Diane’s Adventure

Diane's Adventure by Ann SumnerYikes, this blog is multiple book reviews behind again! Let’s dig into a book I read… more than ten months ago.  Here is the story of Diane Du Bois, a woman who ran away from home to Hollywood and achieved instant fame, success, and of course, romance.

Diane’s Adventure by Ann Sumner was published by A.L. Burt in 1929, one of the few A.L. Burt first editions of the era.  Like many Grosset & Dunlap first editions, this A.L. Burt first edition appeared in newspapers nationwide.  I found Diane’s Adventure in the Newspaper Archive database with a run in the Cincinnati Times Star, beginning in 1928.

Before diving into Diane’s story (adventure), it’s worth taking a look at Ann Sumner.  Like several of the authors reviewed on this blog, Sumner’s romance writing career was only one chapter in her professional life.  It’s fitting that the bulk of Diane’s Adventure takes place around Hollywood, as Southern California was her home.  However, it was UCLA specifically that was Sumner’s home, in every sense of the word.  Sumner was among the first alumnae to graduate in 1926, and returned to work at the university in 1932.  Her niece was quoted as saying, “She was never married, so (UCLA) has been her child,” and when Sumner retired, she lived across the street from campus and would attend basketball games, even after turning 100!  Two fabulous articles really capture Sumner’s story and her love for UCLA, here and here.  UCLA’s library holds Sumner’s papers in their archive, the finding aid to which can be found here.

Relevant to collecting Sumner’s romance work is that, depending on which source I consult, Sumner is said to have written either six or eight romance novels.  By my count, I know of seven:  Diane’s Adventure, The Dream Kiss, The Glamorous Call, The Glittering Illusion, The Love Talent, Luxury Sweetheart, and The Silver Moth.  Could there be an eighth romance novel that was published in newspapers or a magazine but didn’t make the leap to an A.L. Burt edition?  Possibly!  I’ve certainly seen that with other authors.  However, there are definitely more than six titles in that list.  The other odd thing about those sources is that I have not seen the pseudonym they mention, “Marya Moore” used in the newspaper runs that I’ve found through the Newspaper Archive database.  Maybe it was used somewhere, but not in the examples I’ve found!

What’s interesting and relevant to Diane’s Adventure – at least in my opinion – is Sumner’s young age when writing this novel, as well as her opinion on it.  Sumner was born in 1904 (and lived until 2008!), so she was in her mid-twenties when she wrote most of her novels, and around twenty-four when she wrote Diane’s Adventure (which was syndicated in 1928).  Taken from the UCLA Alumni interview linked earlier, Sumner is quoted as saying, “[But at UCLA,] I couldn’t write the same dopey love stories that I wrote at the paper. I [got] used to writing academic radio speeches for Dr. Moore, and I couldn’t write cheap love stories that paid so well…I couldn’t do it after I got on campus. It was too academic … (the) people I met and everything else.”

That brings us to Diane’s Adventure.  Why?  Because normally I’d be saddened by an author referring to her own work as “dopey” but well, Diane’s Adventure is a little silly.  It reads to me a little like a self-insert Hollywood daydream.  Maybe Sumner’s other six (seven?) books are better.  However, in reading that interview, I do worry that this author was shamed out of her novel-writing career by academic snobbery some ninety years ago.

In any event, Diane’s Adventure opens with Diane’s arrival in Los Angeles.  In the scene depicted on the dust jacket, Diane witnesses her millionaire father with his arms around a “seductive little widow, who had supplied morsels of gossip for Brentmoore bridge parties for the last year” (5), leading her to run away later that evening.  In the first bit of fantasy within the plot, Diane has plenty of what could be referred to as “screw you money,” and finances are no concern.

The next bits of fantasy are that within hours of arriving, Diane hears about and attends a famous Wampas Ball, instantly attracting several potential suitors.  Unfortunately, one of the suitors is the silent era’s version of Harvey Weinstein, an influential producer named Gregory Garrett.  Garrett takes Diane to an afterparty and gets her alone at the end of the evening.  Fortunately, Hollywood leading man Jerry Lane just so happens to see this and, instantly smitten with Diane, hides in the curtains and executes an elaborate escape plot.  Naturally, this turnkeys into the leading man securing Diane an audition at Intra-National studios.  Do I even need to spell out the results?  A major film studio takes a gamble on the unknown Diane, casting her opposite Jerry Lane in an upcoming feature film.  This makes total sense.

Diane befriends a somewhat mysterious woman whose friendship with Jerry had originally made her jealous, Aurolyn Nair.  Aurolyn invites Diane to live with her, which Diane accepts and the two women spend more time together.  It’s revealed to the reader that Aurolyn is helping Gregory Garrett get closer to Diane, “I’ll always be willing to help you.  My debt to you is still unpaid” (101).  Meanwhile, Diane and Jerry become engaged, which Aurolyn promptly reports to Garrett.

Back on the east coast, Diane’s father breaks off his engagement with the notorious widow and begins to wonder where Diane went, now months ago.  He hires a private detective agency, but still hears first from a friend that they saw a film with “a girl whom I can almost swear is your daughter” (107).  Mr. Du Bois gives the agency carte blanche to do as they see fit to keep Diane safe until he can arrive in California, and that’s when things go sideways.

Aurolyn leaves Diane unaccompanied at their residence, and Gregory Garrett comes calling.  He makes his move, and is rejected.  Suddenly, Diane notices something, goes toward it, and a shot rings out.  When Gregory Garrett is found, there is no sign of Diane anywhere.

Diane awakes from a drugged sleep to find she has been kidnapped by the private detective agency, and that she was removed from the scene moments before Garrett’s murder.  The detective agency was unaware of the murder, or that their keeping Diane was implicating her.  Jerry rushes to find her, and brings her back to clear her name.  Shortly after that, Aurolyn reveals she has a step-sister who was married to Garrett, separated but refusing to divorce.  “She couldn’t have Greg herself – and she was going to be darn sure no other woman got him” (165).  It’s no surprise when it’s later confirmed that the step-sister was the murderer.

Diane’s father arrives just in time to help piece together the financial fallout caused by Garrett’s demise.  Instead of taking Diane back East, they stay in Hollywood and Diane quits acting.  A new film goes into production, and now Aurolyn Nair stars opposite Jerry Lane.  Diane is left with nothing to do, and attracts the attention of a “Lounge Lizard.”  Jerry and Diane’s mutual jealousy temporarily breaks their engagement, but of course they’re reunited at the end, by Aurolyn herself.  It’s a convoluted ending that involves a road trip, a dramatic rescue of a child, and a head injury.

Even in recounting Diane’s Adventure, the story plods along a bit.  It’s definitely not the worst book covered by the blog, and really isn’t even in the bottom third, but it was unremarkable and definitely languished on the read-but-needs-to-be-reviewed pile for far too long.  For me, the best part of this book is the memory of picking up my copy during my bachelorette weekend the other year.  Because, yes, of course we stopped at a bookstore on the way home.

On to the next adventure!

Discover other romances published in 1929 available for purchase here.

Posted in 1920s, A.L. Burt, Ann Sumner | 2 Comments

Interrupted Honeymoon

Dust jacket art by H. Weston TaylorToo often, it feels like few collectible copies of the books I collect are newly arriving on the book market.  In early 2022, right when I felt like I was in a book collecting slump, Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books released a new catalog that can only be described as devastatingly awesome.  I immediately lost all chill.

I ended up buying the book that was the catalog’s featured cover image even before the catalog had its complete debut.  One look at the dust jacket and I knew I had to have it.  That book was Interrupted Honeymoon by Pauline Benedict Fischer.  Also, I’d say “sorry” to anyone who may have wanted any of the eight titles I snapped up from that catalog, but I’m not sorry at all!

Interrupted Honeymoon by Pauline Benedict Fischer was published by the Penn Publishing Company in 1935.  Like all of my Penn editions, this copy is complete with its original perforated bookmark attached to the dust jacket’s front flap.  This bookmark lists Temple Bailey novels.  The dust jacket front flap also notes that this story has not been published serially.  The amazing cover art that drew me to this title is by H. Weston Taylor.  It depicts a scene from the book (page 53), and features the most intense glare in my entire collection.

