Susan Meissner Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

ISBN 13: 9780451475992

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard

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9780451475992: Stars Over Sunset Boulevard
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In this novel from the acclaimed author of A Bridge Across the Ocean and The Last Year of the War, two women working in Hollywood during its Golden Age discover the joy and heartbreak of true friendship.

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 after her  dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-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 among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet...until each woman’s deepest desires collide.  What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future. 

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About the Author:

Susan Meissner is a former managing editor of a weekly newspaper and an award-winning columnist. She is the award-winning author of A Bridge Across the Ocean, Secrets of a Charmed Life, A Fall of Marigolds, and Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, among other novels.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise for the Novels of Susan Meissner

Other Novels by Susan Meissner

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

1938

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

1939

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

1942

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

1962

CHAPTER THIRTY

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

Acknowledgments

Readers Guide

Special Excerpt from A Fall of Marigolds

Special Excerpt from Secrets of a Charmed Life

About the Author

Hollywood

March 9, 2012

Christine unfolds the tissue paper inside the pink-striped hatbox and the odor of lost years floats upward. She is well acquainted with the fragrance of antiquity. Her vintage-clothing boutique off West Sunset overflows with stylish remnants from golden years long since passed.

“I thought you were going to hold off estimating that lot until this afternoon,” her business partner, Stella, says as she joins Christine in the shop’s back room. The two friends are surrounded on all sides by the wearable miscellany of spent lives.

“Mr. Garceau, the man who brought this stuff in last night, just called. There’s apparently a hat in one of these boxes that wasn’t supposed to be included. He told me what it looks like. I guess the family is anxious to have it back.”

Christine withdraws a paper-wrapped lump from inside the box, revealing at first just a flash of moss green and shimmers of gold. Then she pulls away the rest of the layers. The Robin Hood–style hat in folds of soft velvet, amber-hued fringe, and iridescent feathers feels ghostly in her hands, as though if she put it to her ear, it might whisper a litany of old secrets.

She has seen this hat somewhere before, a long time ago.

“Is that it?” Stella asks.

“I think so. He said it was green with gold fringe and feathers.”

Stella moves closer, brow furrowed. “That hat looks familiar to me.”

“It does to me, too.” Christine turns the hat over to inspect its underside for signs of its designer—a label, a signature, a date. She sees only a single name in faded ink on a yellowed tag:

Scarlett #13

1938

ONE

December 1938

A brilliant California sun bathed Violet Mayfield in indulgent light as she neared the soaring palm tree and the woman seated on a bench underneath it. Legs crossed at the ankles, the woman rested her back lazily against the skinny trunk. She held a cigarette in her right hand, and it was as if the thin white tube were a part of her and the stylish smoke that swirled from it an extension of her body. The woman’s fingernails, satin red and glistening, were perfectly shaped. Toenails visible to Violet through peep-toes winked the same shade of crimson. The woman wore a formfitting sheath of celery green with a scoop neckline. A magazine lay open on her lap, but her tortoiseshell sunglasses hid her eyes, so Violet couldn’t tell whether the woman was reading the article on the left page or gazing at handsome Cary Grant, whose photograph graced the right. A wad of wax paper lay crumpled on the bench beside her handbag and a bit of bread crust poked out of it. She sat in front of the Mansion at Selznick International Studios, the stunning white edifice that moviemaker Thomas Ince had built back in the twenties to look like George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

The woman under the tree didn’t look at all like a fellow studio secretary, but rather a highly paid actress catching a few quiet moments of solitude between takes on the back lot. Violet glanced around to see whether there was someone else sitting outside the Mansion on her noon break. But the woman in front of her was the only one eating her lunch under a palm tree, and that was where Violet had been told she’d find Audrey Duvall. She suddenly looked familiar to Violet, which made no sense at all. Violet was two thousand miles away from anything remotely connected to home.

“Miss Duvall?” Violet said.

The woman looked up drowsily, as though Violet had awakened her from sleep. She cocked her head and pulled her sunglasses down slightly to peer at Violet over the rims. Her luminous eyes, beautiful and doelike, were fringed with long lashes she couldn’t have been born with. The casual glance was the wordless reply that she was indeed Audrey Duvall.

“My name’s Violet Mayfield. I’m new to the secretary pool. Millie in accounts payable told me you are looking for a roommate. I was wondering if you’d found one yet.”

