Skip to main content

The Chelsea Girls Bets On...

The Chelsea Girls

August 2019

Longtime readers know that I have loved all of Fiona Davis’ books. In THE CHELSEA GIRLS, she has ratcheted up her craft to a new level, tackling a thorny topic that few may know about, as well as offering her usual look at an iconic New York building. For those who may not be familiar with it, the Chelsea Hotel is a popular home to actors, singers, artists and musicians. The folks at the Chelsea are artsy, and the vibe of the place is edgy and cool.

The book opens with a USO show during World War II, and we meet two actresses who are on the road with the show: Hazel Ripley and Maxine Mead. Hazel’s family is from the theater world, but she has not gotten her big break, while Maxine is a star. They bond over an experience that they encounter with two young Italian boys during the war, which later leads to their working on a project together, with Hazel as a scriptwriter and Maxine as an actress. But the angry anti-Red tide of McCarthy has rolled over Broadway, much the same as Hollywood, and Hazel is swept up in the drama.

The story, which delves into the impact of the McCarthy hearings on the theater world, is so well told, and it will make people think critically about that dark time and what it meant for culture. Call me unclued, but I was not aware that it was an issue on Broadway, as it was in Hollywood.

As I was reading, I thought of all the great talent that was squandered during that time…and what could have been in the arts that was sequestered. If those people had not been blacklisted, what other theater history may we have had? I feel the same way about the AIDS crisis and the talent we lost in the ’80s and ’90s.

It is SO well done, right down to the ending. There is a terrific twist in it that I dare readers to see coming. Book groups will enjoy discussing the political overtones, as well as the story of these two women. Fiona got the idea for this book from a woman who was an actress during these angry days. She encouraged Fiona to research the effect of McCarthyism on the theater world, and it led her down this path. I am so glad that she did.

Click here to watch my “Bookreporter Talks To” interview with Fiona for much more about THE CHELSEA GIRLS.

The Chelsea Girls
by Fiona Davis