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Novelist/screenwriter/playwright Vera Caspary is no match for Lillian Hellman as an observer of ""the secrets of grown-ups,"" the role in which she casts herself as an ill-favored, late-born child; and indeed her memoirs are curdled by resentment of the social airs she perceived in her mother and older sister. Nor will she pass today as a ""liberated woman"": she is too hung up on the ""rites of flirtation"" and the artifices of seduction for that. Rather, she comes across as a talented, nervy female tuned in to the dreams of other disadvantaged women--and a natural concocter of fictions. Early on (c. 1920), she graduated from stenography to writing advertising copy in her native Chicago, dreamed up Russian balletmaster ""Sergei Marinoff"" for a correspondence course--and discovered that it attracted not only hayseeds but also local ""underground dancers"": the girl with a shriveled arm, the elderly janitor's wife, the unwelcome black. In and out of the McFadden magazine whirl in the Twenties, she cultivated the ""new society"" at the Trianon Ballroom for Trianon Topics; mingled with blacks-who-passed for a novel, The White Girl) and sampled life in a working-girls' home for a play, Blind Mice (doomed in part by Helen Hayes' ""act of God"" pregnancy). Other idle, productive moments found her employed as a gypsy fortune teller and turning the horrors of a summer in the suburbs into a short story--which she subsequently sold to the movies eight times in seven years. Even her wishy-washy Communist involvement (""I had never tried to recruit a new member"") has a characteristic Caspary twist--the Confidences Club (social etiquette plus union hoopla) for ethnic factory girls. Laura (1940) brought her fame and a small fortune, European ‚migr‚ producer I. G. Goldsmith (""Love begins at forty"") brought her womanly fulfillment: like her dearly loved father, Igee chased rainbows--while Vera typed away to support them both. ""You can't afford to be seasick,"" she'd once told herself on a costly transatlantic crossing, ""You've got to enjoy every minute."" Overreaching and overwrought, but an intriguing, off-center slice of the freelance life.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1979
Publisher: McGraw-Hill