For anyone wishing to read along, HathiTrust has Interrupted Honeymoon scanned and available here.  Their copy originates from a place I’m familiar with – the Bentley Historical Library at University of Michigan.  Their scan includes the dust jacket, front flap with bookmark, and a written note from the author.  It also includes a digitization hiccup of repeating the first dozen or so pages, which can be a little confusing.

Since the Bentley has holdings of Fischer’s work, I became curious and did a deeper dive, consulting a combination of the Bentley’s digitized holdings of The Michigan Daily, some freely available Google Books, Ancestry Library Edition, and the Newspaper Archive database.

Pauline Benedict Fischer (1892-1982) née Margaret Pauline Benedict was born in Ionia, Michigan.  She attended the University of Michigan, where she edited the literary magazine the Inlander.  While at U of M, she married her husband, Alfred Fischer, who at the time worked at the Detroit Free Press.  The Fischers moved to New Jersey in 1928.  Fischer wrote mostly one-act plays and poetry, and Interrupted Honeymoon was her first novel.

An interview from the Morning Avalanche newspaper in Lubbock, Texas, dated January 22, 1946, relays the story of how the author got her inspiration.  Fischer, “stopped by a lending library shelf in a drugstore several years ago while her husband went on to the cigar stand.  Glancing through the titles she was suddenly struck with the thought, ‘Why I can write books as good as or better than these!'”  The same article mentions that her husband “is his wife’s severe critic and dearest friend” in editing and critiquing her work.

Interrupted Honeymoon is a great fit for a summer read.  It is light fiction with low stakes.  Fischer is quoted in The Michigan Alumnus, Volume 42 as saying it “does not pretend to solve any problems at all.”  Interrupted Honeymoon is intended as humorous, although I’m a bit of a tough sell on finding books funny.  The story of Interrupted Honeymoon was a bit one note, although some of the gags were definitely effective.  Also, I found that some of the situational comedy could be a little grating at times, but again, that could just be my taste.  Warning: spoilers ahead!

The premise of Interrupted Honeymoon is that Nancy and Willetts Lace are newlyweds embarking on their honeymoon.  They desire tranquility and solitude, and Willetts rents an isolated cottage named “Lonely Cove.”  Of course, “Lonely Cove” is anything but lonely, and their honeymoon turns into a series of various misadventures.  Interrupted Honeymoon also reads like an Airbnb horror story, except that Airbnb was still about seventy-five years in the future.

Why did Willetts, sometimes affectionately called Billetts by Nancy, rent Lonely Cove from a local in a remote town?  Willetts doesn’t want his first trip to Europe to be on his honeymoon, and Nancy doesn’t like the idea of honeymooning in Niagara Falls since “everybody goes there for honeymoons” (14).  Nancy and Willetts decide that their honeymoon must not be “The Usual Thing” (15).

One of the recurring gags is that the cottage’s housekeeper, Phoebe, the daughter of the man Willetts rented the cottage from, is very nosy and troublesome.  She mistakenly believes the newlyweds aren’t properly married, and has her own love triangle as backstory.  Another recurring element is that an unusual man living in the woods keeps breaking into the place and locking the newlyweds out.  And of course, the big punchline of the honeymoon is that Nancy and Willetts never actually get to spend an uninterrupted night together in their bedroom at Lonely Cove.

Night 1:  A massive storm knocks a tree onto the bedroom roof.  Falling plaster seals Nancy and Willetts off from the bedroom, and then Willetts gets locked in the basement.  Nancy sleeps on the davenport, Willetts on the basement floor.

Night 2:  During the second day, men from the town come to repair the roof.  One of them falls off the roof and can’t be moved from his impromptu sickbed, the bedroom at Lonely Cove.  Nancy and Willetts spend a tense evening with the recovering man and the town doctor.  Willetts sleeps on the davenport, and Nancy in an army cot in a room off the kitchen.

Night 3:  Nancy and Willetts rent a boat and explore twin caves.  Willetts explores the second cave as Nancy rests at the first.  He discovers the tide has quickly risen, and the couple can’t reach the boat or each other.  They wait most of the night for the tide to lower, and eventually return back to Lonely Cove to find themselves mysteriously locked out.  They sleep in their car.

Night 4:  Willetts’ PARENTS show up!  Perhaps Europe would have been enough distance to discourage these visitors, but Lonely Cove wasn’t!  Willetts’ mother insisted on dropping by, and then stays late enough to need to spend the night.  Willetts’ father apologizes.  The Lace parents sleep in the bedroom.  Once again, Willetts sleeps on the davenport, and Nancy sleeps in the army cot off the kitchen.

Night 5:  Police search for a mentally ill patient who escaped from an asylum and is thought to be near Lonely Cove.  Phoebe leads the police to Willetts Lace and has him taken to jail.  The police won’t listen to Willetts and Nancy that they have the wrong man.  Nancy follows the police to jail, and insists on spending the night near Willetts.  In jail.

The next day, the doctor from the asylum declares Willetts is indeed not his patient.  Instead, the strange man living in the woods, who had occasionally broken into Lonely Cove and locked the newlyweds out, appears and surrenders to the asylum staff.  Willetts and Nancy return to Lonely Cove and summarily fire Phoebe.  She tries to tell them something, but they refuse to hear it…

Before Night 6:  The rightful owners of Lonely Cove arrive.  Phoebe and her father had no right to rent the place out.  They were the housekeepers, and thought they could get away with the scheme while the owners were traveling.  Understandably, the owners are surprised and upset to find random vacationers living in their house.  Nancy and Willetts take the first train out of town, as far as it will go.  The only available tickets are not together.

Before their train out of town arrives, Nancy and Willetts run into a supporting character, Amos.  Amos had been one of Phoebe’s love interests, and he had been losing that battle for a significant part of the novel.  Finding Phoebe chastened by her wrongful accusation of Willetts and subsequent shame at being fired from Lonely Cove, Amos swoops in to be her hero and marry her right away.  The only problem is… they can’t find any witnesses.  Amos talks Nancy and Willetts into being those witnesses.  Before the Laces leave, Nancy asks where Phoebe and Amos will honeymoon.  Phoebe answers Niagara Falls.  Amos adds, “it’s what new married folks us’uly does” (298).

The story closes with Nancy and Willetts in “the busiest hotel on the busiest street of the busiest city in the world” (302).  Nancy and Willetts congratulate themselves on finding the perfect hiding spot where they will finally be left in peaceful solitude.  Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but I’m just saying that those declarations in Interrupted Honeymoon are inevitably followed by yet another interruption.  Either way, Nancy and Willetts reflect that their honeymoon wasn’t the “Usual Thing.”

Copies of Pauline Benedict Fischer’s works are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1930s, H. Weston Taylor, Pauline Benedict Fischer, Penn Publishing Company | Leave a comment

The Trail of Conflict

Written by Emilie Loring, cover art by W.V. ChambersHappy 100th Birthday to The Trail of Conflict by Emilie Loring!

Don’t be deceived by the somewhat drab cover art (by W.V. Chambers), this book is a massively exciting gem in my collection!  Simply stated, Emilie Loring is one of the most famous romance novelists within the era I collect, and this is the first edition of her first full-length novel published under her real name.  Not only is my copy the original Penn Publishing Company edition, but it’s a complete post-1921 Penn edition, meaning its original perforated bookmark is still attached to the dust jacket’s front flap.

How do I begin to explain the everlasting appeal of Emilie Loring, except to refer readers to other bibliographic resources?  Loring’s entry in Twentieth Century Romance and Gothic Writers (edited by James Vinson and published by Gale Research Company in 1982) is written by Margaret Jensen and can be found on pages 443-445.  “Emilie Loring is an American writer of patriotic, moralistic romances that comment upon some of the major socio-political events occurring in the United States during the period in which they were published.  Loring’s version of the romance formula has had an enduring appeal, for, although her books were written in the first half of the century, their multiple printings up to the present day attest to their continued popularity” (444).  The abundance of reprintings paired with the longevity of Loring’s writing career, including her ghostwritten novels, contribute to more name recognition than most of the authors reviewed on this blog.  Since The Trail of Conflict is in the public domain, it is freely available to readers today through digital repositories such as HathiTrust.

