It’s 1938, and three months after her father’s death, Rosie Wilson’s mother, Laureen, blindsides her with bus tickets to Hollywood, where she insists Rosie will change her name to Roxanne and become a big movie star. Rosie has to drop out of school and say goodbye to her boyfriend Henry in her Oklahoma town.
Laureen and Roxanne take a bus to Kansas City, where they are going to catch a train to California. During their layover, Laureen insists they go see a movie at a fancy movie theater in KC. There a talent show is being advertised in conjunction with an appearance by Gary Marlowe, a member of the famous acting family, who is making his screen debut. Laureen tries to get Roxanne into the talent show to no avail, and the two have a run-in with Gary that isn’t very pleasant. After the movie, Roxanne and Gary haggle over a taxi, and she tells him not to let his ties to his family drag him down.
They rent a room at a boardinghouse in Hollywood, and Roxanne drops off her photo and name at all of the casting agencies. She has to take a waitressing job while she waits for her big break, and it seemingly comes one day when John Randolph, a movie producer’s son, takes notice of her “perfect” voice as she waits on him and sets up a screen test for her at Randolph Studios.
Roxanne goes to the screen test with her mom, who is overbearing and interfering. John says she did well, and she’ll hear something soon. Five days pass and no word from John. Roxanne resumes working at the restaurant, and one day Gary Marlowe comes in with two girls. She has been daydreaming about Gary a lot for some reason, but he seemingly doesn’t recognize her and leaves abruptly. After he’s gone, she realizes she had a dirt smudge on her face the whole time. Finally John shows up to her boardinghouse with flowers and the offer of a one-year contract with a five-year option at Randolph Studios. Pay is $100 a week. According to an inflation calculator, that would equal $1,656.89 in 2016.
Laureen, Roxanne, and John go driving around looking for a house for the mother and daughter to rent near the studio, then Laureen leaves them alone. John kisses Roxanne before telling her she doesn’t have to be nice to him just because of who his father is. Roxanne tells him she has a boyfriend, and they can only be friends. John seems to view her as a challenge.
John is her only friend during her first month at Randolph Studios. He helps the duo find furniture for their rental home and hires a maid to keep up their house, even though Roxanne protests that they don’t need one. He helps them find a place to get new clothes and drives them out to lunch. Roxanne spends her initial time under contract not doing too much, but she gets paid all the same. More time goes by. Soon enough it’s been 4 months and she still hasn’t gotten to say a single line in a movie. She hears other starlets talking about how pushy her mom is and that it makes a bad impression.
Roxanne finds out as she’s standing in line to try out for a part that the movie is starring Gary Marlowe. When she has to walk across the stage in front of him in full makeup and costume, he asks if he knows her. She reminds him that they met in KC, and he instantly remembers her as Rosie, “the girl with the mother,” and bursts out laughing. He mentions seeing her at the restaurant, so he did recognize her that time. Three days later, she finds out she’s won a bit role in the film.
John continues to make advances on her which she puts off while still remaining his friend, and her mother continues to embarrass her on set by being pushy and overly critical of every other actress. Roxanne finally tells Laureen that she’s only hurting her chances and giving her a reputation of being hard to work with. Laureen is upset and doesn’t talk to her for two days, but does tone down her antics at the studio. John visits Roxanne at the set, and since he and Gary Marlowe are old friends, she ends up hanging out with both of them a lot and getting to know Gary better. But one day when John is not by them, Gary tells Roxanne that John is in love with her, she seems ambitious, and he doesn’t want to see his friend hurt. She accuses Gary of hurting all the starlets he dates and drops. After John returns to college, Gary and Roxanne resume not speaking to each other outside of work.
When the female lead in the movie is sick, Roxanne has to stand in for her, and this requires her and Gary to kiss. She gets into it, but makes Gary think it was just her being a good actress. Gary leaves for the day with two starlets.
Roxanne finishes filming her small part in the movie. She, her mother, and John are celebrating with dinner at the Coconut Grove when Gary shows up again with two girls on his arms. Roxanne and Gary end up dancing, and he tells her that she really does have talent.
