Donna Parker In Hollywood (#5) By Marcia Martin

“So this is California!” Donna thought. Pools, studios, celebrities, blue skies! And, for a girl on her first trip west, more excitement, more fun than seemed possible.


In our second installment of our 2016 Salute To Whitman Hardcovers, we again pick up with the extremely pleasant Donna Parker series.

Background: When last we left 14 year old Donna and her BFF Ricky West they had over the course of a 6-month period restored the faith in humanity of a disposed French count (and earned an electric sewing machine for doing so!); won a scholastic journalism award and thwarted a group of communist spies; and kept house while Donna’s parents set off on a whirlwind tour of Europe and India and dealt with some pretty heavy issues including dead parents, poverty in the suburbs and snobbery in the other suburbs. More strictly serialized than most contemporary girls’ series, Donna is at last ready to take her long-promised trip to California to visit her formerly long-lost uncle Roger and his wife, Summerfield Junior High’s former Journalism teacher.

The Plot:  The Parker family, Joyce Davenport, and Popular Square Dancing RichardPaul are all absent from this adventure, as Donna finally heads for the west coast for a long-promised visit with her Uncle Roger and Aunt Adele. Ricky West (“called Fredericka only by her mother”) (who you may remember is now tragically dead) makes a cameo appearance on the ride to the airport, having to turn down an invitation to accompany Donna:

Since Ricky’s mother had died, only a few months ago, Mr. West had been a lonely, uncertain person, a ship without an anchor.

Donna is super-excited about her first airplane trip (of course), as well as the prospect of meeting movie stars, as her uncle works as a sound engineer for a major Hollywood studio. She promises to get autographs for Ricky including those of Myra Brown (e.g., fake-Elizabeth Taylor: “if you see her, be sure to find out if her eyes are blue or purple!”)  and multiple-Oscar winner Adrienne Hope (fake-Katharine Hepburn?)

Donna’s parents also entrust her with delivering a present to her Aunt and Uncle: a miniature bronze statue of Ganesha that they picked up on their recent trip to India:

“That really is valuable, although I only paid forty rupees for it. I think it dates back to about the seventh century.”

Strangely, Donna is also excited about visiting with Ellie Townsend, the snobby ballet school girl who called her out for “chasing” the college-aged usher at her cousin’s wedding in the last book.

Seated next to Donna on the plane is Bruce Maslin, a talky high school boy on his way back to Beverly Hills from his fancy military boarding school. Donna, as usual, is prone to masculine flattery, and when the plane has to turn back to Chicago for an emergency repair, she throws judgement to the wind and accepts Bruce’s offer of a whirlwind tour of the city, including Marshall Fields, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Swedish section and Bruce’s old neighborhood.

Who would have known… that in the evening she would be in Chicago with a boy who was exciting to be with, who was friendly and went to military school and seemed to know all about practically everything, and that he would be inviting her to dinner? Wait’ll she wrote home to Ricky!”

Unfortunately, when they arrive back at the (complimentary) hotel the airline had parked them at, they learn that the repairs have been made and the rest of the passengers have been shuttled back to Midway Field. They’ve missed their plane! Donna is in a panic, but Bruce laughs it off, calling a cab and telling the driver that there will be a big tip for him if he can get them to the airport before take-off.  When they arrive the plane has to return to the gate for them, and Donna starts to wonder if Bruce’s laid-back attitude toward life is all it’s cracked up to be.

The East-meets-West culture clash begins the moment Donna arrives at the airport, and Donna notes that even her Aunt and Uncle are dressed in shorts and sandals:

“If you mean I don’t look like a schoolteacher, Donna,” Mrs. Norcross smiled, “well I guess I don’t feel much like one either. But you know, I did go back to teaching this year- taking care of that little apartment we had didn’t give me nearly enough to do.”

The drive from LAX to the Hollywood Hills does give us a nice peek at mid-century southern California in a time when cross-country travel was far less common:

“Are they really oil wells, right in the city? And they really work, honestly?”

They had assured her that the wells were actually pumping, but had not been able to answer half her other questions. They didn’t know the names of all of the different palm trees, or why there were big billboard advertisements for cemeteries, or why there were so many places that gave Spanish dancing and voice culture and Hawaiian guitar lessons.