Another wonderful resource on Emilie Loring is Patti Bender’s website.  It really is a must-visit website for any Loring fan.  Not to be missed is her post on The Trail of Conflict, which includes the story of its publication history, from its origins in Munsey’s Magazine to Penn Publishing.

The final bibliographic citation that I would be remiss to omit is Geoffrey Smith’s American Fiction, 1901-1925.  The Trail of Conflict’s entry is L-513.  Now, on to the story!

Stephen Courtlandt and Jerry (short for Geraldine) Glamorgan find themselves in an old-fashioned arranged marriage, plotted over the years by Jerry’s father and hastily foisted upon the Courtlandt family by means of financial blackmail.  The Courtlandt family has a longstanding ancestral line, and the Glamorgan family has recent wealth accumulated over the past few decades.  Glamorgan buys up the Courtlandt estate and says he’ll kick out the elder Courtlandt unless the socially advantageous marriage takes place.  Out of devotion for their fathers, Steve and Jerry agree, but have very little reason to like the arrangement.  Their marriage starts out frosty and full of resentment.

The Trail of Tears doesn’t begin as a Western, but morphs into one thanks to a meddling wealthy Uncle Nicholas Fairfax.  This brings up the question of why Steve’s Uncle Nick didn’t bail out the Courtlandt estate in the first place, but the convoluted answer is that he refused the money to the elder Courtlandt and didn’t know of the marriage arrangement until it was too late.  Steve and Jerry continue to be pawns of their meddling elders, as they shift from living under Jerry’s fathers terms to living under the terms of Uncle Nick’s will after he passes, which states that the newlyweds must live at and manage his ranch, the Double O, in Wyoming.  Also, Jerry must lose all claim to the allowance provided by her father.

Loring stacks the tropes on top of each other: first the arranged marriage (strangers to enemies to friends to love storyline!), then the complicated inheritance plot, then the Western-styled story including a potential heist and outlaws.  The themes of The Trail of Conflict match Jensen’s write up of Loring fairly well.  To paraphrase, Loring’s protagonists have unwavering loyalty to their family, to marriage as an institution, and finally to their country.  Also, it’s clear throughout the book that because Steve and Jerry have good morals, they will triumph in the end.

Steve and Jerry’s relationship evolves throughout the book, as they slowly get to know each other while living at the Double O ranch.  Jerry’s little sister, Peggy, visits the ranch, and creates a stark contrast to this with her rapid and passionate relationship with Tommy Benson, Steve’s right-hand man.

For being in remote Wyoming, there are a lot of “small world” coincidences.  There aren’t many neighbors around, but the owner of the nearest ranch, named X Y Z ranch, just so happens to have been formerly engaged to Jerry.  Visiting the neighboring ranch is Felice Denbigh, who contributed to the strain in Steve and Jerry’s marriage back east and was a former interest of Steve’s before he went off to serve in World War I.  Speaking of WWI, several men who served alongside Steve appear in the novel, also happening to turn up in Wyoming.

The book builds up to an attempted train robbery from a disgruntled former ranch hand from the Double O named Ranlett.  Steve fired Ranlett, accusing him of employing immigrants who hadn’t applied for legal status, and who in turn spoke against the government.  Steve’s rant about Ranlett’s sacking (101-103) also matches Jensen’s descriptions of Loring’s themes.  Anyway, Ranlett amasses a band of outlaws to rob a train that is carrying currency from the government.  Steve and the patriots at Double O ranch stop the plot, helped by various veterans from Steve’s army days, including some who were mixed up with Ranlett but had a change of heart.

After foiling the train robbery, Steve and Jerry declare their love for each other.  Felice Denbigh’s ex-husband got mixed up in the plot but helped provide information to foil the plot before passing away, and Felice makes one final Hail Mary pass at Steve that falls hopelessly short as he sends her packing.  Jerry’s little sister writes home, “When I look up and see Steve’s eyes on Jerry my heart stampedes.  I feel as though I had made the unpardonable break of opening a closed door without knocking.  Jerry behaves a little better.  She keeps her eyes to heel but her voice – ” (319).

The Trail of Conflict ends the same as it began, with the elder Mr. Courtlandt and Glamorgan.  Only unlike their first meeting, this one is jovial and congratulatory.  They read Peggy’s letter and reflect on how Uncle Nicholas Fairfax’s meddling saved Steve and Jerry’s marriage.  The final sentence of the novel reads, “They stood shaking hands furiously, laughing boyishly, and patting one another’s shoulders as the lights flashed up on the river and night rang down the curtain of dusk.”

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Emilie Loring’s works are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1920s, Emilie Loring, Penn Publishing Company | 1 Comment

Guilty Lips

Written by Laura Lou Brookman, Cover Art by Mach TeyThis post has been co-written by Jess and her friend, Doug.

When Doug asked about co-reading a book for this blog, my first question was “are you sure?”  The second question was whether he preferred a printed book or if a digital copy via HathiTrust would do.  Like me, Doug prefers printed books as we have plenty of screen time at work.  That limited our options to anything I had in duplicate.  I presented Doug with all two of his options.  He knows why he didn’t pick the other one.

That brings us to Guilty Lips by Laura Lou Brookman.  I have a bunch of Laura Lou Brookman books.  Back in 2011, I purchased a sizable lot of her books on eBay.  It was an instant collection boost very early in my collecting career.  However, one of the copies came with a facsimile dust jacket, a modern reproduction not original to the book.  It was described as such – no nasty surprises there – but it didn’t really fit with my collection.  I snapped up a “real” copy as soon as I could, but kept the other copy around, in part because I never get rid of anything (Doug can confirm).  Doug read the facsimile copy at the same time I read the collection copy, and we called each other every fifty pages to discuss the book.

Guilty Lips first appeared in newspaper syndication before making the leap to the Grosset & Dunlap edition in 1931.  The shocking pink dust jacket is by Mach Tey.  The protagonist of the story has blonde hair, so we’re not sure what the cover art is about.  In fact, we’re not even really sure what the title or cover blurb (“they loved each other! But their kisses were forbidden”) is about.  (We really tried to figure it out, too.)

As someone who’s brand new to this decade and practically this genre, Doug found this book both frustrating and intriguing.  Frustrating in the sense that the author did not appear to care about proper pacing or any semblance of character development, and saw nothing wrong with leaving stray plot points unaddressed; intriguing in the sense that this book provides a window into a very particular time in our country’s history–the start of the Great Depression–from a point of view that has historically been overlooked–housewives.  It comes with all the typical anachronisms that a more prolific reader of this genre (*cough* Jess *cough*) might not notice as much (e.g., “goodby”).  Overall, Doug disliked this book quite strongly.  But it didn’t have to be this way.

Guilty Lips had a strong start.  There was a puppy!  The meet-cute of protagonist Norma Kent and love interest Mark Travers happens when they conspire to save the critter from certain doom.  What follows is the poor sap trying to leverage his good samaritanism to score a date (classic male behavior of any era), while the noble woman declines his persistent advances.

Following the meet-cute, the author gives a sense of who Norma is as a person and what her life looks like.  She introduces Norma’s best friend, Christine Saunders aka Chris, who is also her roommate (and who, in a modern book, would be at least a potential love interest because wooo-boy do they ever have some chemistry).  Throughout the novel, we meet very few characters from Norma’s life.  It seems like Norma might even have been born like Athena, fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, because Norma has no backstory predating a few years before the start of the book.  No family of Norma’s is mentioned or referenced.  It’s not even like she’s been disowned or there’s been some tragic back story.  They just don’t exist.  Also, there are intermittent mentions of the fictional setting of a town named Marlboro, which we have strong reason to believe is loosely based on Cleveland.

