Of Streets and Stars
by Alan Marcus
Houghton Mifflin, 4.50
Alan Marcus’ novel—which, the publishers tell us on the jacket, circulated for almost two years in a private edition until the high praise of several reputable critics brought the book to their attention—comes as something of a surprise.
Of Streets and Stars participates in that almost-genre, the Hollywood novel, and in so doing touches down on just about every one of its almost-conventional themes. There is the Fan Mail Department of the great studio, into which harelips from Minnesota, lonely cowboys from Montana, crazy adolescent girls from Sweden and other far-off places pour their Dreams, dutifully answered with autographed photos of the stars deposited into the mails by lonely working-girls in Hollywood. There is the old executive, called by his initials (in this case, J.C.), who terrorizes, sentimentalizes, and worries for his ailing heart. There is the second-generation executive (clearly modeled on someone like Dore Schary) who works on the principle of hard efficiency and confronts in his sleep the empty anxiety at the center of his life. There is above all the young Eastern writer, a prize-winner, who comes to Hollywood to beat the movies and instead is thoroughly beaten by them. Through it all, behind it all, move the beautiful legendary creatures in costume dropping their masks just long enough to reveal themselves as mean tippers in the studio commissary or as having to go to the toilet in the middle of a take.
What is surprising about the book is that it should have been written now, when the Hollywood from which it derives its legend has decentralized, split itself up among the capitals of the world, and in its new condition in these new places certainly undergone a great transformation. Which is to say, it is surprising that history has not by now carried a writer of even Mr. Marcus’ kind of inverted sentimentality to the point where he can stand outside the tired old myths or entangle himself in the new ones. For Mr. Marcus no less than his protagonist has been taken in by the incredibly wily image-mongering of everyone’s adolescent Hollywood. He seems not to know that the “J.C.”s and their subordinates who are given to sweat, anxiety, and hypochrondriasis are just as much the creation of a J.C. as the producers who speak in story conferences about bringing Light and Love into the American Home: or that homely spinsters who rock their beds every night with sexual longing are after all merely the heroines of the under side of every fan magazine.
This is Hollywood but in the course of the novel we see only one movie in process, and that one being written. It is supposed to be the heartwarming story of a family of Displaced Persons making a home and finding fellowship in the United States. The young writer is assigned to it and wants it to be “serious” and “honest,” and he is pushed out at the end because he has refused to make his script heartwarming and affirmative. The movie is to be called My Brother’s Keeper.
My Brother’s Keeper is a joke by Preston Sturges. There never was such a movie, nor anything like it, not even in the good old days when Hollywood was so gloriously bad. One suspects from reading the novel that Mr. Marcus himself had a try at the movies and couldn’t bring himself to make it. If that is indeed the case, he has made it now. Because there have been movies like Of Street and Stars, set in all kinds of milieus: they have been mostly of the “uplifting” kind, but some of them very satisfying to watch. Perhaps that explains why the critics, who may have been true movie-lovers, were so enthusiastic. They don’t make them like that any more.