Donna has two disappointments upon her arrival: the first is that there has been no word from Ellie about visiting, and the second is that the Genesha statue she had been entrusted with has gone missing!

Donna decides to keep the latter to herself in the hopes that it will turn up somewhere.

Donna also is disappointed when she meets Linda Atkinson, a girl her own age that Aunt Adele has arranged for her to visit with. When status-obsessed Linda learns that Donna is only from the suburbs of New York City, she seems to lose interest in being friends. She is also dismissive of Mike, her nerdy Gentleman Caller. Although to be fair, Mike is kind of a chump:

“Mike lives over in the valley.” Linda said by way of explanation “ and he works in his father’s store on Hollywood Boulevard, so he thinks this place is some sort of roadside stand or something where you can just drop in whenever you feel like it.”

The boy looked hurt. “Gee, Linda, if it bothers you, I won’t do it any more. I thought that maybe you wanted me to take you someplace, because my father said I could have the car for a little while.”

Mike, a boy with very nice manners that impress her aunt and uncle, invites Donna on a trip to the Los Angeles Farmer’s Market, and also around to the various airline offices and lost-and-founds in search of the missing Ganesha. Never one to turn down male attention, Donna finds the market SO EXCITING, but Mike rather dull, what with being full of sensible advice about telling her aunt and uncle about the missing statue.

Donna also meets the girl next door, Jennifer Bruestle (say “Bristol”), who is studiously training to be an artist. But Jennifer’s family is SO MYSTERIOUS, with an absent father, an unseen mother who seems to be suffering from a mysterious affliction and a bratty little brother who gets sent away to a dude ranch in Arizona for some unnamed infraction. Jennifer also has a rabid hatred of anything that has to do with the film industry. Mysterious!

As usual a number of minor crises come up and are resolved over the course of a single chapter: Donna accidentally spills gravy all over someone’s sarong at Linda’s Luau, causing a scene; Donna’s mother writes Aunt Adele, mentioning the Ganesha is passing, which makes Aunt Adele very embarrassed and causes Donna to throw a tantrum; there is a scenic drive up the California coastline to San Francisco to meet Ellie, followed by a whirlwind tour of the city.

As in the previous volume, Donna is not an entirely likable heroine: she is still often self-centered, a little snobby, and dismissive of people who she finds too shy or studious or just “different”.

She does get a lot to think about when two of her friends are faced with grown-up decisions regarding their futures. She learns that Ellie has auditioned for a professional position with a ballet company, which she has worked her entire life for, and has been rejected, told that she might teach children’s lessons someday, but will never be good enough to be a principal dancer for a company.

Meanwhile, Uncle Roger has arranged for an art critic friend to see some of Jennifer’s paintings; when he writes back with some harsh criticism, Jennifer is actually delighted that someone has taken the time to take her seriously, and focuses on the suggestions for instructors and improvement.

And finally, Donna learns that she and Bruce had mixed up their identical raincoats in Chicago, and he’s had the Ganesha statue the whole time!

“All’s well that ends well,” Bruce commented brightly. “Have a nice trip home, Donna. And thanks for letting me have my coat back, button and all!”

“I never even told him that the button had come off his coat, too.” Donna thought after he left. “But imagine his not letting me know about the coat the minute he found out! I never met anyone so lazy!”

And finally, Donna “solves” the mystery of Jennifer’s mother, as she learns that she is Adrienne Hope, AKA Fake Katharine Hepburn, who has been suffering from a broken nose and an allergic reaction to adhesive tape the whole summer. Appreciative of Donna’s friendship with Jennifer, she gives her some candid snapshots, autographed for Ricky. Sensible Mike accompanies Donna to the airport, where he buys her a sensible newspaper to read on the plane. Sensible!

Sign It Was Written In 1961 Department:

“It was awfully nice of your folks to ask me to go to New York with you. You know I simply adore airports, and Idlewild is about the most exciting one.”

Art Department: This was the first book in the series to feature the new, simplified cover art; sadly, gone are the gorgeous full-color covers from here on.

Prediction Department: Linda and Bruce are about 5 years away from joining the Manson Family.