The book then segued into a quest for Norma to find the puppy’s true owner.  Norma quickly places an ad in the local paper for the lost dog.  What she doesn’t realize, even though it makes total sense, is that Mark Travers would be looking for just such an ad in order to find a way to contact this damsel.  Mark again tries to score a date.  Strike two.  But we know from another spurred suitor, Bob Farrell, that Norma is not one for romance.

And then the book jumps the shark.  Norma decides, yes, she actually likes this man that she just met and spent the past fifty-plus pages rebuffing.  Mark’s dad, millionaire F.M. Travers, bursts into Norma’s and Chris’s apartment to tell Norma that he doesn’t approve of the relationship (understatement).  He threatens to disown his son, and his bullheaded son tells him where he can go instead.  Mark, true to his impulsive and quick tempered ways, turns to Norma with, “Won’t you marry me, tonight” (78)?  And then they’re married.  Just like that.  In the three Brookman novels this blog has covered so far, all three feature hasty marriages.

What follows is a very long honeymoon in some place called Blue Springs (query: https://www.nps.gov/hosp/index.htm).  The only problem is… they don’t have any money.  Mark sells his car to fund the trip.  Yes, the Blue Springs honeymoon takes up way too much of the book and is one of the pacing problems, but it serves to demonstrate that Mark doesn’t know how to be financially independent and cannot function without access to the Travers fortune.  He blows through money like it’s going out of style.  The honeymoon also illustrates that Mark has no problem with dumping Norma for long periods of time when it suits him.

Things go south for the newlyweds, and fast.  Mark gambles away their last $400 while becoming belligerently drunk.  There’s no money for the hotel bill, and Mark Travers takes a loan from a man who has some unknown history with Norma, which shakes her to her core for reasons that aren’t explained for way too long (he’s her former attorney), and the newlyweds leave Blue Springs in disgrace.

Back in Marlboro, Mark steadfastly refuses to allow his perfectly capable wife to resume working, while himself being utterly inept at securing employment.  Norma finds him a job that he loses within a week.  Eventually, Mark finds work at a department store, far beneath his station, but he holds it.  Then F.M. Travers comes to the rescue and promises to give Mark money if he goes to France on an errand.  This is–eegad!–all a ploy to get Mark out of the country to drive a wedge between the newlyweds, which succeeds.  Mark divorces Norma in a highly questionable French proceeding (lawyers may ask why the heck a French court decided it had jurisdiction to process the divorce of a tourist with no connection to France for an American marriage, without providing any sort of notice or due process to the wife), and thus ends their marriage without much fanfare… or does it??

Surprise! Norma is pregnant.  Abandoned by her now ex-husband, Norma has Mark’s baby without informing the Travers family.  Even though she has been grievously wounded by this whole ordeal, she names the baby Mark Travers, after his father.  There isn’t really any explanation to justify this decision.  She simply does it.

We meet a few other characters, most notably Norma’s boss, Stuart, who’s surprisingly a mensch.  Stuart doesn’t mind that Norma lied about being married or concealed her pregnancy, and he lets her come back to work after she has the baby, beginning with flexible work-from-home options.  So progressive for the 1930s!  And yet, it’s the fact that Norma is a working mom that is used to justify a spurious case of child neglect, clearly instigated by F.M. Travers upon learning through his channels that Norma is a mother.  Norma is devastated.  She contacts her only two friends in the narrative world, Bob and Chris, and enlists their help in reclaiming her baby.  

Then comes a public corruption trial that has more problems than can be addressed in this blog post, the reclamation of baby Mark Travers, and the reunion of Mark and Norma, who decide they will remarry and sail off to South America.  If that sentence sounds disjointed or like a lot all at once, that’s because it is.  All of that happened within forty pages.  Laura Lou Brookman clearly wants the protagonist and her roommate to have a happy ending, and this is the only one she can think of.  So Norma marries Mark (again), and Chris and Bob, who have had no chemistry in the preceding 340 pages, suddenly announce they are marrying, too.

Guilty Lips reads like a failed morality tale.  Obviously, there’s a warning in here about a woman rushing into a hasty marriage without getting to know her future husband, but the happy ending negates it.  A morality antiquated from our modern reading, but perhaps more common for the decade, could be about sticking with your husband, no matter what, even if he’s abusive.  It also seems to imply that you could improve your husband, and he will magically become the man you want him to be.  Or at least he will tell you that he’s that man in the closing pages of the novel, and you will believe it without evidence!

Why does Norma take back Mark Travers?  Bob Farrell wasn’t glamorous, but was a better catch.  Chris doesn’t fit a heteronormative plot, but was also a better catch.  (“‘[Bob’s] the best person I’ve ever known,’ Norma told herself.  ‘No, one of the best.  Bob isn’t any better than Chris.  They’re both wonderful.”  (329).)  We ship it.  And Mark Travers, frankly, he was a heap of garbage.  Bottom of the barrel, dude.

Copies of Laura Lou Brookman’s works are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1930s, Grosset and Dunlap, Laura Lou Brookman, Mach Tey | Leave a comment

Self-Made Woman

Self-Made Woman by Faith BaldwinA confession: this blog is now three books behind.  It’s not ideal.  The pile of read books stacks up, and then I try to review something I read several months and many books ago.  Let’s dig into one of these.  First up, the rage read!

Behold, Self-Made Woman by Faith Baldwin!  Just look at the dust jacket!  The hairdo!  The phone!  The amazing wraparound art that extends into the back panel of the dust jacket!  Also, my husband pointed out that the woman on the dust jacket kind of looks like Lisa from Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.  My copy of Self-Made Woman is the original Farrar & Rinehart 1932 first edition, and was purchased from Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books.  Self-Made Woman was reprinted a few times, including a Triangle Books reprint with duplicated cover art but with a red background, and as a Dell Mapback edition, with different and highly stylized cover art.

I knew what I was getting into when I started Self-Made Woman for two reasons.  The first reason is that the book’s main conflict is pretty much the argument that two characters, Ruth and Amos, had and lived out in Faith Baldwin’s 1925 novel Those Difficult Years.  The other reason is that Archibald Hanna’s bibliographic citation in A Mirror for the Nation (Hanna 886) spoils the final pages of the story.  The question of if a woman should continue to work after marriage was one that Baldwin often grappled with.  Her answer generally lands on “no,” with a super convenient exception for writers like herself, as well as other creative fields.

Self-Made Woman opens on Cathleen McElroy’s thirtieth birthday.  “Cathleen McElroy was thirty; she was unmarried; she was one of the most successful business women in New York City, and one of the prettiest as well” (4).  Her business is real estate, and Cathleen moved quickly up the ranks to open her own firm with several employees.  Cue the single and successful woman with “something missing” in her life trope.  The birthday ends with, “She was young, she was successful, life was all before her.  Why did she stumble to bed weeping, and lie there, alone, listening to the river sounds, the night sounds, afraid, troubled, suddenly so insecure” (45)?

Shortly after the birthday, one of Cathleen’s closest friends, Anna, one of the most sought after interior designers in town, surprises her with the news that she’s trading her booming business for marriage.  “I’m fed up with it, Cathleen.  I know I’ve built it up, I know I’m rated as successful.  But I’m tired, I tell you; tired of being tactful, tired of trying to stop damn fool women from going wrong on color and line and background; tired of talking shop…” (61).  I immediately thought of Ruth, the character from Those Difficult Years who also was an interior designer before marriage.

The stage is set for two men to enter Cathleen’s life at about the same time: the thriving Electric Ice Box business tycoon Bill Burke, and the socially aristocratic but down on his finances Schuyler Perry.  Cathleen hires Perry, who quickly begins flirting with her.  Perry’s easy charm is juxtaposed with Burke’s rivalry.  Burke is openly sexist, with such lines as, “No, I don’t believe women are ever self-made.  There’s always a man in the background; several men” (119.)  Or, “Women were not intended biologically for – shall we say the careers of big business” (120).  He ends that particular conversation with “I think you’ve decided that we’re enemies.  So have I.  I like a good fight, a worthy opponent.  May I – call you up” (121)?

