Archive for the ‘1940s’ Tag

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The cinematic worlds created in 1940s Hollywood collide with the realities
of World War II and personal battles of the characters in Anthony Marra’s Mercury
Pictures Presents
.

After her father is arrested for his anti-fascist writings and imprisoned in
an Italian penal colony, young Maria immigrates with her mother from Rome to
Los Angeles. The move does nothing to assuage the guilt she carries for
inadvertently alerting authorities to her father’s political transgressions.
Years later she’s hired at Mercury Pictures, a second-rate movie studio, where
she becomes an associate producer.

Marra incorporates multiple storylines tied together by Maria and Mercury
Pictures. Numerous characters populate the novel; most have emigrated to escape
persecution in their home countries. All, perhaps especially Maria,
try to reinvent themselves. Humor, irony and pathos merge as they navigate new
lives despite their status as second-class residents while making propaganda
films to support the war effort.

Much of the story is set in Hollywood/Los Angeles, but other locales
prominently figure in the epic Marra crafts, including San Lorenzo, Italy,
where Maria’s father lives out his days. The Utah desert is a surprising setting:
where, during the war, a crew from Mercury recreates German village to film a
war scene.

All of the characters are nuanced and interesting. They’re talented and
ambitious. These include Maria’s Chinese-American boyfriend; the German
miniaturist; the Italian cinematographer and the Jewish studio head, among
others. None are caricatures and all face some form of prejudice, much of which
is anticipated, some unexpected.

Mercury Pictures Presents

Four Bookmarks

Hogarth, 2022

416 pages

Brains Beyond Beauty   Leave a comment

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Marie Benedict has a knack for fictionalizing life stories of impressive, impactful women. The Only Woman in the Room is her latest endeavor. Hedy Lamarr, screen star of the 1940s and 50s, isn’t the first person who comes to mind as a significant World War II figure. Further, as an inventor she deserves more credit than many realize.

Hedweg Kiesler was born in Vienna into a wealthy, Jewish family and considered a stunning beauty. Initially, Benedict’s account of Kiesler/Lamarr is focused on her early stage career leading to her marriage to Friedrich Mandl, a munitions manufacturer.

Mandl is older, wealthy and powerful. Hedy’s father fears any rejection on Hedy’s part toward Mandl’s romantic interest could put the family in danger. Initially, Hedy is not impressed by the riches (and roses) he dispenses so freely to woo her. Eventually they marry after she succumbs to his charms.

The novel’s title is an apt description of Hedy’s presence which is dismissed as one of no consequence. She’s considered no more than a beautiful woman. What she learns, however, are plans for Austria to first join forces with Mussolini; and later Hitler. She knows she needs to escape, not only the fate of her country, but the abusive relationship with Mandl, who simply wanted a trophy wife.

Danger and intrigue are tangible elements in Keisler’s life; fame and romance comprise Lamarr’s. Yet, Benedict shows something deeper by chronicling the transition from refugee to film siren to wireless communications inventor.

The Only Woman in the Room
Four Bookmarks
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019
254 pages

As the Crows Fly   Leave a comment

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The Atomic Weight of Love begs the question: how heavy is love? Elizabeth J.Church’s novel has war as its bookends: World War II and Vietnam. The passage of time reflects changes in attitudes toward conflict and women.

Meridian Wallace is a brilliant, young student interested in pursuing not only a college education, but an advanced degree in ornithology. This is unusual in 1940s Chicago. While at university she meets and falls in love with professor Alden Whetstone, who is secretly involved with the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. Although he can’t reveal his research, he convinces Meridian to postpone her studies, move across the country and marry him. There will be plenty of time later to pick up where she left off academically. Ha!

Alden’s commitment to his work and the slow disintegration of a loving relationship could seem a cliché. Yet, Meridian manages to flourish even when the attitudes of the day bear down on her. On her own, she continues to study birds without the benefit of academic resources, she makes a few friends despite being ostracized for not having a doctoral degree like most of the wives in her community. Although they are well-educated they do nothing with their education.

Meridian falls in love with a much younger man but maintains the façade of her marriage with Alden, who becomes increasingly narrow-minded and unlikable as the novel progresses.

The author is masterful in the transformation she ascribes to Meridian and the world around her.

The Atomic Weight of Love
Five Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2016
352 pages