Fred Astaire versus Gene Kelly

A frequently debated question is who was the best dancer? Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly.

The answer is: the Nicholas Brothers!

Feast your eyes:

Fayard and Harold Nicholas have never been surpassed. Just astonishing. Even Fred Astaire admitted the fabulousness you have just watched was the best dance sequence he’d ever seen. He was correct.

On the research front: Yes, that sequence is from Stormy Weather and yes it was released in 1943. But they were the top act at the Cotton Club from 1932. As you all know the Cotton Club was the top entertainment venue in New York City in the 1930s, which co-incidentally is when and where my next book is set. So rewatching the fabulous Stormy Weather totally counts as research cause it recreates many 1930s era Cotton Club numbers.

Next stop Emperor Jones from 1933, which I don’t even have to justify. Yay!

For those suggesting 1930s films: I much appreciate it. Just keep in mind I’ve been doing this research for well over a year and have been obsessed by Hollywood films of the 1930s since I was knee high to a grasshopper. Thus if it’s readily available on DVD odds are I’ve already seen it. But if it’s relatively obscure, or only just released on DVD, then suggest away!

Not that fussed

Initial disclaimer: I realise that just by announcing that I’m not that fussed I’ll be seen as protesting too much. To which I respond: Whatever.

In the course of reading Diana Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan’s lovely posts about all the ways in which YA is dismissed by people who know nothing about it and have read at most two YA novels, and the New Yorker blog post that set Carrie off, I realised that I, in fact, wasn’t particularly annoyed or outraged by it. There are a few reasons for that:

  1. The post in question, while declaring that it is the exception that proves that YA is not worth reading, raves about a novel by a truly wonderful writer: Kathe Koja’s Headlong. I’ve not yet read it. (Tragically, it is not set in the 1930s.) But I have heard great things and I’ve read several of Koja’s other novels. She’s a genius. Pure and simple. Anyone spending time praising her work in a public forum is okay by me. Continue!
  2. I’ve seen that kind of dismissal of the genre many times before—not just YA, but also sf and fantasy. It’s boring and I’m bored by it. Yawn. Been there done that. The more you hear an erroneous set of assumptions, the less they bother you. I’ve also mounted the counterarguments and had them largely fall on deaf ears so I can’t be bothered saying it all again. I’l leave it to those more able and willing. Like Diana and Carrie and Maureen Johnson and John Green and Jennifer Lynn Barnes.
  3. We’re doing better than they are. I don’t want to skite about my genre, but . . . Oh, who am I kidding. I totally want to skite! I don’t care that there are adults who will never read YA because there are heaps of adults who are reading it. Not to mention the gazillions of teenagers. YA totally outsells adult litfic. Our audience is bigger than theirs. Our books earn out; theirs mostly don’t. Many of the YA writers I know can make a living writing; most of the litfic writers I know can’t. Many YA writers sell in multiple territories. We have books in Korean and Russian and Indonesian and Turkish and Estonian as well as English. We get fan letters from our readers all the time. We’re doing just fine; it’s adult litfic that’s in trouble.

Now that last skiteful point may turn out to be an historical aberration. Horror as a genre was riding very very high in the eighties and look at it now! Exactly. There are very few “horror” sections left in book shops and Stephen King’s pretty much the only one still doing fabulously well. Best to take that point with a grain of salt. I imagine that when the genre dries ups and my books stop selling1 I’ll be annoyed all over again at those mean litfic types peeing on YA. But I hope not. On both counts. But, yes, especially in the US, this has been a very scary year in publishing.

In the meantime, yay for Koja praise. Yawn to ignorant dismissals of any genre. And yay for all us YA writers doing just fine, thank you very much, while the rest of the publishing world collapses. Some of you astute followers of publishing in the US may have noticed that there were way more job losses and other slash-and-burns in the adult publishing world than there were in children’s/YA. Maybe the current spate of litfic sniping at YA is sour grapes?2

Oops, seems that I’m still skiting3 Look away, pretend you saw nothing! And read whatever damn books you want to read: litfic, YA, romance, fantasy, manga, airplane manuals, cricket books. It’s all good.

