All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani (Harper, 2015)

 

When I was a little girl, before there was colored television, sometimes I would watch a show where a beautiful, mature lady would enter a room through French doors, and greet her tv audience. The woman wore spectacular gowns that clung to her  curvy shape and sported big satin bows in the back. Her cheeks were like red apples; the bones were impossibly high and the skin was taught. Her lipstick had to be bright red, you could just tell by the luminescent smile she bore. I did not know that she was a famous movie star, who had appeared in over 100 motion pictures. I just knew that she was the epitome of elegance and glamour. The show was called The Loretta Young Show and the woman who served as hostess was the icon, Loretta Young..

Adriana Trigiani’s 2015 novel All the Stars in the Heavens is one of the most captivating pieces that I have enjoyed in a long time.The story is framed in the beginning with a young artist, Roxanne Ducci, imparting the history of her aunt, Alda to a nun, Sister Agnes. Roxanne describes how her aunt by marriage, Alda Ducci, left the convent after having been a novice for several years. An Italian immigrant, Alda had come to the United States harboring a secret shame that she kept hidden for many years. She served dutifully the unwed mothers who came to the convent to have their babies and give them up for adoption, until one day she is summoned by the Mother Superior who informs Alda that she is not going to be allowed to take her final vows.When Alda begs to know why, Mother Mary responds, “This work isn’t for you . . . you imagine a happy ending to every story. We can’t encourage that here. This is a place of misery---”

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The sister has arranged for a job in Los Angeles for Alda, and before the disappointed novice has time to think, she is on a train, in a cotton shirtwaist dress and her brown work shoes, headed for Hollywood where she is to become the assistant of the rising movie star, Gretchen Young, known to her fans as Loretta.

Loretta, who lived with her single mother, three sisters and one brother, had never known her father, who had abandoned the family when she was a child. Her mother, however, was a strong, self-made real estate mogul, who became interior decorator to the stars as the years went on. All of her daughters had been extras in movies from the time they were toddlers; Loretta at the age of four in 1917. However,  only Loretta continued with films as her career choice.

After a tempestuous dalliance with the kind and warm Spencer Tracy, Loretta realized that as a devout Catholic, “Spence” could never abandon his wife and marry her, as she had dreamed. The older actor admired Loretta’s work ethic, warmth and professionalism, While working on the film Man’s Castle with her, Tracy watched her. “Loretta was mysterious, which intrigued him; she was sensual, which stirred him up. . . This was a girl who would matter to him, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that.” Ultimately, although it broke her heart, Loretta realized that she could not go through life being the “other woman.” She ran from Tracy, and vowed never to give her heart again to a married man.

And then, on the set of The Call of the Wild, Loretta Young met and allowed herself to be seduced by the “king” himself, Clark Gable.

5,000 feet above sea level, Mount Baker, the site Darryl Zanuck chose for the shooting  of The Call of the Wild, the cast and crew of the movie spent months penned in by blizzards, starved by dwindling food supplies, and going stir crazy while waiting to film in better weather. These were perfect conditions for a romance to blossom between Loretta and Clark. Despite her promises to avoid married men, Loretta fell hard for Hollywood’s most desirable male star, and as a result, found herself pregnant when the picture wrapped.

Alda, who had found love on the same set in which Loretta had met Clark, remains ever faithful to her boss and friend, helping her with a ruse in which to fool Hollywood who would have shunned and destroyed Loretta Young if they found out that she was expecting the child of a married man. Though Alda attempts many times to convince Loretta to tell her daughter, Judy, who her father is, Loretta can never bring herself to do the right thing.

Alda has the most profound statement of the novel as she explains Loretta’s relationship with Judy near the novel’s end. “She states, “I learned so much working in Hollywood, working for Loretta---but the most important thing I learned was to say what you mean when you have the moment to say it. It works in life, it works in the movies. Don’t wait because the time may just never come again.”

Based on the actual events in the lives of Clark Gable and Loretta Young, Trigiani’s skills as a writer help us to understand the decisions that Loretta makes in terms of keeping her child without disclosing her true parents. Trigiani celebrates the accomplishments of strong women, such as Loretta’s mother, Gladys, her sisters, and Alda, the stalwart confidante who stayed close to Loretta all of her life. The novel puts a mirror up to the past so the modern audience can remember the stars of the Golden Age of Hollywood, such as Myrna Loy, David Niven, Spencer Tracy, Carole Lombard, Jean Harlowe, and, of course, Clark Gable.

And now, dear friends, since I have finished this review, I intend to spend the evening watching The Call of the Wild, starring Gable and Young , I can hardly wait!