11 Novels Set In Old Hollywood To Add Some Glamour To Your Summer Reading
When you think of Old Hollywood, what do you see? Sunny days around the pool, swaying palm trees, all-night parties, and maybe a day or two working on set for the next big studio hit. Los Angeles in the 1920s through the 1960s conjures up images of handsome men and beautiful women in gorgeous clothes; classic films of the highest caliber; legendary romances; and a small town full of industry insiders where everyone knows everyone and there is always lots of drama. This Golden Age of cinema is full of the glamour we have come to revere from our classic stars, but also has more gossip than TMZ would know what to do with. It's this combination of sheer elegance meets crazy scandal that still holds our attention over 50 years later.
And, luckily for us, the juicy secrets and steamy romance of the age didn't stop on screen; they made their way onto the pages of some of the best beach reads around. The picks below range from 1930s noir to 1950s romance, combining both new characters with names we all know (from Cary Grant to Jean Harlowe) for reads that are both obsession-worthy and historical fiction. So, pull up a lounge chair and get those cat-eye sunglasses on... you're in a for a wild ride.
1. 'All the Stars in the Heavens' by Adriana Trigiani
The movie business is booming in 1935 when 21-year-old Loretta Young meets 34-year-old Clark Gable on set. Though he’s already married, Gable falls for the young actress instantly. Far from the glittering lights of Hollywood, Sister Alda Ducci has been forced to leave her convent and begin a new journey that leads her to Loretta. Becoming Miss Young’s assistant, Alda must now navigate the wild terrain. Over decades, they encounter scandal and adventure, love and passion, and forge an enduring bond that will be put to the test. Brimming with characters both real and fictional — including stars Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, David Niven, Hattie McDaniel — it is it is the unforgettable story of one of cinema’s greatest love affairs during the Hollywood's Golden Age.
2. 'The Notorious Pagan Jones' by Nina Berry
Pagan Jones went from America's sweetheart to fallen angel in one fateful night in 1960: the night a car accident killed her whole family. Pagan was behind the wheel and driving drunk. Nine months later, she's stuck in the Lighthouse Reformatory for Wayward Girls. Then Pagan's old agent shows up with a mysterious studio executive, Devin Black, and an offer. Pagan will be released if she accepts a role in a comedy by award-winning director Bennie Wexler. The shoot starts in West Berlin in just three days. The offer's too good to be true, Berlin's in turmoil and Devin Black knows way too much about her—there's definitely something fishy going on. But if anyone can take on a divided city, a scheming guardian and the world's criticism, it's Pagan Jones.
3. 'The Hollywood Daughter' by Kate Alcott
In 1950, Ingrid Bergman, already a major star after movies like Casablanca, has a baby out of wedlock with film director Roberto Rossellini. Previously held up as an icon of purity, Bergman's fall shocked her legions of American fans. Growing up in Hollywood, Jessica Malloy watches as her PR executive father helps make Ingrid a star at Selznick Studio. Jesse comes to idolize Ingrid, who she considered not only the epitome of elegance, but also the picture-perfect mother, an area where her own mom falls short. Ingrid's affair sets off an international scandal that robs 17-year-old Jesse of her hero. When the stress placed on Jesse's father begins to reveal hidden truths about the Malloy family, Jesse's eyes are opened to the complex realities of life and love.
4. 'Girl About Town' by Adam Shankman and Laura L. Sullivan
Not too long ago, Lucille O’Malley was living in a tenement in New York. Now she’s Lulu Kelly, Hollywood’s newest It Girl. But back in New York she witnessed a Mafia murder, and this new life in Tinseltown is payment for her silence. Freddie van der Waals, the only son of a New York tycoon, was a playboy with the world at his feet. But when he discovered how his corrupt father really made his fortune, Freddie abandoned his billions. When fate brings Lulu and Freddie together, sparks fly—and gunshots follow. Suddenly Lulu finds herself framed for attempted murder. Together, she and Freddie set out to clear her name. But can they escape their pasts and finally find the Hollywood ending they long for?
