“What we want most to be, we are” (Movie Scientist blogathon)

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This is my post for the Movie Scientist Blogathon, sponsored by Silver Screenings and Christina Wehner. Thanks for having me, y’all (and sorry for running a bit late on “Mad Scientist” day. My pick is the version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the one and only John Barrymore.

For years, I had thumbed through my father’s dog-eared copy of “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies,” and I was thrilled to finally watch my first Barrymore. After hearing for years about “The Profile,” this was going to be a treat.

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The Profile as Dr. Jekyll, Chronic Do-Gooder

Most people know the story– Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel about a doctor intent on separating the aspects of man’s personality: the good, and the not-so-good. It was turned into a stage play that made the impetus behind his transformation more of an external one as opposed to Stevenson’s original, more internalized reasons. This was one of the first filmed versions (the first was Thanhouser’s with James Cruze in 1912, available here), and it captivated the nation. Barrymore had needed a hit, and he had it.

Directed by John S. Robertson (who also helmed a few other flickers for Barrymore and Mary Pickford), this version stars John Barrymore (of course), Martha Mansfield (as his sweetheart, Millicent Carew), Louis Wolheim (as the music hall owner), and Nita Naldi (as dancer, Miss Gina).

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“Don’t worry, Milly. Lemme just get some ya-yas out, then we can get hitched, mmmkay?”

Henry Jekyll, is a philanthropist and all-around good guy who manages a “human repair shop” for helping the poor with various ailments (a euphemism for today’s type of free clinic). He’s got a pretty fiance’s, Millicent, and a bright future. But when Sir George Carew (the father of Millicent), finds Jekyll’s altruism something to poke fun at, he unknowingly plants an idea that begins to obsess Jekyll. He can’t believe that one man would deprive himself of so much in his constant service to others. Jekyll defends himself in saying that it is in service to others that one develops himself.

Which self?” Carew scoffs. “…a man cannot destroy the savage in him by denying its impulses…”

And so begins Jekyll’s experimentation with a formula– one that can separate man’s baser natures into a different personality. He calls his Mr. Edward Hyde.

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Ask us about our economical and convenient orthodontia packages…

Hyde digs bars and opium dens and other nasty places, and he’s turned on by skanky women like Miss Gina, a dancer at a nearby club. She’s exotic and earthy, and she turns him on in ways poor Milly couldn’t even think of. So much so that he takes rooms in the ‘hood to be more within that element when he’s Hyde-ing. Oh and one more thing about Gina? She’s got this cool ring that opens up to hold poison (<–foreshadowing).

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Miss Gina got A’s in Scarf-Waving 101

Jekyll actually has the forethought to tell his servant Poole, essentially, “Oh, buddy, there may be a complete stranger hanging around the house. Chill and let him do his thing. He’s a friend of mine. ”

He has also had the forethought to create a potion to turn him back into his milquetoasty original version, but as these evil alter ego changeover things go, it isn’t the best remedy. In fact, each time he takes his evil potion, the counter potion returning him to Jekyll status isn’t quite as effective. He looks more evil and acts more evil than the time before.

But of course, the supply of the drug to turn him back Jekyll-ish is soon gone, and now he has to try to figure out how to get more, when  London is having a run on Jekyll-drug supplies.

How the heck can he make a Walgreen’s visit when he could spontaneously Hyde at any moment? Why is his future father-in-law so concerned about his freaky friend, Hyde? Why is Gina’s ring missing?

These questions and more are answered in the movie, and it can be fun at times– when Hyde is around. Barrymore is the man to watch here, and his transformations are remarkable (the first one knocks your socks off). The long hair, the shadows under the eyes, and the closeups of his hand turning arthritic and clawlike– the personification of evil.

The directing is also quite good. There’s a scene with a spider that is seriously creepy. But quite frankly, when Barrymore wasn’t onscreen, I found my mind wandering. The other characters seem like they’re sleepwalking by comparison. I’m a silent film fan, but was really disappointed in most of the other acting.

