What is it about Hollywood of yore and its black-and-white icons that continues to seduce readers today? There’s something about the past that feels nostalgic, more wholesome. But as we dig deeper, losing ourselves in the pages of a good book that goes behind the scenes in Tinsel Town, the stories of Hollywood’s elite come to life, revealing so much more than our collective memory tells us is true.
In my new novel, Strangers in the Night, chronicling the tumultuous relationship between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner — two giants among the famed list of Hollywood stars — it was these forgotten details that gripped me. Their story is one of passion, the cost of fame, and two people who struggle with very real demons and character flaws. In the background, the reality of Hollywood life bleeds through with its spurious studio culture, racist exclusion and overt sexism. This colorful, if outrageous, backdrop continue to fascinate to this day.
Check out these six novels that go behind the scenes of Tinsel Town that rouse our imagination:
City of Flickering Light by Juliette Fay
It’s July 1921, “flickers” are all the rage, and Irene Van Beck has just declared her own independence by jumping off a moving train to escape her fate in a traveling burlesque show. When her friends, fellow dancer Millie Martin and comedian Henry Weiss, leap after her, the trio finds their way to the bright lights of Hollywood with hopes of making it big in the burgeoning silent film industry. What begins as a quest for fame and fortune soon becomes a collective search for love, acceptance, and fulfillment as they navigate the backlots and stage sets where the illusions of the silver screen are brought to life.
Starring Adele Astaire by Eliza Knight
A story full of glitz and glamour and the life of Adele Astaire, a spirited and talented woman who served up smiles and love both on and off the stage — with and without her also famous brother Fred Astaire — along with a determined young dancer with rags-to-riches dreams.
The Girl in the White Gloves by Keri Maher
Grace knows what people see. She’s the Cinderella story. An icon of glamor and elegance frozen in dazzling Technicolor. The picture of perfection. The girl in white gloves. But behind the lens, beyond the panoramic views of glistening Mediterranean azure, Grace Kelly knows the truth. The sacrifices it takes for an unappreciated girl from Philadelphia to defy her family and become the reigning queen of the screen. The heartbreaking reasons she trades Hollywood for a crown. The loneliness of being a princess in a fairy tale kingdom that is all too real.
The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
Her beauty almost certainly saved her from the rising Nazi party and led to marriage with an Austrian arms dealer. Underestimated in everything else, she overheard the Third Reich’s plans while at her husband’s side and understood more than anyone would guess. She devised a plan to flee in disguise from their castle, and the whirlwind escape landed her in Hollywood. She became Hedy Lamarre, screen star. But she kept a secret more shocking than her heritage or her marriage: she was a scientist. And she had an idea that might help the country fight the Nazis and revolutionize modern communication…if anyone would listen to her.
Marlene by C.W. Gortner
A lush, dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich — from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood, a sweeping story of passion, glamour, ambition, art and war.
In the Face of the Sun by Denny S. Bryce
Two stories unfold decades apart, as a woman on the run from an abusive husband joins her intrepid aunt as they head across the country from Chicago to Los Angeles to solve a decades-old mystery set in Black Hollywood amidst the city’s glittering African-American elite in 1928.