A debut historical novel set amid the glamour of old Hollywood.
Jimmy “J.J.” Johnson grew up on the vaudeville circuit, learning the art of entertaining crowds from his performer parents. From the age of 5, however, Jimmy has been haunted by the image of his mother waving frantically from a train platform as it recedes into the distance. His father, Reed, continues on the vaudeville circuit with Jimmy and his younger brother Russell, but after the vaudeville act turns sour, Jimmy goes out West into the arms of the nascent motion picture industry. Along the way, Jimmy learns how to repair two machines that are changing the world: the automobile and the motion picture camera. But when a mishap in a delivery truck leaves him jobless, he takes work as an extra on the set of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. Jimmy quickly realizes that, as the grandson of freed slaves, he can’t stomach the director responsible for The Birth of a Nation. However, the camera and the stage provide Jimmy’s livelihood, and they become the means by which he breaks into a transformative art—and reunites his shattered family. The novel’s historical setting comes to life with detailed references to 1910s Hollywood, from the intensive artwork of Griffith’s sets to the lower-budget yet groundbreaking work of actors such as Charlie Chaplin and producers such as Noble Johnson, founder of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company. Although the novel sometimes moves a bit too quickly to do justice to the intensity of its plot, its rich detail and the mystery of Jimmy’s mother’s disappearance, make for an engrossing read. Humbert also includes photos of real-life historical characters and movie sets to round out the narrative.
An intriguing novel about the birth of the motion picture industry, as seen through the eyes of a young man striving to strike it big.