5. 'The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo' by Taylor Jenkins Reid (June 13, 2017)
Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
6. 'Stars Over Sunset Boulevard' by Susan Meissner
Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie... Los Angeles, 1938. Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood and lands a job on the set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide. What they are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their lives far into the future.
7. 'Woman Enters Left' by Jessica Brockmole (August 8, 2017)
In the 1950s, movie star Louise Wilde is caught between an unfulfilling acting career and a shaky marriage when she receives an out-of-the-blue phone call: She has inherited the estate of Florence “Florrie” Daniels, a Hollywood screenwriter she barely recalls meeting. On an impulse, Louise leaves a film shoot in Las Vegas and sets off for her father’s house on the East Coast, hoping for answers about the curious inheritance. Nearly 30 years earlier, Florrie takes off on an adventure of her own, driving her Model T westward from New Jersey in pursuit of broader horizons. She has the promise of a Hollywood job and, in the passenger seat, Ethel, her best friend since childhood. In parallel tales, the three women — Louise, Florrie, Ethel — discover that not all journeys follow a map.
8. 'Platinum Doll' by Anne Girard
It's the Roaring Twenties and 17-year-old Harlean Carpenter McGrew has escaped her small town and run off to Beverly Hills. In California, Harlean has everything a girl could want: a rich husband, glamorous parties, socialite friends; except an outlet for her talent. But everything changes when a dare pushes her to embrace her true ambition: to be an actress on the silver screen. With her timeless beauty and striking shade of platinum-blond hair, Harlean becomes Jean Harlow. And as she's thrust into the limelight, Jean learns that this new world of opportunity comes with its own set of burdens and she is forced to confront the difficult truth that fame comes at a price... if only she's willing to pay it.
9. 'Marlene' by C.W. Gortner
A dramatic biographical novel of one of the most glamorous and alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age, Marlene Dietrich, from the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the lush film studios of Hollywood. For Lili Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler and the Nazis rise to power, she sets sail for America. Marlene quickly becomes one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, starring with legends such as John Wayne and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Marlene instead chooses to become an American citizen But one day she will return to Germany. Escorted by General George Patton himself, Marlene is heartbroken by the war’s devastation and the evil legacy of the Third Reich that has transformed her homeland and the family she loved.
10. 'Design for Dying' by Renee Patrick
Los Angeles, 1937. Lillian Frost has traded dreams of stardom for security as a department store salesgirl... until she discovers she’s a suspect in the murder of her former roommate, Ruby Carroll. Party girl Ruby died wearing a gown she stole from the wardrobe department at Paramount Pictures, domain of Edith Head. Edith has yet to win the first of her eight Academy Awards; right now she’s barely hanging on to her job, and a scandal is the last thing she needs. To clear Lillian’s name and save Edith’s career, the two women join forces. All they have going for them are dogged determination, assists from the likes of Bob Hope and Barbara Stanwyck, and a killer sense of style. In show business, that just might be enough.
11. 'The It Girl and Me: A Novel of Clara Bow' by Laini Giles
Daisy DeVoe has left her abusive husband, her father has been pinched for bootlegging, and she’s embarrassed by her rural Kentucky roots. But on the plus side, she’s climbing the ladder in the salon of Paramount Pictures, styling hair for actress Clara Bow. Clara is a handful. The “It” Girl of the Jazz Age personifies the new woman of the 1920s onscreen, smoking, drinking, and bursting with sex appeal. But her conduct off the set is even more scandalous. Hoping to impose some order on Clara’s life, Paramount persuades Daisy to sign on as Clara’s personal secretary. Here, Daisy sets the record straight, from her poverty-stricken childhood to her failed marriage; from a father in San Quentin to her rollercoaster time with Clara, leaving out none of the juicy details.