Roxanne finds out her part in the movie was cut and is devastated. As a consolation, the studio wants her to do a short featurette where she will have to wear a bathing suit, and her mother throws a fit and causes a big scene. John convinces Laureen to let Roxanne film the feature, which requires her to stand around in a tight bathing suit and recite one line. She thinks she’s smoothed things over with the studio by doing the short, but John lets her know he’s heard they’re going to drop her from her contract. They need to trim some fat, and her mother is too difficult. John has a way to possibly save her contract though – he’s hoping his father will let him make his own movie, and if he does, he’ll cast Roxanne in the leading role.
John does get the chance to make a movie, and it saves Roxanne’s job for now. It’s extremely low-budget and has to be completed in 3 weeks. He ends up yelling at Laureen one day to get off the set for interfering too much. When they screen the movie, John’s father shuts it off halfway through and declares that it is terrible. Roxanne yells at him that he’s not giving his son a chance, but nothing changes his mind. Roxanne gets her pink slip at work the next week, and John gets shipped off to New York City. Roxanne tells her mother they are going to work as extras for the foreseeable future, while she visits studios looking for her next big break. And when she gets one, Laureen will not be going to the set with her anymore.
Roxanne and Laureen start getting work as extras, and then Roxanne specially requests to be sent to work at Berkeley Studios, where Gary Marlowe is being loaned from Randolph for a movie. She finds Gary at the studio cafeteria and asks for his help. After some bickering, he says, “I’ll see what I can do.” He implies he’s going to help her as a favor to John. A few days later, he’s gotten her hired to be in his movie for $500 a week.
She begins work on Gary’s movie while her mother is off being an extra in “Gone with the Wind.” Gary is mostly professional with her, continuing to go off with other starlets at the end of the day. One day they both show up early before filming a difficult scene, and he confides in her that he’s always worried about his performance. “Most of the time he was distant and formal with her, and then suddenly he would let his guard down and she’d feel as though she was talking to an old friend.” But before long they are arguing again, both angry with each other for perceived slights. They have to share a passionate kiss again during filming, which leaves Roxanne confused.
After the movie wraps, Roxanne gets called back to Randolph Studios and is told they want to give her another shot, but one condition is she must stop seeing John without letting him know that his dad manipulated the whole thing. Roxanne turns it down angrily, saying John is the only person who has treated her decently and she won’t trade his friendship for a contract.
When she gets home she finds out that Henry is in town. She meets up with him, and he begs her to come home and marry him. He was dismayed to see her bathing suit feature as it wasn’t proper, and he thinks she’s starting to sound as ridiculous as her mother in her letters. They eat Chinese food, with Henry complaining the whole time, then go visit Grauman’s Chinese Theater. There they run into Gary, who keeps bringing up John as if Roxanne should feel guilty for being out with Henry while John is away. After they watch a movie at the theater featuring the Marlowes, Roxanne is introduced to Gary’s famous parents, who invite her to come visit their Santa Barbara house. Henry returns to Oklahoma without her, saying he still plans to wait for her in case she changes her mind.
The Marlowes screen Gary and Roxanne’s movie at their Palm Spring home, then offer Roxanne a deal to star in the sequel that they’re preparing to pitch to the studio. The movie is a go, so Roxanne and her mom move into a bigger house and get a personal driver who picks them up in a limo. Moving up in the world!
John finds out about how Roxanne gave up a contract for him, and thinks it means she loves him. She has to tell him for the thousandth time she that she doesn’t see him that way. Later Gary accuses Roxanne of using John for his connections and to get success. She tells him off and says she does like John, the only person she doesn’t like is Gary. He looks hurt and immediately turns the conversation back to their script. She tries to backtrack later and tell him she does like him and is grateful for how he’s helped her, and he says anything he did for her was only for John or because he thinks she’s talented.
Roxanne hires an agent to find her a studio deal, and then she and Gary warm back up to each other, talking about their childhoods over lunch. Gary then invites her to go to the Santa Monica pier with him, and he wears a disguise so no one will recognize him. They have a great day, and Gary says he didn’t speak to her that day in the restaurant because he’d been dreaming about her and he got scared when he saw her, so he ran away. Roxanne thinks he’s joking. He also tells her all the starlets around him are for his image, as directed by the studio. At the end of the day, they have a close moment, but Gary pulls away.
