QUEENIE by Michael Korda
Kirkus Star


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The career, from the late Twenties to the early Forties, of film-star Dawn Avalon, n‚e Queenie Kelley--based, with unimaginative tackiness and coyly convoluted murkiness, on the life of Merle Oberon, n‚e Queenie O'Brien. (Oberon was briefly the wife of Korda's famous uncle Alexander.) As in the shoddy Oberon bio by Higham & Moseley (1983), the Queenie here is forever haunted by her semi-secret Anglo-Indian heritage: she grows up in Calcutta, enchants white men with her light-skinned teenage beauty, is sneered at as a ""bloody little chee-chee""--and flees at last to England with her incestuously smitten Uncle Morgan after they conspire to steal a diamond bracelet from Morgan's nasty white mistress. But Depression-era London is a grim disappointment for Queenie, especially when Uncle M. rapes her. She does at last start climbing toward success, as a nightclub ""exotic""; and when Morgan threatens to ruin things with his dark-skinned presence, she accidentally kills him---a secret which some show-biz slimies will use to blackmail Queenie over the years that follow. Her first great love is cameraman Lucien Chambrun, who fashions her image in magazines and in the screen-test for Hungarian/British movie-king David Konig. Lord Konig gives her a new screen-name, the wedded security of wealth and position, but no sex-thrills; he enrages Queenie/Dawn by selling part of her contract to slimy US mogul Braverman (i.e., Goldwyn) but then--unlike Korda in real life--conveniently dies. And the later chapters here, slogging slowly from 1939 to the mid-1940s, are a dense mishmash of Oberon-iana and miscellaneous roman clef trivia: Dawn stars in a GWTW-like blockbuster; she gets slightly involved with the scandals of a secretly homosexual British actor, whose wife commits suicide; she fends off rape by a Selznick type; she has major cosmetic surgery; she has tiresome wrangles with assorted studio heads; and she lovingly weds Prince Charles Corsini--but her paranoia about The Past leads her to betray him, unintentionally causing his plane-crash death. (Oberon's great love, Count Giorgio, died likewise.) The second half of this sleazy, overlong assemblage seems, understandably enough, to bore Korda himself--who then sums up Queenie's last 30 years in four pages. And ""half-caste woman"" Queenie remains both un-charismatic and unsympathetic throughout. But the novel's first half does have some rags-to-riches brio, some bi-cultural intrigue; and, though those who admired the classy sparkle of Charmed Lives and Worldly Goods will be disappointed, you can probably count on a solid commercial showing--thanks to the Korda clout, the (rather faded) Oberon allure, and the family-grave-robbing angle.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1985
Publisher: Linden/Simon & Schuster