Audrey smiled and her painted lips parted to reveal moon-white teeth. “Good Lord,” she exclaimed, her voice rich and resonant, almost as deep as a man’s. “Where are you from?”

“Pardon me?”

“You’re not from around here.”

“Um. No. I’m from Alabama. Originally.”

Audrey’s smile deepened. “Alabama. Never been to Alabama.”

Violet didn’t know what to say. Had the woman not heard what she asked?

Audrey patted the empty space next to her. “Have a seat. What did you say your name was?”

“Violet Mayfield.” She sat down, and the cement beneath her was warm from the sun despite it being early December.

Audrey lifted the cigarette gently to her mouth and its end glowed red as she inhaled. When she tipped her head back and released the smoke it wafted over her head like a feathery length of gauze.

“Want one?” She nodded toward the pack of cigarettes peeking out of her handbag.

“No, thanks.”

“Don’t smoke?” Audrey puffed again on the cigarette and smiled as the smoke drifted past her lips.

Violet shook her head.

“My last roommate didn’t, either. She was always leaving the windows open to let the smoke out.”

“Did you not like it when she left the windows open? Is that why you need a new roommate?”

Audrey laughed. “You’re kidding, right?”

Violet said nothing.

“She got married.”

“Oh.”

Audrey pushed the sunglasses up onto her head, fully revealing shining tea-brown eyes that complemented her shimmering brunette hair. She seemed to study for a moment Violet’s navy blue dress with its plain white collar. Violet’s mousy brown hair—far less wavy than Audrey’s—was pulled back into a beaded barrette she had bought in a five-and-dime on the day she started heading west.

“So you just moved, then? From Alabama?”

“I came by way of Shreveport, actually. I’ve been working for my uncle the past year. He’s an accountant.”

“And how long have you been here?” Audrey asked.

“Two weeks.”

“And you found a job that quickly?” Her tone held a faint edge of sly admiration. “Good for you!”

“I’ve worked in an office before,” Violet said quickly. “And I went to secretary school.”

“I’ve heard there’s a school for what we do,” Audrey said, amused. “What are you? Nineteen? Twenty?”

“Twenty-two.”

“That will come in handy here, looking younger than you really are,” Audrey murmured. “I’m thirty and can still pass for a twenty-year-old if I need to.”

“Why would you need to do that?”

Audrey tossed back her head and laughed. Even her laugh was low and rich. “You seem to have a knack for humor, Violet from Alabama.” She arched one penciled eyebrow. “So. Did you come to Hollywood to be a movie star?”

Violet startled at the question. “No!”

“That’s why most girls your age come here.”

The thought of performing in front of people didn’t interest Violet in the least. Hollywood had beckoned her for a different reason. “That’s not why I moved here.”

“No?”

Her motivation for coming to California apparently mattered to Audrey Duvall. “I met one of Mr. Selznick’s talent scouts at an audition in Shreveport. He said he’d put in a good word for me if I wanted a secretarial job at the studio.”

“You went to that audition?” Audrey’s eyes widened in measurable interest.

“Only because my cousin Lucinda insisted I come with her. She found out people from Hollywood were coming to Shreveport to search for a young woman to play Scarlett O’Hara. I let her talk me into being interviewed along with everyone else. I think by the time Mr. Arnow got to me he was just relieved to talk to someone who had actually read Margaret Mitchell’s book and wasn’t fawning all over him.”

“You don’t say!”

“I told him I was a much better secretary than I was an actress and that I knew stenography, and that I’d lived in the South all my life. He told me if I wanted a job at Selznick International in Hollywood, he’d put in a good word for me. He said it would be handy to have a Southerner in the secretary pool during the filming. So I came.”

“Just like that?” Audrey seemed both intrigued and dubious.

Violet nodded.

“You have a family back there missing you right now?”

“Just my parents. And my two brothers, Jackson and Truman. They’re both married now and raising families. I doubt they think about me much.”

“But your parents?”

Violet’s thoughts somersaulted back to the strained phone call she had placed from Shreveport, telling her parents she’d been offered a job in Los Angeles and was taking it. They had begged her to reconsider.

“Come back home to Montgomery!” her mother had pleaded.

“Come back home to what?” Violet had responded. “There’s nothing for me there.”