The handsome, likable Perry soon makes a proposition, which Cathleen mulls over.  “It all came down to the fact that, if she married Schuyler Perry she would support him, or almost so” (164).  Cathleen internally debates what it would be like to support a husband, propping him up and even including his name on her business.  She eventually decides, despite her stronger attraction to Bill Burke, “If he wanted her, she would marry him… She did not love him, but his physical attraction was strong; and she was genuinely fond of him” (167-168).  Then comes the plot twist:  Schuyler Perry wasn’t proposing marriage.  Cathleen does not accept.  When she gives Perry her final answer, Perry turns nasty, “You’re like a lot of women, I suppose.  You – permit so much and… no more.  Teasers” (213).  Charming.

The cracks begin to show in Cathleen’s business and personal lives.  She feels, “tired with the crushing weight of emotional fatigue” (157).  She begins to take time off of work, exhausted from nights of poor sleep.  She figures she is now “a little mad” as “this is what happened to women who worked, who struggled, who put the normal things from their lives” (175).  Then trouble comes to her business, and suddenly Cathleen finds her real estate office figuratively under water, in need of a large sum of money.  It certainly isn’t an unusual plot device for any business, much less real estate, to struggle during the Great Depression, but what gets me about it is that when juxtaposed with Burke’s business, it suddenly makes Cathleen’s seem like the lesser of the two.  It’s also implied that Burke manages his employees better, transforming Cathleen’s most useless brother into a hardworking employee quickly ascending the ranks.  This is all just another step in the wearing down of our main character, which is my fundamental problem with this book.

When Bill Burke proposes marriage, at first he frames it as a business proposal to save Cathleen’s struggling business.  He offers to be a silent partner in the business and when Cathleen says she’s never done such a thing before, he responds, “Would you make an exception of, perhaps, your husband” (215).  Cathleen responds in tears, and Burke readjusts his approach (good move, buddy) instead to sweep her off her feet with a joyful, romantic whirlwind engagement.  They immediately go out to lunch.  Burke orders for both of them.

Clouds loom over the marriage before the end of that first lunch.  The couple compromises, saying that Cathleen can keep her business at first, but that she must give it up once business improves; Cathleen takes the compromise, figuring that she can change her husband’s mind again after that to continue working indefinitely.  There are uncomfortable discussions about money where again, Cathleen asserts that she wants to maintain some independence.  Bill Burke reveals he bought a beautiful country house and convinces Cathleen to become a commuter to her office in the city.

After the wedding, Burke wears down Cathleen over the course of many months.  He wishes to host gatherings at their new home, and he expects Cathleen to host.  The running of her business, paired with the commute, uses up most of Cathleen’s energy and she feels too run down to keep up with the social pace Burke sets.  Heck, I felt tired simply from reading it.  Cathleen expresses exhaustion, a wish to stay home, but is constantly being put up to one task or another.  Or, she is made to feel insufficient when she can’t magically perform a task her husband expects of her, like when he assumes that all women know how to play the piano and is disappointed to find out that Cathleen can’t.  On top of that, Cathleen’s mother ominously warns, “you’ll find that it’s not easy to hold a man in a childless house” (267).

Sure enough, one Margie Huntington comes to call, visiting often and stepping in to assume hostess duties for Bill Burke.  She receives their guests, and even finds her way to Bill’s sickbed when he falls ill.  It’s revealed that she’s been gently pressuring Bill to drop Cathleen, and wants no less than marriage.

All of this, on top of Bill Burke’s questions about Schuyler Perry, culminates in a marriage-altering fight.  None of Bill Burke’s attitudes are out of the norm for 1932.  Some “highlights” from Burke (295 -297):

  • “Why don’t you stay in your house, where you belong?”
  • “I want a woman – to come home to -“
  • “I married a business woman, didn’t I?  More business than woman!”
  • “Yes, you’ve failed.” (at the marriage)

After taking some time, the conversation continues, and Cathleen agrees to give up her business.  Burke promises that her employees will be taken care of.  Cathleen reflects that she made her business, but her business also made her and the person she has become.  Burke openly admits that Cathleen will regret giving up her business, but should do it anyway.  The novel ends with Cathleen hopefully bringing up the concept of starting a family.

What’s great about Self-Made Woman is that it doesn’t shy away from tough topics of its day, not only working after marriage, but also gender roles in general, unfair double standards, and includes some frank conversations about sex before marriage.  Also, Cathleen is one of the more developed protagonists in romances of this era, and certainly one of the most accomplished.  At thirty, she’s one of the older – but not the oldest – main characters represented in my collection, and has experience and prospective to show for it.

What’s tough about Self-Made Woman is that Cathleen’s hard fought accomplishments are continually being minimized, torn down, and she is made to relinquish them.  Early on, when Cathleen asks her family why they don’t consider her business on the level of Burke’s, one of her brothers explains, “but you’re a woman, see” (38).  It’s not easy to read around three hundred pages of a poised and successful woman being run down and manipulated into conforming to society and/or her husband’s idea of who she should be.  If Cathleen were sick of working, like her friend Anna was, that could be one thing.  However, that’s not what happened, and I can pretty much feel the future years of resentment oozing out of the final pages of this book.

The central premise of the “question” of women continuing to work after marriage should feel dated, but of course workplace sexism and lack of institutional support (e.g. guaranteed paid parental leave) are alive and well.  The most antiquated notion in this premise is that one partner’s income is enough to support the entire family very comfortably.  If that’s your family, then more power to you, but that’s a fairly tall order to relate to in this day and age.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Faith Baldwin’s works are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1930s, Faith Baldwin, Farrar and Rinehart | 2 Comments

Movie Review: I Demand Payment

I Demand PaymentTo steal a quip from the title of an IMDB user review, “I demand my time back.”

I Demand Payment is the movie adaptation of Second Choice by Rob Eden.  It was released in 1938, six years after Second Choice.  I’m not familiar with much about the stars or production company outside of what can be found on IMDB.  The book is good didactic fun and the movie is available through my library Hoopla account, so I figured I had nothing to lose except just over an hour of my time.

Also, I thought that posting a movie review would be a fun opportunity to share a piece from my ephemera collection.  My small collection of paper items can best be described as memorabilia that specifically tie into the broader book collection somehow.  The picture for the post is of a lobby card for the movie I Demand Payment.

To review, the gist of the plot of the book Second Choice is that Toby Locke dumps Judith to marry her friend, Donna.  After the wedding, Donna drives Toby into debt, and he turns to Judith for assistance.  Judith helps Toby out and is dragged into his divorce proceedings.  She finds her happily ever after with the town’s physician, Dr. Craig Mitchell, and learns to distance herself from Toby.

The plot of I Demand Payment has little to do with any of that.  Toby Locke gets wrapped up in a loanshark gang (what?), marries Judith so she can’t testify against him in court (WHAT?), ditches her, kills a guy (WHAT!?), and bullies Judith into fleeing to Mexico with him where the gang tracks him down (WHAT!?!?).

The similarities to the book are the character names, and a few of the scenes.  Judith’s sister, Rita, who serves as the voice of reason to an almost humorous degree in the book, appears in a single scene in the film, to tell Judith not to meet up with that no good Toby Locke.  Dr. Craig Mitchell gives Judith a family heirloom bracelet as part of their courtship.  That might be about it though.

There is no Donna character in I Demand Payment.  Without Donna, the entire premise of Second Choice (i.e. Judith being “second choice”) doesn’t work, which is I suppose part of why the title changed.  Also, without Donna, it’s unclear how Toby got mixed up with the loan sharks.  They say he took out a large loan he couldn’t pay back, but without Donna, it’s never explained why he did that in the first place.  Without Donna’s marriage to Toby, most of the societal commentary in Second Choice is also gone.  Instead we get a loanshark gang, which was most certainly NOT part of Second Choice.

The scene depicted in the lobby card is from the final scene of the movie.  Members of the gang have tracked Toby down in Mexico and plan to kill him in revenge for killing one of their own.  However, Dr. Craig Mitchell has come to save Judith from Toby, and they get unknowingly wrapped up in a dinner party where Toby sweats it out.  The lobby card shows a gang member talking to Judith the naive hostess.