Poor Martha Mansfield (she of the hoop skirt disaster from the Warrens of Virginia), smiles and looks pretty but doesn’t have a lot to do overall. It’s a shame she was never given a chance for more of a career.

And Nita Naldi, in one of her first roles, while pretty and earthy, is supposedly a “dancer.” Her pre-Isadora Duncan dancing looked curiously like Prissy’s lollygagging in Gone With the Wind (at about 0:06-:07). Blood and Sand is a far better vehicle for her. Although she does a good take as the post-Hyde, used up version of Gina.

I give it three stars, based solely on Barrymore.

An overview of the life and career of Marie Prevost (O Canada blogathon)

Now that I’m practically Canadian, I couldn’t let an opportunity pass me by to participate in the 2016 O, Canada Blogathon, hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina at Speakeasy. So here’s my look back at the life and career of Marie Prevost, a Canadian gone Hollywood.

It’s a shame that when you say the name of Marie Prevost these days, most people remember her death more than her life, but when you feature heavily in one of Kenneth Anger’s books, you can only expect your life to be blown up and dissected in an unpleasant, completely unfactual way.

But sit back, and we’ll discuss the life and career of Marie before the Hollywood Babylon stories got so out of control.

Now, everyone says she was born in 1898, but just one look at the 1900 census where Marie appears as a 4-year old disproves that right off the bat. That she was born in Sarnia, Ontario is undisputed. Marie’s father worked for the railroad, and he was killed when one of the trains separated in the St. Clair Tunnel between Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan.

At some point, her mother, Hughina, met Frank Prevost (he was from Michigan, so someone probably crossed the border for provisions, or sightseeing, or whatnot), and they eventually married. I haven’t been able to find the marriage in multiple collections of records in Familysearch or Ancestry yet.

The family struck out for parts west, and somehow ended up in Ouray City, Colorado of all places. Frank ended up as a saloonkeeper (check the 1900 census for this info…), and while there, Hughina and Frank had another daughter, Marjorie (called Peg), Marie’s stepsister.

It’s not definite when the family arrived in California, but it was most certainly by 1916, and possibly earlier. Marie’s first part (although unconfirmed) is listed as His Father’s Footsteps (1915) in imdb.com. One account says that she was to bring some sort of contract for Mack Sennett to sign, and she was duped into appearing in a scene. But however it happened, she ended up becoming one of Sennett’s Bathing Beauties. (Since this is the O, Canada blogathon, it’s worth mentioning here that Mack Sennett was also Canadian, born Michael Sinnott, originally from Danville, Québec.)

The Bathing Beauties were a group of eye candy girls, who appeared in Sennett’s features (other co-stars included Phyllis Haver, Teddy the Dog, Pepper the Cat, and even Gloria Swanson). At a time when a glimpse of a lady’s ankle was considered shocking, and bloomers had to be worn at the shore, their beachwear was utterly scandalous. They combined maillot type suits with boxing boots or slippers with ribbons criss-crossing their ankles, flirty scarves in their hair, and one stocking up, the other rolled coquettishly down. They frolicked on the beach, playing with lobsters, pointing at faraway promontories, and playing in the waves.

Her first lead role was in 1919’s Yankee Doodle in Berlin, where she played a Belgian girl who helps an American aviator behind German lines. the flyer dressed as a woman to fool the Germans and steal a crucial map. Since the war had just ended, it was the perfect time to make fun of the Germans.

beachmarie1916: American actor Gloria Swanson (1899 - 1983) stands on tiptoes on the prow of a motorboat while Teddy the dog sits with his paws on the steering wheel in a still from director Clarence G Badger's film 'Teddy at the Throttle'.

Two shots of Marie in her stylin’ beachwear. That’s Teddy the dog at the steering wheel of the boat

After several years with Sennett, Marie understandably wanted to broaden her repertoire. In 1921, she signed with Universal. At the time, Irving Thalberg was there, and to increase interest in her features, he suggested a symbolic burning of her swimsuit to signify moving on from her Bathing Beauty days. Marie lit it up on Coney Island, one of the biggest summertime audiences she could get for such an event.