Daddy had asked what California had that Alabama didn’t. She hadn’t known how to express that Hollywood didn’t have expectations of her.

Or sad memories of what might have been.

“I suppose they miss me,” Violet answered.

Audrey cocked her head. “So, what made you come all this way, if you don’t want to be a star?”

But Violet’s reason was too personal to share with a virtual stranger. She was not going to tell someone she’d only just met that fully realizing she could never have the life she’d been raised to live and wanted to live had sent her scrabbling for a new foothold on a meaningful existence.

“I was ready for a different life with new opportunities,” Violet said, with a slight shrug of her left shoulder.

For a stretched moment Audrey stared at her. “Then you came to the right place,” she finally said. “Are you allergic to cats?” She took a long pull on her cigarette.

Violet shook her head.

“You don’t have any furniture, do you?”

“Just a suitcase. I’ve been staying at a hotel.”

“The rent is sixty dollars a month. Plus half of the utilities.” Audrey dropped the stub of the cigarette to the pavement and ground it out with her shoe. “My place is a bit out of the way. Eight miles by way of bus and the red car. It’s a very pretty neighborhood, though. Close to the hills and the Hollywoodland sign. It was my aunt’s house. But now it’s mine.”

“The red car?”

“The trolley. The streetcar. It’s a good thirty minutes getting there in the morning and just as long or more at night. Still interested?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

Audrey smiled. “I’m on loan to one of the assistant art directors the next few days, so how about you meet me out front at quitting time? We can take the red car together so you can see the place and decide.” She rose from the bench, clutching the magazine and the handbag. “C’mon. You don’t want to be late getting back.”

Audrey strolled confidently to toss the wax paper into a trash can some yards away and Violet had to quicken her step to catch up. Audrey’s attention was fixed on the people they passed, some wearing elaborate costumes, some street clothes, some moving leisurely, some rushing as though desperate to catch a departing train. A few of these people Audrey greeted by name; some she did not. But everyone was given a look.

·   ·   ·

At a few minutes after five, Violet was at the front gate, waiting for Audrey to join her. When fifteen minutes had passed and there was still no sign of her, Violet was ready to assume she’d been forgotten. She had just decided to head back to her hotel when she saw Audrey walking slowly toward the gate, in the company of a man in a suit. They were laughing as they sauntered in her direction. He broke away before they reached the gate to head to one of the sound stages.

“Sorry about that,” Audrey said easily when she reached Violet. “But that fellow is not one to rush away from. Ready?”

They set out toward the Pacific Electric trolley stop, alighting onto a Venice Line car seconds before it set off east toward the Hollywood foothills. The streetcar had made a few stops before the two women were able to find two seats together. They sank into the last double seat at the rear.

“So, have you lived here a long time?” Violet asked as they settled more comfortably.

Audrey looked out the window at the passing scenery. “I suppose I have. I came when I was sixteen to live with my aunt.” She turned with a half grin on her lips toward Violet. “I’m not from here, either. I was raised four hours north on a plum farm. I’m a farm girl.”

The image of stunning Audrey Duvall as a pigtailed tomboy in dungarees made Violet smile for only a second. Sixteen seemed a young age to have left home. Violet’s own parents had been distraught when she told them she was heading to Hollywood, and she was a grown woman.

“And your parents let you come?” Violet asked.

Audrey laughed lightly. “My father pretty much insisted on it.”

Sorrow and disappointment laced Audrey’s words despite the grin. Violet was instantly curious to know what had happened between Audrey and her father. But it would have been rude to ask.

“And your mother?” Violet said instead.

Again Audrey’s gaze turned to the passing sights on the street. They were leaving the dull and drab neighborhoods of Culver City, where the studio was located, and entering the charm and glamour of Hollywood. “She died when I was ten.”

“I’m so sorry.”

Audrey was quiet for a moment. “I don’t have any regrets about coming to Hollywood, but I do wonder sometimes where I would be right now if my mother had lived.” She turned her head to face Violet again. “Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if different things had happened to you?”

Violet thought of her childhood friends back home who were all engaged, married, or pregnant, blissfully enjoying the existence she had always pictured herself living. It was such an ordinary life, but she had wanted it. She still wanted it.

“All the time,” Violet answered.

The streetcar stopped and a dozen passengers around them maneuvered their way off the trolley. A ...

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