I’m still not sure how I managed to miss Of Streets and Stars for so many years. The publication date of the most widely circulated edition (Houghton Mifflin, 1963) may have led me astray. The book was first published by an obscure press three years before but reviews date from 1963. That’s much beyond the cut-off date for my reading project. Alan Marcus (1922- ) actually wrote the novel in 1953, which is when it’s set, but couldn’t find a publisher for many years. Today the book gets little scholarly attention but is well represented in public libraries.
Of Streets and Stars by Alan Marcus. Manzanita Press (1960), 259 pp.
Dora Robinson, still single in her early thirties, answers fan mail for one of the Hollywood studios. She lives with her sick and continually complaining mother and seldom thinks about the couple next door, Irma and Peter Miller, refugees from Nazi Austria. Their real-life story is nothing like the sophisticated but heartwarming immigrant tale that Ronald Perry, the studio’s deputy chief, is planning to film. He’s assigned the project to Blanche Devons, a longtime script reader hoping to move up the studio hierarchy, and George Hughes, a newly hired young novelist from New York who’s not sure what he’s supposed to be doing. Everyone’s life soon begins to change. Dorothy, posing as a real movie star, starts a correspondence with Minnesota farmer Herbert Flower. Peter, drifting off into delusion, gives up efforts to make a living in L. A. And J. C., the ailing studio head, looks to end his career on a high note by producing the new movie himself.
This may be the most ambitious of all Hollywood novels. Marcus presents a large cast of characters widely spread across the social spectrum. Their lives represent in different ways the intermingling of fantasy (the basic product of the film industry) and reality. The book’s narrator knows all about the characters but remains well removed from the action, as if he could have easily chosen a different group of people to follow. As a result, the novel manages to be intimate and panoramic at the same time. It proceeds not by resolving an overarching conflict but by cutting back and forth among various subplots, most of which are worked out in a final chapter told in the present tense. Marcus’s writing style is easy to follow but may take some getting used to because his sentences often have a conversational tone. A couple of the characters border on stereotypes, but, all in all, the author accomplishes what he intends. The book is well worth reading.