Her first film for Universal was Moonlight Follies (1921), directed by King Baggot. Other with equally frothy names and themes followed, such as Kissed, A Parisian Scandal, and Her Night of Nights followed. When he contract at Universal ended, she signed with Warner Brothers, which while a plum contract and more attention, would eventually put her at odds with management.

Arguably, her first big break came with 1922’s The Beautiful and Damned. The smash novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald was ripe pickins for a studio to grab, and they wanted a perfect flapper to play the part of Gloria, Anthony Patch’s love interest. Enter Marie, and enter Kenneth Harlan as Anthony.

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Ken and Marie. Nice profile on this guy

The co-starring duo fell in love, which was their consolation after Fitzgerald commented, “Its by far the worst movie I’ve ever seen in my life-cheap, vulgar, ill-constructed and shoddy. We were utterly ashamed of it.”

Ashamed or not, the movie still raked in the profits. In the heady, gin-soaked days of uninhibited flappers, prohibition and a booming stock market, how could it not be a success?

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Fitzgerald was not amused…but the picture was still a hit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marie and Harlan continued their relationship, and when the studio caught wind and wanted to capitalize on it, the news soon broke that they were getting married (a publicity ploy thought up by Jack Warner. However, a wrinkle arose when the scandal broke: Marie was already married! In 1918, she’d hooked up with spoiled rich boy Sonny Gerke, and they’d eloped. Marie had never gotten around to filing for divorce, and sensing money to be had, Sonny ran to the papers. Warner was furious with her, despite the fact that he’d been the one to publicize the Prevost/Harlan marriage without checking with Marie first. Warner didn’t forgive and forget easily.

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Jack Warner, never one to forget a slight

Marie continued to play flappers and light comedy, and that would be her usual type for future films, a natural offshoot of her Bathing Beauty persona (films with names like The Married Flapper and The Dangerous Little Demon). Alternately, her roles could be wives who worked a little flappery-y magic to liven up their marriages in films like The Marriage Circle or Blonde for a Night. Because of his notable “Lubitsch touch,” it is often said that her best work was with Ernst Lubitsch in works like Three Women, Kiss Me Again, and The Marriage Circle.

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An ad for Kiss Me Again in Moving Picture World, 1925. Monte, lay off the eye shadow, man

Marie and Ken finally married in October of 1924, and lived in a beautiful home at 810 N. Camden.

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They had their problems like any couple, but in 1926, things began to go wrong for Marie. First, there was the loss of her beloved mother. Hughina Prevost had been in a car with Marie’s friend Vera Steadman (from the Bathing Beauties) and director Al Christie when they were in a car accident in New Mexico. The back axle fell off the car, and Hughina was killed.

Marie was devastated, and the sadness consumed her. For those of us who have experienced such a deep and profound loss, you know the grief can overwhelm everything else in your life. With Harlan gone much of the time shooting, and her good friend Phyllis Haver from the Bathing Beauties now married and living her own life, Marie didn’t have much of a support system.

She drank to help herself cope, but the problem was that drinking (and face it, too much eating too) helped to pack on the pounds– not an ideal situation for a woman who’d made her career with frothy, flapper-y parts. the drinking caused other problems too. She and Harlan began arguing, and looked like they were headed for divorce court. They reconciled for a while, then decided to divorce for good. Her looks (not just her waistline) began to show the effects of the drinking. Life became little more than the bottom of a bottle for poor Marie.

One of her better roles during this time was in 1929’s The Godless Girl with Lina Basquette.

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A harder, heavier Marie in a feature article for The Godless Girl (1929)

The talkie revolution was making Hollywood nervous too at the time. Marie had the voice, and she could act, so she was able to fend off the worst by taking whatever parts she could get. Many times, she played the mouthy best friend and had to swallow her pride. Her life was reduced to one long starvation diet to keep the pounds off, but drinking to cope. As time went on, even those parts began drying up and she was reduced to bit parts.

We all know what happened and how things played out for her, so I won’t give it more attention here. Too much attention is paid to her death rather than her life and her work.

For a TRULY enlightening look at Marie Prevost, her parts, and her life, make sure to check out Stacia Jones’ blog at She Blogged By Night.