Like most movie adaptations, it’s no surprise that the book was better, but still, I was a little disappointed by the degree of discrepancy.  Oh well.  Another book review awaits…

Posted in 1930s, movie review | 1 Comment

Second Choice

Written by Rob Eden, cover art by Mach TeyWhy didn’t I read this book sooner?  Perhaps, when compared with some of the other Rob Eden titles on my bookshelf, this one was always… Second Choice.

Second Choice was one of the earliest Rob Eden titles to join my collection.  When I looked through my records, I discovered that I started reading this book exactly ten years to the day after having ordered it.  Never can go wrong with a good Rob Eden title – their novels have yet to disappoint.

For the uninitiated, “Rob Eden” is a joint pseudonym for the husband and wife writing team of Robert and Eve Burkhardt.  Second Choice was one of their many novels that first appeared in newspaper syndication and then made the leap to the book format.  Second Choice features great, vivid artwork by Mach Tey and is a classic Grosset and Dunlap romance of its era, published in 1932.  As of this writing, there are more collectible copies of Second Choice available for sale than there are in OCLC.

What’s special about Second Choice?  Although the scant romance bibliographies out there often omit “Rob Eden,” Eden’s books were widely read, reflections of the issues of their time, and are frankly compelling.  Second Choice is an entertaining cautionary tale.  Most or all of the characters make absolutely terrible life choices, taking readers along for the ride.  It’s more than a little didactic, but with great pacing.  Plus, it was adapted into a movie!

The basic premise of Second Choice is that Judith Avery’s beau, Toby Locke, swiftly passes her over for her friend, Donna Herriot.  Heartbroken, Judith is unable to let go of the idea of Toby and becomes inappropriately involved in Toby’s life when he later calls on her with his financial and marital troubles. Judith could stand to learn of the concept of “not my problem” or “not my business.”  Donna, Toby’s wife, has wracked up enormous debts in Toby’s name with no remorse.  As Toby’s marriage falls apart, it is Judith who is thrust into negative publicity after being named in the divorce proceedings.  Meanwhile, she has attracted the attentions of Dr. Craig Mitchell.

Second Choice doesn’t depend much on subtlety to get its point across.  For example, Donna, Toby’s wife, spends money so quickly that it’s almost like a cartoon with higher and higher number signs flying by.  She quits her job, spends all of her mother’s money on her wedding, spends all of Toby’s savings on their honeymoon, goads Toby into buying a new car, racks up numerous clothing bills, and begins day-gambling at her bridge gatherings.  Toby can’t persuade Donna to knock it off and instead steals a thousand dollars from his employer, a bank, which he then completely loses in the stock market.  Judith, when confronted with Toby’s crime, immediately insists that she will personally take care of it and takes out a loan to cover the stolen bank expenses.  Dr. Craig Mitchell loans her the money. One character, protagonist Judith’s older sister, Rita, serves as the foil for Judith, a voice of reason.  Whenever Rita gives Judith solid advice, it is always promptly ignored.

The morals of the story:

  1. Avoid unnecessary debt.  “At first Toby had been amused, and then frantic, at the way Donna spent money.  At night this last month he couldn’t sleep.  Through sleepless hours he was thinking about the debts that were his.  Even at the bank during the day, they were constantly in his thoughts.  Debts were piling up that he couldn’t pay.  Credit, which was almost sacred to him, as a banker, flitting away.  And no end to it.  The debts going on and on” (93).
  2. Marriage is a partnership based on companionship.  “Judith walked around the room, thinking of [her parents]…  They shouldered everything together.  Finances, children home.  There was a budget in the Avery family that was adhered to rigidly.  And that was the way marriage should be, Judith decided… A happy partnership” (67).  And later, Dr. Craig Mitchell tells Judith, “Love is mostly companionship… When you’ve found someone whom you think you could live with harmoniously, lovingly all your life – then that’s love” (163).
  3. If you are not part of the marriage, then stay out of it.  From Rita, “If I were you, I’d forget about Toby and his troubles, and let him figure them out for himself.  Toby and Donna are married, aren’t they?  They not infants, they’re grown-up, and supposed to be mature, intelligent beings… Let ’em sink or swim.”  Upon Judith’s protests, Rita’s warning continues “Then you’ll be sorry, dear, because he’s married to another woman.  You have no right to him” (70).

In a way, Second Choice captures the twenty-year old’s (for that is Judith’s age) post-breakup psyche pretty well.  Toby passing Judith over for Donna feels like the end of the world to Judith, and she doesn’t bounce back well.  She has impaired judgement throughout the book.  Only towards the end of the novel, after Toby has really put her and ultimately her family through the wringer, does Judith begin to put him into perspective.  “Last year at the first snowfall she hadn’t even met Toby Locke.  She hadn’t even known he existed” (207).  They had only dated a few months when Toby announced his engagement to Donna.  Towards the end, Judith slowly starts thinking sense and expressing it more and more.  When Toby says “we’ll struggle through” the ignominy of Judith being named as an additional party in the divorce, Judith snaps back, “I’ll struggle through it, you mean.  It’ll all be on my shoulders” (205).  When Judith finally decides she’s done with Toby, she tells him, “I was blind to everything, everybody, but you” (251) and eventually just walks away, leaving him standing at a street corner.

Throughout this, Judith’s romance with Dr. Craig Mitchell has been slowly growing.  She met him at Toby and Donna’s wedding, and he hires her to work in his office after she quits the bank where she and Toby had worked.  He dotes on her constantly.  Rita’s advice about Craig is, “If I had half at chance at him I’d snatch him up in a second” (135).  Craig suggests a trial engagement, which Judith eventually calls off.  When Judith eventually comes to her senses, the doctor comes running, even though he had just been in a plane accident and stranded for several days in a snowstorm.  (This isn’t the first Rob Eden book I’ve read that uses a plane crash as a plot device.)

Somehow, every character gets the happiest possible ending that they could get, all things considered, even though it cost something to each of them.  Donna gets $75 a month in alimony, plus a new wardrobe throughout the book I guess, but loses her husband within six months of marriage.  Toby is finally free of Donna and never got caught for stealing since he returned the money (courtesy of Judith) so he’s not in jail, but will be forever in debt to creditors moving forward, stuck paying Donna’s alimony from his modest paycheck, and loses Judith as his backup wife and second source of income.  Judith forgets about Toby to get her happily ever after with Craig, but only after her name was dragged through the mud by Donna and the town gossips.  Plus, she and Craig are definitely out the thousand dollars that Judith lent to Toby, for whatever that’s worth.  (According to the inflation calculator, that sum would be well over $19k in 2022 dollars.)  Neither she nor Craig are concerned about that last part though.

For anyone wondering, “does the movie version of Second Choice live up to the book,” stay tuned…

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of Rob Eden’s works are available for purchase here, including Second Choice.

Posted in 1930s, Grosset and Dunlap, Mach Tey, Rob Eden | 5 Comments

Love on the Ice

written by Deck Morgan, cover art by Charles L. WrennLove on the Ice is what happens when a licensed bobsled pilot writes a romance novel about an up-and-coming figure skater.

The dust jacket boasts that Deck Morgan is “one of the new journalist-authors” and “he has lived through more adventure than the characters in his novels.”  The laundry list of his adventures include staging an ice carnival in Spain, singing for a Broadway studio, syndicate writing, and being a licensed bobsled pilot.  I’ll just rip off the Band-Aid here: I have no idea how good he was at most of these skills, but he wasn’t a great romance novelist.

Love on the Ice was published by John H. Hopkins & Son, Inc. in 1937.  As of this writing, there’s another reasonable copy of this book available for sale with its dust jacket and aside from that, three copies listed in OCLC.  The cover art, which is the best part of the book, is signed C L Wrenn.  Charles Lewis Wrenn was a prolific magazine and book illustrator.  Both Lake Chapala Artists and Pulp Artists have a biographic sketch of Wrenn.

