SILVER PLATTER by Ellin Berlin


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The Mackay story is the kind of rags to riches saga that used to be considered the epitome of the American dream. Now -- when such a portrait is a period piece, it reads like melodrama. Ellin Berlin (wife of Irving Berlin and a novelist in her own right) has told the Mackay story, with her grandmother as protagonist. For this reader, and I believe for many others, the early chapters of a life of poverty in mining towns hold far more appeal than those which recall, in loving and intimate detail, the social triumphs, as the elite of Europe accepted invitations to the fabulous entertainments put on in Paris and London by Louise Mackay, who had been snubbed by New York's Four Hundred. John Mackay, ""bonanza king"", was her second husband; her first was an impecunious doctor, who -- with her father, ""Captain"" Hungerford, was a visionary, who expected a fortune around the corner. Louise from early childhood knew the insecurity and fears attendant on poverty. Perhaps this was why the trappings of wealth and the fulfillment of social ambition meant so much more to her than to John Mackay, who wanted them because of his lifelong worship of his lovely wife. This is a closeup of two sides of the American picture:- the crude struggle of mining-town mushroom growth in Nevada and California; the lavish details of clothes, food, decoration, furnishings, all the trappings of vast wealth which for a brief period Europe interpreted as the background of Americans generally. Louise Mackay lived most of the years of her prosperity in Europe; royalty were counted among her guests; her younger sister and her daughter married titled foreigners. There is, too, the interpretation of her aspirations, her hopes and fears, her devoted love for her husband and children, her loyalty to her parents. The biography is written as a biographical novel, but based on years of research, reading of contemporary records, interviews with people whose memories reached back beyond Ellin Mackay Berlin. Much of it is fascinating reading; but frankly I found the latter half overlong and overdetailed.

Pub Date: May 9th, 1957
Publisher: Doubleday