The closing days of 1938 bring a second case to failed actress–turned-shopgirl–turned–Hollywood social secretary Lillian Frost.
Edith Head, just appointed head of Paramount’s costume design department, must have spared no superlative in telling Marlene Dietrich about Lillian’s earlier success (Design for Dying, 2016), because now Dietrich wants Lillian to find Jens Lohse, the pianist/composer who frequently accompanied the star, recently labeled box-office poison, before he disappeared, first from his rooming house, then from the face of the Earth. Lillian, not unduly impressed by her own sleuthing skills, nonetheless makes the rounds among Hollywood’s expatriate community and mainly finds (aha!) that they’re sharply divided about Adolf Hitler—so sharply that Rosa, the disgruntled German maid who disapproves of her employer Judge Edgar Lauer’s highly critical remarks about the Führer, has blabbed enough to the cops to land the judge and his wife, along with comedians George Burns and Jack Benny, in hot water on smuggling charges. With all Tinseltown abuzz over this real-life scandal, Lillian’s discovery of Jens’ corpse rates little more than a footnote. Yet the more Lillian digs into the dead pianist’s connections in the Hollywood community, the more convinced she becomes that Jens was hooked into some political skulduggery with serious implications for the war looming just over the horizon.
A brightly written tale of how Hollywood simmered while Atlanta, or at least David Selznick’s simulation of it, burned. Patrick not only provides walk-ons for Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Hedy Lamarr, Greta Garbo, Errol Flynn, Dorothy Parker, and Leni Riefenstahl, but actually furnishes something for most of them to do.