Linda Lee, IncorporatedJune 9, 2015
Sometime I’d like to read a book set in the silent film industry that’s not full of drug addiction and divorce and debt, and Linda Lee, Incorporated definitely isn’t it. But it does have a wealth of detail about how movies got made circa 1922, and it doesn’t take too many offensive moral stances on its characters’ behavior, so I’ll take it. It also doesn’t have much in common with The Lone Wolf, the only other book I’ve read by Louis Joseph Vance. He, as you may remember, was the one who spontaneously combusted. Or not, I guess, but, you know, let’s just say he did.
Anyway, attempted murders and suicides and whatever assorted sordidness was considered de rigeur for 1920s Hollywood stories aside, Vance deals pretty fairly with his characters and puts in more movie-making info than you get in some biographies of silent film actors. I liked the heroine, too. She’s Lucinda Druce — Mrs. Bellamy Druce — a wealthy young woman with a solid place in New York society. She likes her life and she loves her husband, but he’s a philanderer and an alcoholic, and she also likes her self-respect. After he lies and embarrasses her a few too many times, she leaves him and heads West.
She also, around the time Bellamy is burning his bridges, does a screen test with some of her friends at a movie studio on the west side. The proprietor, his star, and his cameraman all tell Lucinda that she photographs well and can act, and they offer her a job — a good one. She laughs off the offer, but when she runs into friends on her way to Reno a few days later, it helps them talk her into financing a film company with herself as the leading lady.
Lucinda is smart, and a good actress, and she’s willing to spend money to make good movies. In another universe, there’s a book where her venture succeeds and she ends up a star with her own company. I would have liked to read that book, and I was a little disappointed that this wasn’t it, but it helps that that book would be just as plausible as this one. In this one, though, she gets romantically involved with a movie star and a bunch of people take advantage of her. That’s much less my thing, but I liked it–more than I can remember ever liking a book where everyone either has a drug or alcohol problem or wants a divorce. It helps that most of the characters escape relatively unscathed.
Seriously, though, I recommend this book. The drama wasn’t the kind that makes me abandon a book without even feeling bad about it, and the film stuff is really cool. Lucinda’s a sympathetic character — often mistaken, but not stupid, and as honest with herself as anyone could expect. Still, I want the book I thought this was going to be, or, failing that, one about either of the two cameramen.