A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott
In her new novel, Kate Alcott takes readers back in time to Hollywood in 1939 and the tumultuous filming of Gone with the Wind.
ATouch of Stardust blends fact and fiction, combining newly imagined original characters with unforgettable icons of Hollywood’s Golden Age, as Kate Alcott explores the topsy-turvy world of cinematic glamour and its impact on human nature. Julie Crawford, Alcott’s fictitious protagonist, is a bright-eyed, sensible girl from Fort Wayne, Indiana; a graduate of Smith College, she’s determined to pursue her dream of writing screenplays, walking in the footsteps of her hero, Francis Marion. When she arrives on the set for the menial publicity job that's granted her passage into the glamorous, cutthroat world of Hollywood she's swept up into the drama and grandeur of David O. Selznick's seemingly ill-fated, all-consuming project: adapting Margaret Mitchell's beloved novel, Gone with the Wind. On the set, Julie witnesses burning sets and fiery tempers as catastrophe after catastrophe threatens to derail what Selznick believes will be the best film in motion picture history. She meets fascinating people at every turn, but none as tremendous as the straight-shooting Carole Lombard, another daughter of Julie's hometown. Hired by Lombard, whose affair with Gone with the Wind's own Rhett Butler has Selznick making every effort to keep the press at bay, Julie finds herself ushered into an altogether more overwhelming world where dinner parties are fairytale-glamorous and – at Lombard's whim – piglets are let loose in the foyer.
Alcott does a superb job with her handling of the notoriously disastrous filming of Gone with the Wind as the backdrop for her novel. She captures the genius of Selznick's efforts - sometimes desperate, sometimes torturous for those in his employ - and her reimagining of the film's stars is charming. Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, Leslie Howard, Butterfly McQueen, George Cukor, Victor Fleming, and Louis B. Mayer all make appearances throughout the pages, working as delightful cameos in a novelization of one of the most memorable times in Hollywood history. Chief among them, of course, are Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, whose love affair and subsequent marriage is remembered for its uncharacteristic robustness - and its tragic ending. Their easy camaraderie and their chemistry are captured beautifully, as is Lombard's ribald wit, unforgettable style, and charming, unflappable nature. Clark Gable is less the charismatic hero as he struggles under the insurmountable difficulties of filming and rails against Selznick at every turn, but it's Lombard’s wisdom and intimacy with his character that guide him through each challenge. Though dealing in the fictionalized world of the novel, Alcott remains true to the faults and struggles of every bright star in the Hollywood sky.
Ultimately, though, A Touch of Stardust is the story of a young woman setting out to make it in a seemingly impossible world; of her unexpected friendship with an iconic star at the other end of the Hollywood spectrum and her journey to learn how to love - and trust - in a famously unstable business. Julie is a charming character, brought to life in a slightly different way than that of her history-based counterparts; this cements her as something of an outsider throughout the novel, but in a way that builds her up as an independent woman with a strong mind who won't be drawn in by the pretenses of the glamorous world around her. With the fly-on-the-wall perspective of the Gone with the Wind set as the novel's backdrop, it would undoubtedly be a challenge for any author to divert her reader's attention elsewhere, but Alcott's storytelling is so engaging and her heroine so honest as to easily captivate her audience. Julie's romance with handsome producer Andy Weinstein, as complicated and thrilling as any Hollywood film, helps her to grow into her own. As a result, following Julie on her adventure as she begins to understand what she wants in the bright world of Hollywood becomes as enthralling as the screenplays she hopes to write. For fans of classic Hollywood, A Touch of Stardust is a rare combination of fascinating history and enchanting fiction that captures an iconic era in all its cinematic glory.