The Hollywood Daughter
It is 1958, and Jessica Malloy is an aspiring freelance writer working at a humdrum job as a copy editor for Newsweek in New York City. She has moved far away from her privileged childhood in Hollywood, leaving behind the glitter, scandal and bitterness from 10 years earlier. As she sorts through her mail looking for something besides another rejection slip from one of her many submissions to publishers, she spots an embossed envelope. It holds an invitation to the 1959 Oscars.
The memories from that time of a decade earlier suddenly wash over Jesse as she stares at the invitation. She had attended only one other Academy Awards presentation as a young teenager when her idol, Ingrid Bergman, was nominated for lead actress in her role as a nun starring opposite Bing Crosby in The Bells of St Mary’s. Jesse’s father was Ingrid’s press secretary while Jesse was a student at St. Ann’s Academy, the Catholic girls school where the movie was filmed. Because of his Hollywood connections, she grew to know and idolize Ingrid, once considered the ideal of American womanhood. However, Ingrid would go on to become one of Hollywood’s most maligned actresses, and Jesse’s connection to the legendary star would change her life forever.
"...an illuminating story about a time in America when religion and government intermingled in ways never intended by our Founding Fathers."
Jesse lived in Beverly Hills with her devout Catholic mother and her well-to-do father who was prominent in the entertainment industry. This beautifully sensitive coming-of-age novel about a family torn between these two worlds takes place post-World War II at a time when the rest of America is engaged in an era of anti-Semitism and Communist conspiracy theories. Young Jesse, who is at the top of her class at St. Ann’s, must make a heart-wrenching decision when Ingrid is banished from the United States for having an extramarital affair and bearing a baby out of wedlock.
Jesse has always been closer to her father than to her mother. But her father’s colleagues are writers, directors and actors who become ensnared in the paranoia of the period. The family’s relationship frays under the stress brought on by Ingrid’s infamous situation, and tragedy strikes the family as the pressure builds.
The mid-1940s was a time of turmoil in America. The Catholic Church’s authoritarian Legion of Decency held sway over the movie industry, rigorously scrutinizing each new release. It was not uncommon for the Bishop or his emissaries to sit on movie sets, censoring scripts word by word, or determining how long a kiss might last, the proper length of a skirt, or the cut of an actress’s neckline. This practice coincided with the infamous McCarthy era, when all of Hollywood and the free press were under scrutiny from HUAC, the House Un-American Activities Committee, for subversive Communist activities.
After receiving the surprising invitation to the Oscars, Jesse touches base with her closest high school classmate, Kathleen, to decide if she wants to revisit Hollywood and those painful memories after building a new life for herself in New York.
THE HOLLYWOOD DAUGHTER is an illuminating story about a time in America when religion and government intermingled in ways never intended by our Founding Fathers. It is not a diatribe in any way, but it very well could be a cautionary tale of the times, even if author Kate Alcott didn’t intend it to be one.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on March 10, 2017