Truth is often stranger than fiction - and sometimes more pleasing. If someone had told me a year ago that in the late 1800's and early 1900's women dominated the nascent movie industry, I would have suspected them of having a bad case of feminist historical revisionism. But then I read Women in Hollywood: from Vamp to Studio Head, a dense non-fiction work that catalogs the careers of dozens of women who dominated every aspect of the field, from screenwriting to directing and editing to running the studios. The facts astounded me; and I hungered for a taste of what that world was like.
Imagine, then, my delight to discover Marilyn Jaye Lewis' novel, Twilight of the Immortal! By using fictional narrator Rosemary McKisco, Lewis immerses the reader in the day-to-day life of a host of real people from the era. Rosemary's coming of age story begins in 1916 New York, where the early 'flickers' are scoffed at by serious theatre folk, and ends in 1927 Hollywood. In between, we meet celebrities like Rudolph Valentino and Alla Nazimova (the out Sapphist who ruled Broadway and the early film world).
The novel works brilliantly on three levels. As historical fiction, it is rich with detail and imagery, providing a strong 'you were there' experience for the reader. For early cinema buffs, the portraits of well-known and long-forgotten players, with mentions of their films' releases and reviews, will more than satisfy. (And the brief biographical and bibliography appendices will lead to more reading.) Finally, as a feminist deconstruction of a time in American history when the life and career choices women enjoyed were constrained in so many ways, the clear voice of young, bi, Rosemary McKisco shines a light on the politics of gender and sexuality in a visceral way that non-fiction almost never achieves. For me, the only disappointing part of the reading experience was reaching the end.
About Marilyn Jaye
Causes Marilyn Jaye Lewis Supports
The Film Council of Greater Columbus, Columbus, OH
The Adrienne Shelley Foundation, NY, NY
Paralyzed Veterans of America, Washington, DC...