As for what happens in the book, I’ll try to keep it short and sweet, well, maybe not sweet.  The main character is Brian Grant, an event promoter or producer or director or something.  He first meets Suzie Blair when she disrupts one of his rehearsals.  She’s described as a “little girl.”  She’s at the ice rink with Rudl Baer, her skating partner, manager, and unfortunately portrayed Austrian stereotype.  Brian is at the rink with Claudette D’Argy, a concert singer whose star is fading and is a one-note prima donna.

These characters meet again as they bump into each other or follow each other around North America and Europe.  Suzie gains fame as her dancing on skates routine takes off, while Claudette finds herself upstaged at Brian’s ice carnival.  Claudette uses her wealth to manipulate those around her, while bombing every performance within the book.  Rudl shouts militaristic orders at Suzie while Brian makes fun of him.

The final hundred pages sees Brian Grant in New York, wishing to produce a giant stage show.  Claudette stupidly backs the show to the tune of $50,000 – really? that’s close to $1mil in today’s cash – in exchange for being the star.  Unsurprisingly, Brian creates a mediocre show too anemic to open and then declares that what will save it will be an ice skating act.  Claudette protests, but Brian has already cashed her check.  He creates an expensive ice rink on the stage that he can’t afford as the show’s pre-production drags on.  He can’t get Suzie Blair to agree to the show or Claudette to agree to allowing Suzie in the show, and at one point, creditors appear to dismantle the set.

Claudette isn’t a sympathetic character, and placing a bet on Brian Grant’s show after the first 150 pages of the book was unwise, but she’s really put through the wringer.  Since her money is on the line, she is cornered into agreeing to all of Suzie Blair’s terms.  Suzie, who aspires to be as unpleasant a prima donna as Claudette, fires Rudl and hires Brian as her manager.  Her mistake.

The name of the big show becomes It’s Love on the Ice.  However, Love on the Ice! was the name of the skating operetta in the book’s opening pages.  That looks like a continuity error to me.  Anyway, the book ends with Suzie and Claudette agreeing to be costars in Brian Grant’s half-baked show, due to open within weeks.  The book ends with a weird, sour misogynistic note where Claudette quips upon being interviewed that “everyone knows that women are generous, gracious, kind-hearted…” followed by the last sentence of the book: “They all laughed.”

After reading Elenore Meherin’s Sandy, which wasn’t a romance, I wanted a guaranteed romance, preferably something light and snappy.  I should have picked a Rob Eden.  Much like if I were to attempt ice skating after all these years, Love on the Ice fell flat.  Maybe another reader would disagree, but I felt the characters were either one-note or just “there,” they just kind of drifted about, and I didn’t really care what happened next.  There was even a character that I strongly suspect is a self-insert of the author, a bobsled pilot named Billy Beck, who doesn’t really do anything but has a few cameo appearances.

I can already promise that the next book that this blog reviews will be better.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of other Hopkins romances can be found here.

Posted in 1930s, Charles L. Wrenn, Deck Morgan, John H. Hopkins & Son | 2 Comments


Sandy by Elenore MeherinThis post hasn’t been the easiest to write.  Sandy has a lot going on in over 350 pages, and wasn’t exactly as described.  Elenore Meherin was marketed by Grosset and Dunlap as a romance writer and her books, including Sandy, are listed on the “Sparkling Romances of the Modern Girl” dust jacket advertisement panels.  However, Sandy is not a romance.  There is no HEA (Happily Ever After).  I say this up front and would add that this story deals with domestic violence and abuse.

The other way in which this book isn’t exactly as described is that Elenore Meherin’s books, particularly her mid to late-1920’s titles, are often misdescribed by booksellers.  Like Beatrice Burton’s The Flapper Wife, Elenore Meherin first editions are not determined solely by their copyright page, but rather their advertisement listings in the back of the book and dust jacket.  I believe most booksellers don’t intend to misdescribe their wares but rather have mistakenly believed a copyright page.  My copy of Sandy is questionable.  It has a wonderful ownership history, but sure does have a lot of 1927 titles listed in the back of the book for a 1926 “first edition.”  I’m just saying.

Like other Grosset and Dunlap “romance” writers, Elenore Meherin wrote serialized fiction stories that appeared in newspapers around the country.  Nine of her books made the leap to a G&D edition, and while I do have all nine, I’m not sure just how many are actually romances.  Sandy sure isn’t and I have reason to believe that her most famous book, Chickie, might not really be a romance either, although Chickie does eventually find her happy ending.  Two of Elenore Meherin’s books were adapted into silent film, both Chickie and Sandy.  The film adaptation of Chickie is lost.  Sandy… well, let’s just say I had exciting potential plans that fell through thanks to omicron.  Sandy was adapted into film, and the book edition is a photoplay edition with glossy plate pictures from the film.  The frontispiece may be the most famous scene from Sandy: of Sandy’s husband hitting her.

Sandy McNeil bounds into this story full of life, and already engaged to Ben Murillo but openly talking of her apathy towards him.  He’s introduced ring and money first, on “Sandy’s hand where a diamond the size of an almond glowed” (5).  The engagement is described as being “engineered” by Sandy’s family for reasons of economy, and a sympathetic uncle correctly observes that Sandy is being “railroaded” into the marriage.  As for Murillo himself, “he had limp hands and red lips, always a little moist” (8).

The opening pages of Sandy lay out the conflicts and themes that continue through the story: money, agency, reputation, and how Sandy navigates those elements in a patriarchal world stacked against her.  While the dust jacket cover blurb reads, “She defied Life’s Conventions in her search for THRILLS,” really the only “THRILLS” Sandy seeks is to escape an abusive marriage and make her way in the world as her own person.  At multiple points throughout the story, she tries to strike out on her own and earn a living working, but various family obligations always pull her back.

Within the first thirty pages, the McNeil family leverages a minor scandal that Sandy gets into with one of her friends into her rushed marriage to Ben Murillo.  While still on her honeymoon, Sandy is “seared with unhappiness” and her feelings towards her husband can best be described as revulsion.  Murillo is controlling, isolating Sandy from her friends.  He looks toward her with a “possessive look in his eyes” (37) and feels pride in having an attractive wife.  Sandy makes her thoughts known about that early on, “If I’m good to look at it’s no thanks to you.  Why all the pride?” (25) and a bit later, “She belonged to herself – HERSELF!  No one else owned her body and soul” (48).

The honeymoon ends when Sandy runs away in the middle of the night, leaving Ben Murillo with the jewelry that had once impressed her.  In contrast to Sandy’s affirmation that she belongs to HERSELF, Murillo sees her farewell note and seethes, “She was his – HIS!” (54).  With no other plan, Sandy returns home to her horrified family.  Since she refuses to leave, they allow Ben Murillo to move in.  Meanwhile, Murillo renovates a home in preparation for Sandy, what Sandy considers “a gorgeous place to cry” (66).  She makes a plan to escape to her cousin’s until she can find work.  The plan is foiled when Sandy learns she is pregnant.  With no other options, she returns to live in Ben Murillo’s recently renovated house.

The pregnancy makes Sandy feels like “she didn’t belong to herself” (69) and she avoids telling her husband of it because “she would be in his power then – completely” (72).  Scorned, Ben Murillo treats Sandy with hostility, using money as a weapon against her, such as telling her to buy a new dress for a family event, but giving Sandy no money for it, hoping she’d beg him for it.  The conflict simmers once Sandy’s husband figures out she’s pregnant, and escalates during an argument in which he threatens to take the baby from her once it’s born.  With that, Sandy faints and the baby is born two months early, passing away only a few days later.

After that, Sandy meets Ramon Worth while recuperating, and begins working with her lawyer uncle to find the grounds for divorce from Ben Murillo.  Meanwhile, the situation with her husband deteriorates further into violence when Sandy invites her friends over while Murillo is out, serving the liquor from his locked cabinet.  Murillo is furious, “You mean to stick here until you’re equipped to earn your own living, do you?” (176).  He strikes Sandy, and she flees from his house for the last time.  For the rest of the book, Murillo refuses the divorce.  His hatred of Sandy motivates him to hold her indefinitely.  Even once his story arc wanes, Murillo will resurface every now and again to assert ownership and refuse divorce.