An overview of Ziegfeld Girl (part of the Backstage Blogathon)

“Once upon a time there were three little girls…”

Had you going for a minute, didn’t I? Instead of backstage antics at the Ziegfeld Follies, you thought I was going for an Aaron Spelling-flavored review of a certain 1970s program that shall remain nameless.

If you think about it though, the Ziegfeld Follies were really an early version of jiggle programming. Aaron Spelling and Florenz Ziegfeld were both middle-aged Jewish guys in show business who were good at discovering beautiful women, having them wear skimpy outfits, making them famous, and then getting rich from the proceeds.

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In 1941’s Ziegfeld Girl (directed by Robert Z. Leonard, ex spouse of ex-Ziegfeld girl, Mae Murray, and also behind the helm of 1936’s award-winning The Great Ziegfeld), we follow the adventures of our three aforementioned girls in their quest to be discovered at the Follies. The blonde (Lana Turner, as a redhead here, although it’s not as obvious in black and white), the brunette (Hedy Lamarr), and “the smart one” (Judy Garland). Ziegfeld Girl seemed an obvious choice for me to write about, since I most recently wrote about another Ziegfeld Girl, Olive Thomas.

Sheila Regan (Lana) happens to get Ziegfeld in her elevator car, and he gives her a card. Sandra Kolter’s (Hedy’s) husband has an audition for the orchestra at the New Amsterdam, and she is snatched up as the most beautiful woman in the room without even trying. Susan Gallagher (Judy) shares a Vaudeville act with her father, Pops Gallagher, and they are doing their damnedest to get hired with the act. Only Ziegfeld isn’t interested in Pops, only in Susan.

LaughSusan and Pops in their act (“Laugh, I Thought I’d Split My Sides”)

They are all discovered in various ways, but begin settling into the Ziegfeld routine– the elegant way of walking, gliding with books on their heads, practicing the routines, and rehearsing.

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Okay, I’ve mastered The Little Prince. Let’s move onto War and Peace!

Each of them have a complication in their personal lives. With Lana, it’s her boyfriend Gil (Jimmy Stewart), a truck driver who really loves her, but can’t give her all the pretty things she desires and the life she thinks she wants. With Hedy, it’s her husband Fritz (Philip Dorn), who resents the fact that she’s been picked up at the Follies and he hasn’t (plus, she has to wear skimpy outfits and men are looking at her-especially the scoundrelly, married Frank Merton). With Judy, she has to decide which is more important– her career as a Ziegfeld Girl, or her relationship with her father (Charles Winninger), who still has to go out on the road, touring with theater companies, which she’s tired of after many years (not that she hasn’t met some very charming trained seals…).

Lana lets it all go to her head, the jewels, the gifts, and the glamour from rich men (who don’t include Gil, of course).Only, in shunning Gil, she pushes him into criminal activity with his trucking that can help him pull in the dough he needs to impress her.

Hedy coasts along on her beauty, enjoying the attentions of Frank Merton when her husband gets resentful of her success, and Judy has a bit of a meet cute with Lana’s brother Jerry (Jackie Cooper).

To say any more about the plot would be to give too much away. Lana gets to do lots of scenery chewing and has some great flippant lines (especially when shutting down a would-be suitor, who then calls her “one of those refrigerated dames”). Sadly, Ziegfeld Girl doesn’t end happily for one of our plucky heroines.

The costumes, by Adrian, are fabulous as usual, and the dances by Busby Berkeley are always exciting to see, especially in classic Ziegfeld numbers like: “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean”, in addition to “Mini From Trinidad” and “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.”

As a fan of MGM musicals from way back, I’ve always enjoyed Ziegfeld Girl. I only wish that it had been filmed in technicolor. Just imagine how much more stunning it would have been in color versus black and white.

Apologies for this abbreviated blog post because I discovered the copy I was going to use to watch won’t cooperate, so I’m doing this mostly from memory combined with IMDB.

Thanks to Fritzi at Movies Silently, and Janet at Sister Celluloid for letting me play.

