Such Mad Fun: Ambition and Glamour in Hollywood’s Golden Age follows Jane Hall’s journey from an Arizona mining town to Manhattan’s Cafe Society and on to Hollywood during its Golden Age. 2016 GOLD winner for biography from Foreword Reviews Indies. https://awards.forewordreviews.com/books/such-mad-fun/
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Why does Jane’s story still matter today?
“I was a candle on the President’s birthday cake!” On January 30, 1934, Jane Hall was exuberant as she whirled around the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria at a pageant in honor of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fifty-second birthday. For nineteen-year-old Jane, this ball and other glamorous evenings like it were not just fun, they were research. Jane’s roots in Arizona and California had not prepared her for this world of eastern glitter. Just four years earlier, when her widowed mother died of breast cancer, Jane became an orphan who knew what it meant to be heartbroken and hard up. Once she arrived in the nation’s cultural capital to live with her aunt and uncle, her life was transformed.
Like an undercover agent, Jane brought keen eyes and ears from the wide-open West into what appeared to be (but of course was not) a dream world. In his definitive history of Depression Era culture, Morris Dickstein refers to the “split personality” of the 1930s as Americans confronted disaster and sought to “create art and entertainment to distract people from their troubles. . .” Jane Hall did just that in her stories and screenplays as she came to terms with the tragedies in her own life.
Jane’s journey from a desert hamlet in Arizona to Manhattan’s Café Society and then to Hollywood is a captivating story of resilience, accommodation and seduction. Her father, Dick Wick Hall, Arizona’s best-loved humorist in the mid 1920s, shaped her aspirations long after an unexpected illness cut his life short in April 1926. By then, “Little Jane” had already decided to be a writer; her work first appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1925 when she was ten. The dozens of poems, stories, and articles she published over the next five years earned her a reputation as a “literary prodigy.”
Before long magazines such as Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan began buying her stories on a regular basis. In the middle of the Depression, Jane wrote fiction with a twist of satire about the romantic predicaments of her contemporaries. Editors found her to be as much fun as the characters in her stories. Her sharp wit and superb ear for authentic dialogue soon caught the notice of Hollywood agent H. N. Swanson who secured her a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In August 1939, the film of her novel, “These Glamour Girls,” which had already been published in Cosmopolitan, opened in New York City. The movie gave Lana Turner her first starring role and was named “the best social comedy of the year” by The New York Times. That same month, Jane’s feature-length article about her visit to the sets of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone with the Wind” (she interviewed both Mervyn LeRoy and Victor Fleming) appeared in Good Housekeeping. She was on her way.
During 1938 and 1939, when her life “belonged only to Louis B. Mayer,” Jane worked long hours in the Thalberg Building at MGM – for several months she wrote in the office next to F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s (see Gallery). But she still found time for lunch with Rosalind Russell, dinner with Walter Pidgeon, dancing with Jimmy Stewart, sailing to Catalina on Joe Mankiewicz’s schooner, and trips to Palm Springs, Lake Arrowhead, and the racetrack at Santa Anita. Jane’s voice from Culver City is candid, refreshing and at times disturbing as she describes her response to Hollywood and studio system during its Golden Age.
On this site and in the forthcoming book you can follow this self-conscious, sturdy tomboy as she matured into a sophisticated, glamorous young woman and, in October 1939, became one of Cosmopolitan’s iconic cover girls. In this image, Jane’s complexion is flawless, her features perfect, but the expression in her green eyes is wistful. Always unsure of her looks as a young girl, by 1939 her sense of who she should be had been redefined by her experiences in Manhattan and Hollywood and by cover artist Bradshaw Crandell. The image is symbolic; the world of glamour was seductive but it came at a cost. Her aunt and uncle lost most of their savings during the Depression. They felt enormous relief when, in November 1940, Jane married Robert Frye Cutler, a handsome businessman and theatrical producer who could provide financial security for their niece.
Such Mad Fun is a unique look at the literary marketplace of the 1930s and the messages popular culture conveys to its audiences. Jane kept a detailed record of her professional and emotional journey. Through diaries, letters, telegrams and photographs you will travel across America with an articulate young woman, who was also my mother, as she made difficult decisions that would affect her for the rest of her life. Jane left a priceless record of the years between 1925 and 1945 when she helped to create and assess the vibrant culture of a tumultuous era.
For images see the ever evolving Such Mad Fun Gallery and the individual posts.