Sandy runs to Ramon Worth, and without the support of her family, becomes dependent on him.  She tells herself that it’s only until she can find a job and pay him back, but is miserable in her dependency and loneliness.  The relationship is “pathetic and tragic” (198), with Ramon slowly turning emotionally abusive, unwilling to end things and often lurking in the shadows.  When Sandy gets a job, Ramon laments that it’s the beginning of the end (205).  Sandy is forced to leave her job when the family that refuses to stand by her – they literally tell her they’ll take her husband’s side should a divorce trial go to court – summons her to care for her ailing mother.

After being turned out by her immediate family once more, Sandy finally moves in with her cousin, Judith, like she had planned to do earlier in the book, and earns $90 a month in a law office.  Things start going sideways when Sandy snaps up Judith’s sweetheart, Douglas Keith.  It’s Sandy’s least sympathetic moment in this story, and perhaps where she crosses the line.  Judith becomes desperately miserable as Sandy plans to elope with Douglas.  However, Ramon returns, more unstable and violent than before.  Ramon’s desperate possessiveness, while a different flavor to Ben Murillo’s, continues to the same result, “he doesn’t own me!” (298).

Ramon shoots Sandy, and then shoots himself.  Douglas Keith rushes to the scene and removes an injured Sandy, and is implicated in Ramon’s death.  In trying to protect Sandy, he builds a wall of suspicion around himself and is likely to be convicted.  An ailing Sandy rises from her sickbed, rushes to court to clear Douglas’ name, and then dies while hallucinating that she’s being reunited with her baby.

Even though Sandy is supposed to be a “modern” flapper, her story structure and ending is more nineteenth century than twentieth.  The only happy ending is that Douglas Keith is free, and it is implied he’ll find his happily ever after with Judith.  There is no happy ending for Sandy, dead at twenty-two, and there was no central romantic interest in this novel, only passing flirtations and possessive, abusive men.

So then WHY was this marketed as a romance novel?  My guess is that Elenore Meherin was mostly a romance writer, very popular too, and the publisher didn’t know how else to market the book, so included Sandy with the others.  Or perhaps her publisher wasn’t working with the same expectations of the romance genre that modern readers have.  Maybe both.

While Sandy ends 2021’s book reviews on a less celebratory note than I’d like, and perhaps appropriate for how 2021 is ending, the good news is that Sandy enters the public domain on January 1, 2022.  As of midnight, Sandy is finally free.  No one owns her.

Copies of Elenore Meherin’s works are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1920s, Elenore Meherin, Grosset and Dunlap | 1 Comment

Three on a Honeymoon

written by Vivian Grey, cover art by Modest SteinThree on a Honeymoon is kind of a weird book.  Mistaken identity, a revenge plot gone wrong, scandal, and a broken engagement, it’s all here, packed into under 250 pages.

Like other Chelsea House novels, Three on a Honeymoon made its first appearance in a romance pulp magazine.  According to FictionMags IndexThree on a Honeymoon was a five-part serial that ran in Street and Smith’s Love Story Magazine, February 9, 1935 through March 9, 1935.  The dust jacket art of Three on a Honeymoon is a cropped version of the magazine cover from the February 9th issue, the full version of which is signed by Modest Stein.

Three on a Honeymoon is by Vivian Grey.  But what does that mean exactly?  This isn’t the first “Vivian Grey” novel I’ve read and reviewed, and what I wrote for Party Girl in 2019 hadn’t been sitting right with me these past few years.  In 2019, I attributed authorship based on the FictionMags Index listing.  This time, I submitted a reference inquiry with the Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections Research Center to check on the author files in the Street & Smith Records.  Julia, a Reference Assistant, answered my reference request and was incredibly helpful.  She looked through the archives and let me know that Three on a Honeymoon was written by Ruth D’Agostino.  In fact, Ruth D’Agostino had also written Party Girl, as well as every other Chelsea House novel that I have on hand by “Vivian Grey.”

This makes sense, as the Library of Congress Name Authority files references Ruth D’Agostino to “Vivien Grey” [sic].  Looking through my favorite database, the Newspaper Archive, I found an article from The Key West Citizen, dated March 17th, 1938.  The story confirms the pen name as well as mentioning Florida settings, and references the author’s dog, Whiskers.  The main character of Three on a Honeymoon has a dog, also named Whiskers.  I have to respect an author who straight up writes her pet into her book.  Whiskers is a very important character.

The plot of Three of a Honeymoon is more or less that Nihla Carmack has fallen on tough times and is preparing to marry the boring but rich and dependable Henry Allen when she meets Rupert Holt.  Holt happens to be in town on business but upon learning Nihla Carmack’s name, begins to seek revenge for his wronged half-brother.  The plot is successful, and then he learns that he had the wrong Nihla Carmack.  He begs for Nihla’s love and forgiveness.

It’s clear from the beginning of the story that Henry Allen’s days as Nihla’s fiancé are numbered.  “He put his arm around her stiffly and looked at her with a possessiveness that always turned Nihla’s very soul sick” (18).  Yep, he’s toast.

To be fair, Rupert Holt is hardly a catch himself.  D’Agostino/Grey tries to write him as romantic to an almost overwhelming degree, and instead it just comes off as creepy.  For example, after their first meeting, when he learns of Nihla’s engagement (that moment is depicted as the cover art), Rupert Holt follows her fiancé’s car to Nihla’s house, learns where she lives, and calls on her in the middle of the night.  He spews hot garbage opinions like, “The last thing in the world that I want, my dear, is an independent, self-sufficient woman!  They’ve been the abomination of the last few years, darling” (225).  He goes on to say that “the discontent of females” is “half of what’s wrong with the world now” (226). Ugh, no thank you!

Nihla is smitten with Rupert Holt (why?), and they go on a date to lunch followed by visiting a cult compound.  Really, they visit the Koreshan Unity Village outside of Fort Myers.  The Koreshan Unity is now dissolved, and few followers remained by 1935 when this novel took place, but the preserved village remains visitable to this day.  I had never heard of Koreshan Unity, and was delighted to find an entire rabbit trail of information available, thanks to the internet.  It has little to do with Three on a Honeymoon, but it’s easy to fall into looking at old photos on Florida Gulf Coast University’s Digital Repository of the Koreshan Collection.  I digress.

The “other” Nihla Carmack was Nihla’s aunt, who was only ten years older than Nihla but apparently looked younger than that.  She had a star-crossed romance with Holt’s half-brother that ended in tragedy.  To get back at “Nihla Carmack,” Rupert Holt drags her name through the mud with heavy hints of scandal, takes Nihla’s jewelry, and drives her out to a remote beach cabin, stranding her with him for days while the town talks.  During their time alone in the beach cabin, the complicated Nihla backstory is revealed, but it’s too late to take back the plot.  Rupert Holt is contrite and Nihla Carmack is understandably furious.

As Nihla hitchhikes home, she considers not returning to Fort Myers at all, but reconsiders because her dog, Whiskers, is waiting for her.

Nihla returns home to see two cars waiting on the driveway: Rupert Holt’s and Henry Allen’s.  Both men try to win her affection, Henry in saying that he still trusts and forgives her, and Rupert in promising that they’ll be happy together and he’ll spend the rest of his life making up to her what he did.  It’s presented that in choosing Rupert Holt, Nihla would be embracing forgiveness and avoiding the mistake made by the “other Nihla,” who had passed up love for misguided reasons.  It goes around like that for several chapters.

Ultimately, Nihla tries to get away from both of them but is swept up by Rupert Holt once again when his car blocks her swift getaway.  He firmly but gently tells Nihla that she’s coming with him and getting married, and that’s that.  Whiskers hops into Rupert’s car with Nihla, and Rupert and Nihla happily exclaim that the dog joining them makes for “three on a honeymoon.”  Good on Whiskers for adding a cute touch to a somewhat disappointing but understandable ending.  I get why Nihla goes off with Rupert Holt within the conventions of this story and its time, but I don’t have to like it.

Babylon Revisited Rare BooksCopies of other books published by Chelsea House are available for purchase here.

Posted in 1930s, Chelsea House, Modest Stein, Vivian Grey | 5 Comments