I’ll get out of your way now . . .

  1. Those two events may or may not be concurrent. []
  2. Well, except that as I pointed out t’other day many of them haven’t even heard of us. []
  3. Which is dangerous given how precarious publishing feels right now, even though book sales are actually up in the USA on what they were the year before. []

Yes, this is research too

Eleanor Powell and Buddy Rich rocking out (starts at about 1:25 via Emma Bull):

Okay, I admit that this comes from 1942. However, part of my 1930s novel takes place on a cruise ship just like Ship Ahoy. Well, except for not being a sound stage. And, um, one of my characters adores the Tommy Dorsey band. So even though this is a future Tommy Dorsey band appearance that she will never see it totally counts as research. And also another of my characters can see into the future and uses that ability to follow Eleanor Powell’s career.1 Thus watching this clip is TOTALLY research.

Lord, how I adore Eleanor Powell. Broadway Melody of 1940 is one of my favourite movies of all time. I know everyone squees over her “Begin the Beguine” routine with Fred Astaire, which to be sure is deeply squee-worthy, but I also love this one (gets going around 2:15):

Eleanor Powell + boats = joy!

And Broadway Melody of 1940 totally counts as research because it was shot in 1939 and last time I looked that was in the 1930s.2

Just in case some of you have never seen “Begin the Beguine” here you go:

You’re welcome!

  1. Some of these things may not be true. []
  2. Even though my book is more set in the early 1930s. But never mind that! []

YA and other animals

Diana Peterfreund and Carrie Ryan saved me from writing a post I’d been sort of planning for awhile—on the various lame ways people dismiss YA—but which I kind of couldn’t be arsed actually writing. So bless them both!

I’ve come across this example all too often:

“XYZ is pretty good, for a book for children, but I doubt the author will be allowed to take it to the next level, because children’s books rarely do that.” (The “that” in question, by the way, is a rebellion against the powers-that-be by the teen main characters, which is so common in YA fantasy and SF books that it’s practically a cliche.)

Succinctly put, Diana!

Though mostly what I get from adult writers and readers in place of dissmissals, are blank expressions. “What’s YA?” they ask. This happened to me most recently here in Sydney. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since we were studying for our PhDs together. She’s a successful (and fabulous—I love her work) writer of adult fiction and memoir, winner of many awards and grants, very clued in to the Australian publishing scene, but when I told her what I write, she didn’t know what I was talking about, and hadn’t heard of any of the top YA writers or novels I named. It was very disorienting. She didn’t even know Twilight.

I’m trying to decide whether that’s better or worse than all the people who assume that all YA is exactly like Twilight. Yes, I have had people seriously say to me, “YA? Isn’t that the vampire romance genre?”

Sigh. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Twilight. In fact, I’m a hundred per cent for it. Stephenie Meyer’s success has created a whole generation of readers. Many of whom, I’m convinced, wouldn’t be reading without her. A few of her fans have gone on to read my books. Bless her and bless them! I feel the same way about Meyer that I feel about Rowling. Grateful bordering on worshipful.

But as the readers of this blog know, there’s more to YA than vampire romance. Why, we have zombie romances, faerie romances, troll romances, robot romances—we have any kind of romance you can name. My next novel is a liar’s romance and the one after that is a 1930s romance.

See, stupid YA knockers or ignorers, we has much variety in YA! Why, I’ve even heard rumours that there are YA novels that aren’t romances at all. Though I’m yet to confirm it.

YA book recs for the holidays

Quite a few people lately have been asking me for book recommendations. They want to know what new YA they should be buying for the holidays. Sadly, I am in less of a position to help than usual.

For most of this year I have been solely reading books about (or published during) the 1930s. The only non-1930s books I’ve read have been manuscripts I’ve critiqued for friends. This means I have not read Hunger Games yet. Or the second Octavian Nothing or the National Book Award winner, Judy Blundell’s What I Saw and How I Lied or Coe Booth’s Kendra which I hear is every bit as good as the wonderful Tyrell. Or anything, really. Nor will I be reading any of these, even though I dearly want to, until I finish the first draft of my thirties book in September.

