This novel takes readers back to the decadent days when movies were in their infancy, where silent screen and theatrical stars lived a lush existence of unbridled indulgence and excess, and a sexually free and easy lifestyle where “anything goes.”
The star of this monumental production is Rosemary McKisco, a stage struck young heiress who runs away from marriage to a famous Broadway producer and hitches her star to eccentric and openly lesbian Russian star Nazimova, and, as one of her girls, goes to Hollywood. She becomes the confidante and a sort of “personal assistant” to both the greatest lover of the silent screen, Rudolph Valentino, and his domineering wife Natacha Rambova, as well as grapples with her own ambiguous sexuality and a certain aimlessness and lack of drive regarding her own life and career. She loves the lifestyle that goes with being an actress, the independence and freedom, and fabulous clothes, but doesn't really like acting or feel the compulsion to pursue a career. She just wants to live, luxuriously, but not actually earn a living.
At 600 pages, this is a rather lengthy first person novel, filled with fascinating details and tidbits about the lifestyle, personalities, gossip, and scandals in theatrical and movie circles 1916-1927, as well as society and couture fashions. Ultimately, I think how much the reader enjoys this one hinges on how they feel about the heroine/narrator. Some may find Rosemary’s aimlessness, her drifting and lack of drive, annoying or intriguing, while others may be able to sympathize and happily drift along with her, basically hitchhiking through life in the limousines of the rich and famous, sleeping in their beds, and taking crumbs from their tables. But if your primary reason for reading this is the silent movies and their stars, particularly Valentino and Nazimova, and the brilliant but controlling designer Natacha Rambova, or to revisit that lost glamorous world, you’ll find very little here except a gossipy, fictionalized account of their sex lives which the heroine of this novel either watches from the wings or plays an active role in.