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16 Responses to Donna Parker In Hollywood (#5) By Marcia Martin

  1. Susan says:

    I’m going to reread these again in order. I got some in childhood and others from Ebay as an adult, so read them out of sequence. But I really enjoyed them all. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Susan says:

    I just started the At Cherrydale book. I hadn’t remembered that PopularSquareDancingRichardPaul makes an appearance in the very first chapter of the very first book! Ricky doesn’t want to talk with him because he is so Popular — but then he shows the charm that makes him Popular 🙂 .

  3. Susan says:

    I just reread this one. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the others, I think because of the absence of back-home friends, especially Ricky, plus little Karen (who never has a last name) and tall Anne Franklin (who always has a last name), and the gang, plus Popular Square-Dancing Richard Paul. (Does he reappear in subsequent books? I’ll have to find out!) It would have been fun if Ricky and her father came for a short visit, and Donna could show off the area to a joyfully squealing Ricky, and formerly excessively formal Mr. West could turn out to be good friends with formerly mysteriously long-lost Uncle Roger. But alas …

    The strangest thing about this book is not the missing Ganesha, nor the man in the tree (I guess the word “paparazzi” wasn’t in usage yet), nor Jennifer’s reclusive mother (if this book was written later, she would have been hiding to cover a facelift rather than an adhesive tape allergy 😉 ), but why Donna was so very very very eager to see Ellie again, after all perceived humiliation and snobbery that she had provoked in the previous book. It’s one of the few inconsistencies in the series.

    But overall a nice fun read. I enjoyed the descriptions of California, although did Donna ever actually go to a beach? (It seems like when I used to read Teen magazine, it was written as if everyone spent all their summer time at the beach, like we were all Gidget.) Now off to Camp Arawak …

    • mondomolly says:

      I don’t think she did, LOL! Pretty sure Richard-Paul makes at least one more appearance- we’re going to get started on the annual Whitman extravaganza next week, so maybe we’ll find out! 😀 Thanks for commenting!

  4. Pingback: Donna Parker: Mystery at Arawak (#6) By Marcia Martin | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

  5. LindaY says:

    Popular Square-Dancing Richard Paul is in TAKES A GIANT STEP long enough to leave town. I remember getting this book as a gift when I was sick at age 9. I recall asking my mother about the actor names in the book and got really huffy that they were not real actors; I wouldn’t read the book again for years because the author lied about these being real actors! Very funny now that I think about it.

    • mondomolly says:

      Ha! I don’t know if it’s better to have fake movie starts or use real contemporary names and have kids come away with an inflated opinion of the talents of, say, Gloria DeHaven 😉 Thanks for commenting, look for Takes A Giant Step reviewed this fall!

    • Susan says:

      Linda, I recognize your comment from your Donna Parker blog; is it okay to link it here, since you have this blog linked on yours 🙂 ? (NIce to know there are still other Donna fans!)

      I also ran across this while looking for an answer as to why there were only seven Donna books (did anyone else used to fantasize about writing for their favorites series? When I was in first second grade I wanted to write for the Bobbsey Twins!) :

      “Now you’re going to age me. My very first book hero was Donna Parker in Donna Parker at Cherrydale. The series was written by Marcia Martin AKA Marcia Levin. From the very first book, I was hooked. Unfortunately, there were only seven books in the series, and I wore them out reading them so often. Believe it or not, I found all seven books on eBay a few years back and bought them to add to my library. As a child, I dreamed of taking over the Donna Parker series, so Donna could have more adventures. I always thought Donna and Ricky (her best friend) could have some great times going off to college.”

  6. Pingback: Donna Parker Takes A Giant Step (#7) By Marcia Martin | Lost Classics of Teen Lit: 1939-1989

  7. Rachel Brand says:

    My older sister had these books. I remember reading them over and over but I don’t remember a single thing about them. Weird.

  8. Susan says:

    The Washington Post currently has an article about the best souvenirs to bring back from foreign countries, and for India they recommend … a Ganesh statue!

  9. LindaY says:

    Oh, how these books stay with you! Today I was indulging in my greatest joy since subscribing to Discovery+: watching old decorating shows from HGTV. So today on DESIGN ON A DIME, a client loved India, so they planned to buy some India-themed decorations for her new living room and went to a store specializing in Eastern decor. There on a shelf it was–and I exclaimed “A Ganesha statue!” 🙂

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