Roxanne’s agent works out a huge contract with Randolph Studios that includes her right to date anyone she wants. Even though she feels they didn’t treat her the best in the past, her agent assures her she will now be treated like a queen. She’s being written about by famous Hollywood gossip columnists and everyone is buzzing that she’s going to be a huge star.
Gary and Roxanne go to the premiere of their movie together, and Roxanne starts to hope that he’s interested in her romantically, but he turns down her offer to come inside and visit longer at the end of the night. The next day all the gossip columns claim Gary and Roxanne are madly in love. Roxanne is upset but is told she better get used to public speculation and printed mis-truths about her life.
Gary and Roxanne are working on their third film together, and they are getting along much better. Their first movie is a hit at the box office. John gets a job at his father’s studio too and still comes around to have lunch, but isn’t as obsessed with Roxanne as he used to be. Gary continues to keep things strictly professional with her, even as more gossip pops up about them dating. The studio plans for three more movies to pair them, due to the success of their first two films. Gary invites her and her mother up to Palm Springs again, and they have a good time. Gary and Roxanne go to dinner together and have other outings, but it’s still just as friends.
One night, Roxanne says she doesn’t want to go out with him again without disguises due to all the photographers, and Gary jokes that it’s good for the box office. Roxanne accuses him of only taking her out in order to take advantage of the publicity it lends to their movies, and calling photographers to tip them off. Gary tries to explain, but she says she’ll never speak to him again. (So dramatic!)
Roxanne spends three days crying and misses work, but her agent cajoles her into going back to the set by saying he’ll try to get her out of the other movies with Gary once this film is wrapped. Gary tries to apologize again and says he didn’t realize she cared about him enough to cry for three days over him, but she tries to pass if off like she was just angry about being used and then came down with the flu.
Henry comes back to Hollywood and says he’s going to look for a job there. Henry read about her and Gary Marlowe in the gossip columns and came to win her back. He thinks if he gets rich, she’ll marry him. Roxanne tries to deflect this talk by inviting John to come to the movies with them. John actually brings a date named Doreen. So Roxanne has successfully shaken one of her two stalkers. John confirms that the studio asked Gary to start dating Roxanne, and Gary had made sure it would be okay with John first. John says no one thought Roxanne would really fall for Gary because she had never seemed to like him very much.
Laureen says Henry can’t stay at their house anymore because the press has caught wind of his presence, and Roxanne had previously mentioned him as her boyfriend in an interview. If she wants leverage to get out of additional Gary Marlowe movies, she can’t risk upsetting the studio heads.
Back at work, Gary and Roxanne have to film a love scene. Gary is upset she is trying to get out of their future movies and that she won’t listen to his side of the story. Cyril Randolph, John’s father, comes by the set to direct their love scene, and he is overly critical and doesn’t like anything Roxanne does. Gary whispers to her to play it for real, because he knows she loves him. She says that’s ridiculous. They start filming the scene, which involves similar dialogue – “I know you love me.” “I don’t love you.” He grabs her and kisses her passionately, and Randolph is pleased with the scene. They have to do a few more takes, and Randolph loves it. He says they’ll do picture after picture and become America’s favorite couple.
Gary cajoles her into having lunch with him, again insisting she loves him. But he thought she didn’t even like him and thought he was a spoiled brat. He keeps calling her Rosie, and she tells him to stop. He follows her to her dressing room and tells her that he loves her and kisses her. He says he’s loved her since Kansas City, but John was in the way, and he thought she hated him. He says he knew she really loved him when she spent all that time crying over him. He says they really will be the most romantic couple, and then they return to work. The End!
I love classic Hollywood and the 1930s, so this was perfect for me. Roxanne was a likable heroine and the journey through her rise in Hollywood was very interesting. Her mom was super annoying, but I liked the resolution of her mom becoming an extra and how that was a believable solution to her being too overbearing with Roxanne. I was glad the relationship with Gary was more fleshed out in the second half of the book, but I wish there had been more of a resolution with Henry. He never seemed to “get” that Roxanne was over him. All in all, very fun read and it made me want to watch old movies for the rest of the day.
Real people of the era mentioned in this book: Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Jean Harlow, Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Bob Hope, Hedda Hopper, Louella Parsons, Carole Lombard
Author: Jane Claypool Miner