Thus the only recently pub’d books I can recommend are the ones that I read ahead of time:

    Holly Black Kin. Part one of the best graphic novel ever. Faery and betrayal. Twelve and up.

    Cassandra Clare City of Ashes. Second book in the City trilogy. Sequel to City of Bones. This is the series I recommend to people who are looking for something to read after they finish the Twilight books. And guess who one of their biggest fans is? Stephenie Meyer. There’s love, action, adventure and it’s really funny too. Twelve and up.

    Shannon Hale Rapunzel’s Revenge. Also the best graphic novel ever. A non-wimpy Rapunzel. Hurrah! Twelve and up though I think this one skews in both directions. I think many ten year olds would love it. Adults too.

    Maureen Johnson Suite Scarlett. New York family living in falling apart hotel. Funny, witty, joyful with excellent pratfalls. Spencer may be my fave new character. Twelve and up. But I know many adults who are smitten.

    Margo Lanagan Tender Morsels. Can’t describe it. Beautiful, poetic, ferocious, excellent. Sort of a fairy tale but not. I think I have changed my opinion of bears. Listed as fourteen and up in the US. Personally I agree with Allen & Unwin’s decision to publish it as adult.

    E. Lockhart The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. The best book she’s written and I love all her books. A National Book Award finalist. This book is so amazing that I’m rendered dumb trying to come up with the words to describe its wit, genius, and splendiferousness. Just read it. Twelve and up.

    Lauren McLaughlin Cycler. Gorgeous sex-changing screwball comedy. Fourteen and up.

    Lauren Myracle Bliss. Clever creepy scary excellence. *Shudder* I have not been able to stop thinking about this book. Fourteen and up.

    Robin Wasserman Skinned. My favourite YA science fiction novel of the year. Philosophical and page turner-y at the same time. What does it mean to be human when your body is not your own? And how do you cope with high school when you’ve gone from being Queen Bee to the loseriest loser ever? Twelve and up.

That’s all I got, however, and I know many other fabulous YA books came out this year. So why don’t you tell us about them?

Don’t just give titles. Tell us why you’re recommending them. Don’t recommend mine or Scott’s books. I know about those. If you could also mention what age their publisher thinks they’re suitable for. Many of the people asking for recs are parents.

Thank you!

BookPeople questions we ran out of time to answer

Our BookPeople event was run like the Actor’s Studio. There was a moderator, Emily, who asked us questions written down earlier by the audience. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t answer them all. So here are our answers to the ones we didn’t get to that night.

Be warned: there are some spoilers for Scott’s Uglies books.

Questions for Justine:

Q: Will there be any more books about New Avalon?

A: I don’t plan to write any. Of the next two books I will publish, one is already written—the Liar book—and the other one—set in NYC in the 1930s is under way. If I did get an idea for another book set in New Avalon (where How To Ditch Your Fairy is set) it wouldn’t come out until 2011 at the earliest.

Q: Do schools like New Avalon Sports High really exist?

There are all sports high schools around the world. But I hope they’re not quite as strict as NA Sports High. I didn’t base it on any particular high school. Though I was influence by a doco I saw about girls training to be gymnasts at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport). I was shocked at the long hours these young girls were training and at how strict their coaches were. Yet they seemed to love it. I remember one girl being asked how she could love such a tough training regime. She looked at the journo asking her the question as if they were crazy: “Are you kidding? I get to go to the Olympics!”

A: Is all the slang a mix of US & Australian or is some of it made up?

I made up the majority the slang, mostly by playing with my thesaurus. Thesauruses are fun! My favourite is “pulchy” for cute or good-looking. I’ve always thought “pulchritudinous” was the most hilarious word ever because it sounds so ugly yet it mean beautiful.

Questions for Scott:

Q: Did Tally and David get together at the end of Extras?

A: It is up to you, the reader, to decide.

Q: Why did you k*** Z***?

A: One of the dumb things Hollywood does is show us wars in which only extras and minor characters get killed. But in real life, everyone is the star of their own movie. So in real wars, everyone who’s killed is someone important—not just an extra or a bit player.

