Book Review: A Touch of Stardust
Gable and Lombard and the making of Gone With the Wind as seen through the eyes of an aspiring author
Reviewed by Rosalind Faires, Fri., June 12, 2015
A Touch of Stardustby Kate Alcott
Doubleday, 296 pp., $25
For those still mourning the departure of the Harry Ransom Center's engrossing "The Making of Gone With the Wind" exhibit, Kate Alcott's newest piece of historical fiction aims to give readers their Scarlett-and-Rhett fix at least until the Paramount Theatre screens the beloved film in September. A Touch of Stardust may not be revolutionary, but its enticing peek behind the scenes of Gone With the Wind as it's being made, seen through the eyes of the winningly naive but ambitious aspiring author Julie Crawford, makes it a delectable summer treat.
Stardust isn't exactly a scandalous tell-all. The portraits of studio heavy-hitters like Clark Gable's paramour, Carole Lombard, who takes on Julie as her personal assistant, are generous and appealing for their intimacy and humanity. Via her work for Lombard and a burgeoning romance with David O. Selznick's wry but charming assistant producer, our plucky heroine observes key moments in the GWTW production process and begins a promising career as a screenwriter. Native Midwesterner Julie hits all the expected character beats as she transforms from country mouse to city mouse, but that narrative familiarity holds a certain appeal to devotees of early Hollywood romantic comedies.
Alcott's ease with Thirties lingo and her intimate knowledge of the Old Hollywood gossip mill grounds the story's frothier elements. (She credits her late husband, Frank Mankiewicz, who grew up in Beverly Hills in a family of screenwriters and directors, with authenticating many of the book's details.) Likewise, Alcott's acknowledgment of the era's less sparkling elements – the regular humiliations endured by black actors, Gable's homophobic discomfort with director George Cukor, the anti-Semitism underlying many Americans' disinterest in engaging in a war with Hitler – elevates the novel above pure fantasia.
Reading A Touch of Stardust has the appeal of popping open a can of Sofia Champagne: It might not be top-shelf, but it gets just close enough to the glamour to make you feel extravagant and put a twinkle in your eye.