Falling Star by Vicki Baum. Doubleday, Doran (1934) 307 pp.
Silent film diva Donka Morescu is planning a comeback in the talkies. She has learned to speak comprehensible English and, though she's running out of money, has retained the trappings of stardom -- big house, loyal servants, glamorous outfits. But the key to her return is her current boyfriend, handsome and popular film actor Oliver Dent. Still in his mid-twenties, he's ten years her junior and madly in love with her. At the same time he's unsure about his future in the movies, worried that the Hollywood spotlight is blinding him to the true course of his life. One of his biggest fans is would-be actress Frances Warrens. She's trying to hang on to her movie fantasies while facing serious problems finding any sort of legitimate work. Frances, in turn, has caught the eye of Aldens, Oliver's sometime stand-in. No closer to a film career than Frances, he manages to stay solvent only with the help of a famous director from his home town in Germany.
Baum is going for a big novel about Hollywood. She takes the place seriously and pretty much at face value, shunning satire and implying rather than stating criticism. It's true that the author's main character, Donka, seems larger than life. Her every action is fraught with emotion; her words are not so much spoken as declaimed. The other characters, however, are portrayed realistically and often , in the case of studio functionaries, cynically. Oliver and Frances are drawn with surprising nuance. When they finally meet Baum is at her most skillful. Unfortunately, she seems to lose control of the material about two-thirds of the way through the book. After that the story wobbles from implausibility to melodrama. The novel gets where it's trying to go, but readers may not find the journey convincing. Which is not to say that the book couldn't find a modern audience among those seeking a guilty pleasure.