So once I realized that Specials was about a war, I felt it would be dishonest for only minor characters to get killed. Someone important to Tally had to die, and Zane was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Q: How did you find all the thirteen-letter words to use?

A: At first I found them “by hand.” Whenever I ran into a long word I counted the letters, writing it down if it had thirteen letters. But after a while I developed a strange superpower, the ability to spot
tridecalogisms by sight. Then my sister-in-law bought me a crossword dictionary that listed words by length, which was cool. Then finally I found a website that was designed to find words you didn’t know who to spell. I typed in thirteen question marks, and it generated a giant list! (I can’t remember the site name now . . . )

Questions for both Justine and Scott:

Q: Are you friends with any other authors?

Justine: Yes. Loads and loads of them. It’s fabulous. We read each other’s mss. critique them bounce ideas off one another. I’m very lucky.

Scott: We also write at least once a week with several authors: Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman, E. Lockhart, Cassandra Clare, Lauren McLaughlin, are the ones who most often show up.

Q: Is there any news on a movie?

Justine: While there’s been some interest in turning How To Ditch Your Fairy into a movie nothing has come of it so far. Trust me, if there’s any news on this front I will sing it from the rooftops. Though I think the Fairy book would make a better TV series than a movie.

Scott: The Uglies movie is still waiting for a script, as far as I know. I think Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a movie about, you know, ugly people.

Peeps is with an independent producer and screenwriter, and So Yesterday is being looked at. More news on that soon (probably).

But no auditions yet!

Q: When brainstorming ideas for your next book do you come up with multiple ideas? How do you choose the one to push forward with?

Justine: I pretty much always have a number of novel ideas to play with. I tend to talk about them with Scott and my agent, Jill, as well as my editor, Melanie, and a few writer friends. I’ve been talking about writing a book about a compulsive liar for ages. Whenever I mentioned it people would get very enthusiastic. I was too afraid to start though cause it seemed like it would be really hard to write (I was right) so I delayed until Scott and Jill and Melanie all ganged up on me.

I guess I let people bully me!

Though honestly all the bullying in the world wouldn’t have gotten me going if I hadn’t finally figured out a way to write the Liar book. So I guess my real answer is that the book that begins to grow and make sense is the one I wind up writing.

Scott: I usually have one idea that I really want to do most. I don’t come to that conclusion by any conscious way; it simply bubbles up in the back of my head as the most interesting idea. I think this ability comes from having written, like, 18 books—I’ve tried lots of ideas, and so am getting better at telling the more productive ones from the boring ones.

Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?

Justine: Loads! You can find some here, here and here. Though all my advice applies to beginning writers of all ages. In a nutshell my advice boils down to:

  • Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published. Learning to write well is the main thing. If you try to publish before you’re ready you can wind up very discouraged. While you’re learning o write you should have fun with it. Try different styles, different genres, mess about, get your hands dirty!
  • Read A LOT. Read and read and read and read! Think about what books you like best and try to figure out what it is about the writing that works for you. Then give it a go. Think about what books you hated and try to figure out why the writing was such a disaster. Don’t write like that.
  • Write a lot.
  • Learn how to critique other people’s work.
  • Learn how to take criticism. If you want to be a professional writer you’re going to have to learn to take criticism and the sooner you start practicing the better!

Scott: Here’s the “writing advice” category from my blog, including some advice from guest blogger Robin Wasserman: Writing Advice.

Q: Which is your favourite cover?

Justine: I’m assuming you mean of one of my books. I’ve been very lucky I like every single one of my covers. But I think my absolute favourite is the one Cat Sparks did for Daughters of Earth.

Scott: Probably Extras. The fun part was that I got to work on it from the beginning, from choosing the model to picking the final shot.

The full story can be found here.

Q: Why are most of your protagonists girls?

Justine: Er, um. I don’t actually know. It was not by design. The first novel I wrote has multiple viewpoint characters many of whom are boys. My second novel is first person from the point of view of a boy. However, neither of those books sold. My first published novels (the Magic or Madness trilogy) has three view point characters two of whom are girls. And then How To Ditch Your Fairy is first person from the viewpoint of a girl. So far the books I’ve written with more girl characters are the ones my publishers have wanted. We’ll see if that pattern continues.

