Yikes, 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.