There have been several fictionalized “exposes” of Hollywood, from Day of the Locust to The Carpetbaggers. But none have been properly contextualized through the lens of women, many of who had were the conduits between powerful movie moguls of the time. As noted in the introduction of the newest reprint of I Lost My Girlish Laughter, the novel was out of print for the longest time, presumably because studio head David O. Selznick wanted to stop its publication, as he was the “inspiration” for the movie executive lampooned in its pages. And while the novel itself isn’t a thinly-veiled scandal rag it is a witty look into the world of bustling 1930s-1940s movie studio, where fact is just as saucy as fiction.
Written by Sylvia Schulmann Lardner, a former secretary to David O. Selznick and burgeoning screenwriter, I Lost My Girlish Laughter tells the story of Madge Lawrence, a small-town girl who gets the opportunity of a lifetime after she becomes the secretary to movie executive Sidney Brand. Schulmann, prior to her marriage to Ring Lardner, drew heavily from her own time as a secretary for David O. Selznick, particularly as he was trying to get Gone With the Wind (1939) off the ground. Madge endures the typical elements of being a secretary in this time period, such as being objectified by the men in the office and having uncomfortable drinks with her boss. But that’s nothing compared to the moments that seem too insane to be real.
Schulmann’s creation of Sidney Brand situates him as equal parts cinematic genius and man-child. The book is told in epistolary format, so peppered amongst Madge’s own diary entries are Western Union memos between all the Hollywood players she encounters, so the reader often feels they’re standing right in the office as Brand explodes over his inability to get Clark Gable or his desire to replace the actor on his current picture with someone else. A large section of the story, wherein Brand turns an entire floor of a hospital into an office as his wife gives birth, almost seems drawn from a 1930s screwball comedy (though they’d never say that the woman was actually in labor).
This isn’t necessarily a novel filled to bursting with connections to famous stars, though their are a few. The press agent that has a bit of romance with Madge is drawn from Schulmann’s own relationship (and eventual marriage) with Ring Lardner and a new foreign import who is said to be a pain and can’t act is presumably based on Marlene Dietrich.
I Lost My Girlish Laughter is a light and frothy read, which might be what we need in these strange times. If you’re a fan of behind-the-scenes Hollywood hijinks, especially one with a history that could have seen it disappearing forever, it’s a must-read!
Interested in purchasing today’s book? If you use the handy link below a small portion will be donated to this site! Thanks!
WANT TO SEE OTHER CLASSIC FILM MEDIA I LOVE? CHECK OUT MY AMAZON INFLUENCERS PAGE
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.