I don’t really consciously decide to make my main characters girls or boys. Nor do I consciously make them black or white. That’s just the way they are. Once I start getting a sense of their voice I’m learning at the exact same time all those other things about them: their race, gender, ethnicity, opinion of Elvis etc. Hope that makes sense!

Scott: I’ve had a mix of male and female protagonists. So Yesterday and Peeps were both from the point of view of boys, and The Last Days and Midnighters were from both male and female POVs. But I guess more people have read Uglies so Tally has left the strongest impression. Since that series is about the pressures of beauty and looks, I figured that a female protag would make more sense. Certainly, boys do worry about the way they look. But overall, girls are under a lot more pressure to freak out over every zit and extra pound.

Though, as I say in Bogus to Bubbly, I actually did try to write Extras from Hiro’s point of view. But the interesting stuff kept happening to Aya, so I moved her to center stage. I still don’t know exactly how it worked out that way.

Deadline: Next Friday

I am currently not answering my phone or text messages, responding to emails or IM invites, or answering the door. All forms of communication are turned off. I am incommunicado until next Friday1 when the rewrites of the Liar book are due.

Rewriting the Liar book is all I am doing right now. It is the beginning and the middle and the end of each day. It doesn’t matter how much I want to play in my brand-new, shiny, shiny 1930s novel, or how much I want to gallivant about town, I’m not allowed.

I will probably still blog. If I don’t blog my head explodes. But I am unlikely to respond to your gorgeous comments. Though I will read and cherish them as I always do. Of course once I’m finished with the rewrites I head to Texas.

Right then, back to the grindstone goes me.

  1. Or, um, possibly next Monday. []

Best News Ever!!!

E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has been shortlisted for a National Book Award.

Let there be w00ting and w88ting across the land!

If you haven’t read it yet what the hell have you been doing? Off you go! Get thee a copy.

Congratulations, Emily. You SO deserve this!

The full shortlist:


    Laurie Halse Anderson, Chains (Simon & Schuster)
    Kathi Appelt, The Underneath (Atheneum)
    Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied (Scholastic)
    E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (Hyperion)
    Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now (Alfred A. Knopf)

(I have not read the other titles. And, sadly, I wont get a chance before the winner is announced. I’m in deep 1930s immersion and reading only books about or published then.)

Good luck and congrats to all the nominees.

Strange maps

Found via pixelfish a blog devoted to strange maps, which I’m sure you’ve all been giggling over for years, but tis new and delightful to me.

I keep looking for detailed maps of NYC during the 1930s but so far have not found anything. There are precious few books directly about the period either. Though heaps on NYC in the gilded age and the 1920s. I wonder why? The 1930s were every bit as fascinating.

I predict a boom in books about the depression on account of what’s happening to the world’s economy right now. Is it bad that I’m glad that the current situation is helping with the writing of my book? I mean, I’m not glad that the economy is in the toilet and we may be heading into a depression . . . Just that it’s helping me understand the Great Depression better.

Er, um, look over there: flying monkeys!

Ethical dilemma

As I may have mentioned, the book I’m currently writing is set in New York City in the 1930s. This was a time when many people smoked and the health risks were not generally known. Advertisements at the time linked smoking with being liberated (especially for women), glamorous and sophisticated. I remember seeing a series of 1930s Camel ads in science fiction magazines that featured the US Olympic team—mostly swimmers and divers—extolling the health and fitness benefits of smoking. In the Hollywood films of the period it’s easier to count the actors who aren’t smoking than the ones who are.

An accurate portrait of the period would have to have at least some of my characters smoking.

I hate smoking. I hate the smell of it. I hate getting into a car that reeks of it or eating at a restaurant with smokers. I hate what it does to people’s health. I hate the industry built around it that has led to the untimely and painful death of millions of people world-wide, including two of my grandparents.

I will not promote smoking.

But I want to write a book that evokes the period as accurately and evocatively as I can. The haze of cigarette smoke was a large part of NYC right up until 2003 when the smoking bans—hallelujah!—came in.