 

The Silent Movie Star Sandwich contest is on!

Love silent movies? Love food? Then here’s a challenge for you.

Fritzi over at the Movies, Silently blog is running a sandwich contest. Create a sandwich inspired by your favorite silent star (or stars)!

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Submit it to win digital copies of my own The Forgotten Flapper and also, Princess April Morning Glory from Sandramantos Publishing.

More information on the sandwich contest is available here.

Good luck and happy snacking!

Laini

 

Hooray for Hollywood! The Hotel edition

What an amazing two weeks it was!

When I knew I was going to publishing The Forgotten Flapper in August, the first thing that occurred to me was that I could market it at the Cinecon Silent Film Festival, which always falls around Labor Day.

I had made lots of acquaintances online before I left, but was excited about meeting everyone in person at last. I wasn’t disappointed!

First thing, checked into my inn. I LOVE the Hollywood Bed and Breakfast. I won’t stay anywhere else. William and Nina have become like family, and their gorgeous home is always great to come back to, now that it’s a regular stop. It’s a bit removed from the chaos, while still being right off Hollywood Boulevard, which is wonderful for being central to everything. This is the view from my room, below.

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I arrived on Friday afternoon and pretty much collapsed at the inn for most of the evening. The next morning, it was time for Esotouric’s “Hotel Horrors and Main Street Vice” tour. We started from a neat little cafe called The Daily Dose way down in the back of beyond south and east of downtown. Great little courtyard between two ancient buildings for grabbing some breakfast. But warning about doing this in August:   It was hot. I mean HOT.

Much of the tour was on a bus, but we also got out at a few points to see the interiors of a few of the hotels. I was THRILLED I finally get to see the inside of the important parts of the Alexandria (I tried last time I was there, but the Esotouric folks have special permission to see the Palm Court Ballroom, which was in the part I wanted to see). The Alex has a starring role in my book, but I had to imagine it in my head as I had read the descriptions and only seen one photograph up to this point.

It’s so sad that many of Los Angeles and Hollywood hotels have fallen to the wrecking ball. The Roosevelt and Biltmore are gorgeous examples of those that haven’t.

The hotels and sights below are only some of the highlights of this terrific tour, so you should take it yourself, so you get all the goods on the salesman who fell out the window of one of the hotels, or the Skid Row Slasher, or the B girls and taxi dancers who made up a huge portion of the tour.

 

One of the first ones they drove us by, I couldn’t get a good photo because I was attempting to turn my camera on and listen to tour guide Richard at the same time. That was the King George, which has quite the illustrious history. It served as an actors’ hotel in the early days of Hollywood. In 1912 it was gutted by fire, and several people died. It has fallen on hard times, and Richard told us amusing stories of being there back in the day. They will do tours if you call ahead.

In 1952, they experienced another fire. Seven people were killed in this one. And in 1980, a cop was a bit quick on the draw and shot out the front window.

The Alexandria Hotel (affectionately called the Alex) saw its heyday during the silent film days, with million dollar deals being made on the carpet in the lobby. It feel on hard times in the 1930s and 1940s, and only boxing promoters were keeping it alive. There were boxers sparring under the beautiful stained glass ceiling of the Palm Court. And then the US government came in and dropped the incredible ceiling. But here are some pictures of what it looks like today:

When you enter, you’re greeted with a lacework-bannister staircase, that is not quite as beautiful as the original grand staircase, but still beautiful.

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When you go down to the corridor off to the left, you enter a large space that used to be the lobby, with grand ceilings that rose at least two stories. How disappointing to see them in their current state.

What is now serving as a bar used to be the main check-in desk.

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And off to the left of this space is the entrance to the Palm Court. Which at least has Historical Landmark Designation.

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That ceiling is definitely as beautiful as it looks. Stunning, in fact.

We left that and went up another set of stairs, but it was an unremarkable climb, as you got to see what other changes had been wrought, and not for the better.

Some of the other hotels on our itinerary were the Barclay (formerly the Van Nuys…) at 4th and Main. The very cool art deco Barclay sign went up in 1931. If you look closely, you can see the old intertwined V & N (for Van Nuys) in the stained glass above the windows.

