen. Random House (1938), 275 pp.
Maggie Lawrence arrives in Hollywood to find work as a screenwriter. She soon lands a job -- as the secretary to a big-time producer, Sidney Brand. As she performs chores of all kinds and meets a wide variety of people at the studio, Maggie learns the movie business from the inside. Much of her work revolves around Brand's attempt to create a star vehicle for a newly arrived European actress. Maggie assists as Brand finds the story, director, writer, and leading man; launches a publicity campaign; arranges for location shooting; and worries about reconfiguring the final product at the last moment -- all while leaving time for visits to the racetrack. Maggie is frazzled from start to finish, though she does have many chances to flirt with Jim Palmer, the movie's PR man.
This book ranks near the top of Hollywood satires. On one hand, it offers plenty of inside information on movie-making. On the other, it views everything with a sardonic eye. None of the events seems completely outlandish; most are just slightly over the top. The characters are well rounded, even though their actions do not always warrant approval. Readers will understand why the pompous screenwriter feels offended, why the new leading man loses interest in Maggie, even why the boorish producer treats everyone like chattel. The story unfolds in a series of documents -- memos, telegrams, newspaper items, but mostly letters from Maggie to a former colleague in New York. The letters furnish a first-person narrative filled with cynicism and amazement and related in a bantering style reminiscent of Rosalind Russell at her screwball-comedy best. Readers attracted to Hollywood in the 1930s will surely enjoy this book.