What to do?

On the road again

Lessons learned today:

  • Beef jerky on it’s own is not enough to keep a girl going all day.
  • Also never diss a hometown boy just before visiting his state. I don’t take a word of that back, but let’s just focus on Deanna Nolan’s awesomeness instead, eh? Plus, really? It’s news to the folks of Michigan that some do not appreciate Bill Laimbeer? I find that very difficult to believe.
  • I am not yet ready to talk in detail about the new book (the one set in the 1930s). At the appearance tonight I started to, but then I got a weird feeling all over, and my mouth closed. How weird is that?

I am now an expert on what clothes travel well and what don’t. I have enough outfits with me for a thousand appearances and it all fit into one teeny tiny suitcase. I am now a packing genius!

If you’re in the Grand Rapids, MI area here’s where I’ll be tomorrow, or, er today:

Wednesday, 1 October 2008, 4:00PM
Pooh’s Corner
Breton Village
1886 1/2 Breton Rd. S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI

Hope to see some of you there!

For those asking

For those asking why I haven’t been blogging the US election:

It’s because I cannot believe what I’m seeing and hearing. Seriously if I had made up a tenth of what’s been going on and put it in a novel no one would credit it. They’d be all, “The characters keep changing! They don’t make any sense. And one of them seems to be a malfunctioning robot! Also there’s a zombie! I thought this was meant to be realism. What the hell?”

Not to mention that I cannot talk about wolf killers dispassionately. I love wolves. Almost as much as I love quokkas.

Plus I’ve been in a really great mood lately. I don’t want to bugger that up.

So that’s why I’m not blogging the election.

But if you want to know what some other YA authors think check out Maureen Johnson’s YA for Obama social site.

And just so you don’t think I’m being partisan, which I’m not on account of I’m not USian and have no vote in the US of A, here is the YA for McCain site.


Me, I’m retreating back to the simpler and happier times of the 1930s—researching my next book—when there were no earth-shattering world-wide financial crises, no wars, and no environmental disasters. Oh, wait . . .

Never mind.

The next next novel (updated)

Because I am nearing the end of my next novel, and fast approaching my deadline, naturally my mind has turned to the novel I’ll be writing after this one. It will be set in New York City in the 1930s. Yup, I’ll be trying my hand at some historical fiction. Why not, eh? After all, it’s on my list.

And like, Cassie, who’s preparing for her next novel by only reading books about or set in Victorian England, I’m going to only read Depression era New York City books. Though because I am cunning I also get to watch many of my fave movies from the 1930s. An astonishing number of which are set in NYC. Damn I’m good.

I need no help with movie recs but I’d love to get recommendations for books, especially non-fiction such as histories and journals and collections of letters from that era. Novels would be fab as well. Preferably written and published then, but if a book is particularly good just set then should be fine.


Update: Thanks so much for all the suggestions. Just to be clear: New York City recs only. I have no need for general US recommendations. And as I said I’m especially interested in primary sources: letters, diaries etc. Thanks again for all the help.

Clothes in the 1930s

I’ve been toying with writing a novel set in the 1930s and without fail when I mention this I get the following response:

“Why? The clothes were so drab then! Set it in the 1920s!”

Everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think that the Depresssion meant no good clothes were made or worn for an entire decade. I blame Carnivale. My friends have visions of women in faded print dresses and men in worn suits covered in dust.

High fashion in the 1930s was the very opposite of drab. Think of the 1930s movies of Kate Hepburn, Greta Garbo and Carole Lombard. Think about the clothes they wore. Gorgeous! Insane! Over the top!

Yes, most people couldn’t afford those clothes, but that was true in the 1920s, too. Photos of NYC street scenes in the 1920s were just as grey as those of the 1930s.1 And, really, at what point in history have the majority of people worn haute couture?

One of the reasons I want to set my book in the 1930s is because of the sharp contrast between the very rich and everyone else. The clothes speak volumes.

