The movie business is booming in 1935 when twenty-one-year-old Loretta Young meets thirty-four-year-old Clark Gable on the set of The Call of the Wild. Though he’s already married, Gable falls for the stunning and vivacious young actress instantly.
Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta. Becoming Miss Young’s assistant, the innocent and pious young Alda must navigate the wild terrain of Hollywood with fierce determination and a moral code that derives from her Italian roots. Over the course of decades, she and Loretta encounter scandal and adventure, choose love and passion, and forge an enduring bond of love and loyalty that will be put to the test when they eventually face the greatest obstacle of their lives.
It’s a bit hard to objectively judge fictional books about recent well known people for me. There is a certain level of closeness to the subject of the fiction that puts the plot in an area that is a little hard to judge. For example, Loretta Young, the subject of this novel, hasn’t been deceased all that long and we almost know an over abundance about her. That makes reading a fictional take on her slightly harder to differentiate from what we know about her factually. And Loretta and her turbulent love affair with Clark Gable is the whole focus of this book. Loretta herself is portrayed as hard working and charming and trying her best to stay true to her Catholic faith while negotiating Hollywood and claiming her illegitimate child with Gable without tipping anyone off that Judy was actually her biological daughter. Any person at this time would tell you that refusing to enlighten Judy Lewis about her parentage would be an understandable place for conflict to build between the two women, especially when Young chose to marry a man who clearly resented her daughter and when Young herself seemed to consider her daughter’s existence as partially a “punishment” for her actions with Gable. The book tends to gloss over this part though and only skims Lewis and Young’s turbulent relationship.
Gable is portrayed as the love of Young’s life. How much truth there is to that is questionable. As is the claim that Young was the love of Spencer Tracey’s life (most would probably consider Katherine Hepburn to be his soulmate). The men in Hollywood’s golden age are shown to be cads who are hardly even expected to be faithful to anyone and even the fictional characters are allowed to have this mentality (Alda’s husband isn’t faithful and she is shown as the “bigger person” by never letting him confess to her of his infidelity). It’s all a bit jarring, but even the characters admit that this is the way their world works and that it’s not necessarily real or good. Taking away the foreknowledge of anything about Young, the novel itself is an enjoyable read that tries to be candid about the tight grip studios had on their stars and the double standard in play between actors and actresses. The characters aren’t angels, but one has the feeling that they’ve been cleaned up a bit from their actual selves (I know for a fact that Gable made little effort to financially help his daughter and most of what I’ve read about him make Young seem like a footnote in his romantic career rather than a true love). The ending seems a little choppy for the very reason that the author is trying to rush through several characters’ lives while spending a great deal of time discussing what was really a small time period between the two main characters.
That all being said, the book is a good read if one that the reader has to take from a more objective standpoint.
4 out of 5