Snapshots from Hollywood’s early days.
The film business may have boomed in the 1920s, but Samuel Goldwyn’s secretary Valeria Belletti still had enough down time to get off long letters to lifelong friend Irma Prima back in New York City. Belletti’s correspondence survives, presented here with film scholar and author Beauchamp filling in background notes on some of the films and filmmakers Belletti mentioned to her friend. Belletti wrote to Irma that she approached Goldwyn with trepidation since he had a reputation for being a terror. Mrs. Goldwyn soon told Valeria the mogul liked her—after all, hadn’t he entrusted her to order bootleg booze for one of his parties? Belletti also got to know the stars on the Goldwyn lot—Ronald Coleman, Rudolph Valentino and an awkward, shy young actor she insisted Goldwyn hire, Gary Cooper. (Her potential courtship with Cooper faded as he headed to stardom.) Belletti also told her friend what was happening on and off the set. Especially poignant is an anecdote about Belle Bennett, who arrived to play the eagerly sought title role in Stella Dallas on the same day her teenaged son died of a sports injury. A single mother, Bennett had told people the boy was her brother. Writing about her personal life, Belletti often falls into a dullish “I’m fine/how are you” tone. However Bohemian her friends may have been, their behavior never rivaled that of their often scandalous Hollywood neighbors. “We sat in front of a big fireplace,” Belletti writes of an afternoon tea, “and had an enjoyable afternoon.”
Belletti, alas, was a prosaic stylist, but her ingenuous point of view lends her stories charm.