Also the 1930s was the heyday of Madeleine Vionnet who invented the bias cut and totally shaped the look of the 1930s with her (mostly, but not always) slinky clothes. Vionnet is one of my favourite designers.2 She was a genius, who created some of the most beautiful clothes I’ve ever seen.

Photo by Ilan Rubin

This Vionnet dress is from 1938 and according to the New York Times is “made from silk tulle, panne velvet and horsehair with a silver lamé underdress and Lesage embroidery.” I’m betting it was not made in a day.

There were good clothes in the 1930s, okay?

  1. And, no, not just because they’re in black and white. []
  2. Also a really good boss who paid her workers above average wages (unlike, say, Coco Chanel) and covered their healthcare and training. []

Arduous Research

So I have a genius idea for a book1 that requires me to watch lots of old American movies from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It’s tough but someone has to do it. Plus Scott’s never seen a lot of these movies and I consider that to be criminal. Do you know before he met me he’d never even heard of Preston Sturges? What kind of a life is that?

So far we’ve worked our way through the films of (natch) Preston Sturges, George Cukor, and Douglas Sirk. As well as almost all the ones starring Rita Hayworth (Yay Gilda!).

Today we watched Mildred Pierce. Bless it. Bless Joan Crawford and Anne Blythe. The role of Veda is such a hoot. Has a greater bitch ever graced the silver screen? Sure, probably, there’s always Eve Harrington in All About Eve which we watched the day before. Scott had never seen it and is now smitten. Who wouldn’t be? Such a fabulous movie!

Yes, that's Fredi Washington again. Write a book about her already!Watching these more-than-fifty-year-old movies I’ve been struck by how many of them are written by women and how many of them are driven by women. They have not just genuine starring roles, but also lots of juicy supporting parts. There are women older than forty in these movies.

Last time I went to the movies I sat through the regulation ten minutes of shorts and did not see a single woman. Not one. The time before that there were two women and both seemed to be in the girlfriend role and were a long, long, long way off forty. What on Earth happened in the intervening years? How come most of the good roles for women are now on the tellie?

I’d love to hear your theories. Lauren, ex-Hollywood producer friend of mine?

And bonus question what are your favourite movies from the first three decades of talking pictures? (Doesn’t have to be American.) I’d tell you mine but it would take hours . . .

  1. Scott does not believe in the existence of this genius idea. He thinks I just like watching the same old movies over and over. I’ll show him! []

Write me this book!

My intensive google research has revealed that there is no biography of Fredi Washington. I demand that one of you get off your arse and write one immediately! (Or use your better research skills to find me one.)

Who is Fredi Washington, you ask? Why, let me tell you:

Fredi Washington as Peola in Imitation of LifeFredi Washington was a light-skinned black actor and dancer. She largely starred in movies for the Jim Crow circuit and often with her skin darkened. She was such a compelling screen presence that the Hollywood bigwigs in the thirties offered to make her a big star if she’d pass as white. She told ’em all where to go. Yay, Fredi! (I also want to know if that’s actually true.)

Ironically, her one big role in white movies was playing the “tragic mulatto”, Peola, in the original Imitation of Life.1 She steals the movie. Everytime she’s on screen she’s where you’re looking.

I want to know more about her. I demand to know more about her! I want a big fat bio on the scale of the Tiptree one. I want it to be as thoroughly researched and as beautifully written and I want it right this minute.

On your bikes, people!

  1. I totally recommend watching the two Imitations of Life back to back. The 1934 one followed by the 1959 Juanita Moore one. Fascinating to see the shifts in representations of race relations. Though in both, Peola/Sara Jane’s decision to pass as white seems inexplicable.

    If you were an alien watching the movies you’d be scratching your head trying to figure out what was so very terrible about being a black person. Other than the only other black people being servants, but there are so few of them you’d think maybe they’re off enjoying cool jobs elsewhere. In neither film are there any cafes with signs saying “Whites Only”. The black characters never have to sit at the back of the bus.

    There is one horrible scene of racism in the 1959 version, but it plays out like racism is just that particular person’s problem, not anything systemic. The most you get in the 1935 version are the kids at school looking shocked when they discover that Peola is passing. Their reaction shot lasts less than five seconds. []