A biography of Jane Hall, a writer for magazines and movies, traces the complicated, warring pressures of talent and the feminine mystique.
Cutler (The Laughing Desert, 2012, etc.), a historian, tells the story of her mother’s life. Born in an Arizona mining town in 1915, Hall had published poems, short stories, articles, and more by the time she was 15. After her parents died, Hall and her brother moved east in 1930 to live with her aunt and uncle, part of Manhattan’s privileged elite. In 1933, Hearst’s New York American called her “one of the season’s most ‘prominent debutantes.’ ” Hall began selling stories and moved to Hollywood in 1937, where her colleagues included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, and Anita Loos. Hall’s hard work and gift for dialogue earned her a good reputation; she worked on a half-dozen films, such as These Glamour Girls (1939). Cosmopolitan published that movie as a novel and featured her on the cover, writing that Hall “would rather be considered a glamour girl than a successful writer,” adding “She is both”—but not for much longer. In 1940, she married Robert Frye Cutler, a theatrical producer. They had Robin in 1944. Hall soon lost momentum as a writer; her last penciled diary comment, dated 1951, reads: “I haven’t written anything for years….I feel peaceful, quite resigned, and also, much of the time, quite dead.” Her marriage faltered, especially after her husband became an invalid, but she found some happiness in a warm, supportive friendship with a married man. She died in 1987. In this well-researched account, with full scholarly apparatus, the author thoughtfully examines the allure and trap of glamour. In this, Hall’s story mirrors those of many female professionals even today, who face immense pressures to maintain a certain look. Hall’s brushes with Hollywood and literary celebrities make great reading. Fitzgerald gave her an inscribed copy of Tender Is the Night (“the book may have been his warning to Jane about the consequences of marrying the wrong person, and the seductive power of wealth, alcohol, and a world of superficiality and showiness”). This portrait of a more literary mass-market America offers much food for reflection on modern culture.
A valuable, absorbing contribution to the history of women, golden-age Hollywood, and America’s magazine culture of the 1930s and ’40s.