 

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More of the Barclay below:

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After the Barclay, we saw the King Edward Hotel (built 1906) at First and Los Angeles. Look at the ceilings in this place. And the marble columns. Truly stunning. It’s a shame that it has fallen on such hard times.

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This was initially a hobo’s corner, with tons of saloons. The gospel wagons parked outside, trying to save souls, but after some time, there was legislation passed, and they could only park for an hour a day. Note that things haven’t changed much around this neighborhood. On this tour, you really get to see Skid Row in all its glory, and you can begin to understand the massive homeless problem that L.A. is dealing with.

This tour is amazing, and I can’t wait to go back to Esotouric to experience more of the seamy underbelly of L.A.

Stay tuned for more L.A adventures!

Update…

“So, Laini,” you’re saying. “Are you EVER going to check in from your trip to Hollywood?”

“Well, of course,” I say. But being as how I’ve been a bit busy selling, merchandising, taking tours and such, I want to be able to share all the awesomeness with you, and include lovely photos and descriptions.

I’ll be on it as soon as I’m home! And much good news will follow…

 

It’s been a bittersweet week in these parts…

A few weeks ago, my company decided to lay an entire unit off at my job, including me. But I’ve had to stay this long to aid in the transition. Monday, I turn in my computer, my badge and anything else important I still have.

Layoff Notice

Yesterday, my team took me out for lunch. My boss presented me with an absolutely lovely, black leather designer handbag (for taking to signings), a fancy Kate Spade pen (so I have a special signing pen), and a bottle of what I’m sure is relatively expensive champagne.

I haven’t cried yet, but I have a feeling I’ll be a total waterworks on Monday. I had a love/hate relationship with this job– SO high stress, yet such amazing benefits. My stock options helped me get my book out in the first place. I can kiss those goodbye. Mostly, the people here were my friends. They were my family. Most, I adore, and will miss terribly. Others, probably not so much.

This is now my fourth layoff (the third of not making it through), and during the first, I bawled like a baby for most of the day, seeing most of my co-workers getting chopped. I just can’t do that anymore. I’m friends with everyone, and this is a smaller town than Dallas was, so I’m sure I’ll see most of them again– at the Farmers Market, at The Fringe, out at a restaurant, meeting for coffee.

People have asked me if I’ll only write from now on. That would be great if the income was as good as this last job (it isn’t). I have a mortgage now. And I enjoy going out to brunch, which gets expensive. I’ll still have to work, but I’m in no hurry to go back to the grind. I’ve got three appearances planned here in Alberta to promote The Forgotten Flapper. I’ve got an appearance in Hollywood at Cinecon, and I’m headed to Surrey, BC in October for the writers conference there.

Right now, I’m just looking forward to enjoying some writing time and being able to relax for a while. But it’s a decision I’d love to be able to make. That whole…not having a job and following the dream thing. But eventually, I’ll at least have to take on a contract job for a while to pay the bills.

Have any of you been in this situation, and did you make the dream a reality, doing what you love?

 

It’s release day for The Forgotten Flapper!

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I’m so very excited to announce that The Forgotten Flapper releases today! Yesterday, a lovely review was posted in the Rat Creek Press, a great little neighborhood paper here in Edmonton (see page 10).

Last night, I was able to take multiple copies to Audrey’s, our wonderful local bookshop, so my husband took me out for celebratory drinks on a nearby restaurant patio (a G & T on a warm day is a lovely reward. Trust me on this).

Until I can get it into the bookstore near you, please visit Amazon and check it out. If you like classic films (especially silent ones), and/or you like the recent spate of biographical fiction of famous women (Zelda Fitzgerald, Beryl Markham, Coco Chanel, and the like), I think you’ll enjoy it. And Olive, being the feisty, fun-loving girl she is, will love your support.

I’ve also discounted the e-book of my first novel, Love Lies Bleeding, to celebrate the release. So if you haven’t read it yet, this is a good time to!

For those of us in Alberta, this is a long weekend. Why not relax and enjoy it with a little reading?

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