Cassie Martin has grown up as the daughter of superstar comedienne Abby Grant, but she’s never been impressed by the glamour of Hollywood…
Background: The first volume of the Hollywood Daughters series dealt with former child star Abby “Cookie” Baynes and her struggle to break from her Shirley Temple-like image and get away from her domineering stage mother in the early 1940s. After the tragic death of her father and a number of personal setbacks, Abby finally gets her big break and joins a USO tour with fake-Bob Hope. Renaming herself Abby Grant, she seems to have a bright future as a comedienne.
The Plot: By the late 1960s, Abby has become a legend in the business, and her long-running sitcom has made her “the world’s favorite comedienne”.
However, there is a dark side to Abby’s success, because, duh of course there is. Her frantic schedule of TV and film work has impacted her personal life: oft-married, she has a fraught relationship with her only daughter, Cassie.
She had her own ideas about Abby’s situation comedy. How would she describe it? Trite? Formula? Low pratfall comedy? Yet the same kind of jokes and gags Abby first made famous on radio and in films in the forties still found loving fans on TV in 1969.
So, Abby is deep into the “The Lucy Show”/“Here’s Lucy” phase of her career.
While Cassie is possessed of the stunning looks her mother lacked, she has no desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a film star. A high school senior, Cassie turns down all offers to break into the business using her mother’s connections, and instead pursues her dream of becoming a photojournalist.
Her plans become complicated when her BFF Lynn persuades her to audition for a part in the Senior Play, a production of The Women. Cassie steals the show in the small role of Olga the manicurist, although her success is overshadowed by the arrival of her mother, who is invited to say a few words to the class and immediately launches into a corny routine about Lois Lane not being able to tell that Clark Kent is Superman. While Cassie is dying of embarrassment, her classmates are thrilled with the impromptu performance.
Nixon does a great job balancing the reader’s sympathies between Abby and Cassie- while it is clear that Abby has spent years working like a dog and sacrificing her personal life for her success, it is equally apparent that her brand of humor is painfully unhip- her jokes about hippies and folksingers are pretty excruciating.
Cassie’s life becomes even more complicated when she meets Marc Jenkins, a freshman USC film student, and Cassie impresses Marc with her knowledge of Godard, Fellini and Antonioni…
“Not movies! They don’t waste their time with movies. They make films!”
Marc has the opportunity to apprentice to fake-Francois Truffaut if only he can raise the funds to complete his short film.
“The story will primarily be told through the camera… so I’ve got a lot of action, very little dialogue and a lot of symbolism in the scenes.”
“What is it about?”
“It’s about now- the end of the sixties decade. And about people. Not the scrubbed-clean people in nice neighborhoods that are fed to us on movies and TV, but the people who have to scramble to pay their bills. There are lots of things I want to say in my film about life and love- especially love- and how people can be open and honest and throw away some of the rules that have held us back.”
I realize that Marc is supposed to be the romantic hero in this book, but he sounds pretty unbearable. Also Marc is clearly supposed to be fake-Steven Spielberg making fake-Amblin’.
Cassie is love struck, and wants to help Marc raise the funds to complete his film, even asking her mother to loan him the money. Abby is unimpressed by the film school generation, however, seeing them as trying to avoid paying their dues and having to work their way up through the studio system.
Cassie reaches out to her father, a failed Hollywood director exiled to Europe and the limbo of International Co-Productions, only to find that he’s having trouble making his own rent.
Finally, in desperation, Cassie agrees to sell a series of candid photographs that she has taken of her mother to Look magazine for $35,000 and makes a deal to borrow the rest from her mother’s agent in exchange for appearing with Abby in a sketch in an upcoming Jackie Gleason TV special.
Abby is devastated when the photographs appear- while Cassie had written captions describing the warm, human side of her famous mother, Look has run them with a headline implying that Abby’s stardom is in decline.
Abby has just forgiven her daughter (helped along by the fact that showing her vulnerabilities has made her more popular than ever), when Cassie has to break the news that she will be appearing in the Jackie Gleason special.
During the taping of the show, mother-daughter tensions boil over, resulting in a knock-down, drag-out fight between the two. Fortunately for all involved, the fight is also comedy gold and Gleason decides to leave it in the sketch.
Abby finally agrees to watch Marc’s film, and agrees that although it’s rough, he does have talent. If he doesn’t get the apprenticeship, she will personally use her connections to get the film seen.
Marc finally admits that he loves Cassie, and she says that she’s ready to sacrifice her luxe lifestyle to help him with his career, despite Abby warning that “things don’t always work out the way you plan.”
Just ask Amy Irving.
It Is 1969! Department: “That weird Laugh-In humor!” Abby wrinkled her nose with disgust. “I suppose you think it’s funny, too.”
In-Joke Department: A pair of party-crashers insist that “we came with the Carmichaels”, a reference to Lucille Ball’s “The Lucy Show” character.
Sequel Department: The trilogy is rounded out by Encore, about Cassie’s daughter, a sitcom star in the 1980s.