Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Frances By Starlight (1958)

Frances By Starlight
Winifred E. Wise, il. Evelyn Copelman (cover)
1958, Macrae Smith Company

Spring was late this year, but Franny Cochrane was early. Burrowing in the back of her big closet, she felt frustrated. All the clothes she didn't want came out of nowhere to fall down on her head; they were all the tiresome winter dresses and tops and skirts that she had been wearing for a thousand days and years and months - or so it seemed. But somewhere amidst the ghostly clatter of empty hangers there ought to be a dress of daffodil-yellow cotton that seemed to her to be the essence of spring! She finally found it - but laid away in a box and sadly in need of pressing.

18-year-old fashion design student Frances Cochrane is discontented. Boyfriend Hank treats her more like a pal than a special, fragile flower, her two brothers aggravate her, and she's thoroughly conquered her Chicago environs. Now she dreams of getting out of the Midwest for the summer. The chance arrives with her wealthy aunt Fran, who readily agrees to take the teen back to her California home for a whirl of social activity. But Fran has her eye on a different goal - Hollywood, and a chance to use her design training in the costume world. She soon discovers the barriers between her and that dream. Brooding wannabe actor Michael Ybarra gives her an inside track to a job as a messenger girl on the studio lot of Triumph Productions. And eventually Frances gets - and with Mike's help, takes - her chance.

"What's wrong with being a butcher?" Franny asked with asperity.
"Everything - if your ancestors were Spanish landlords like mine happen to have been."

Along the way, she's fallen in love with Mike. The class-conscious, sulky, handsome young actor is forever on the make, a quality that puzzles Frances, who balks at the amount of lying and toadying he does to further his career prospects. Frankly, it's never really explained why she's in love, except that she's temporarily in a land where lemons grow on trees and working in a place where you see movie stars, and she's slightly addled by it all. And then, as another wannabe-Mike-girlfriend describes him:

"There's something about him. Makes you think that if he had just the right girl, he'd be different. If he'd only let you be the girl, you know."

That's a highly dangerous quality in a boy.

A generally fun, well-written book, with a gratifying emphasis on the girl's ambition over romance, and her rueful realization that great ambitions come with a social price.

* The stars Frances spots are Danny Kaye, Mel Ferrer and Jeanne Crain
*When Mike picks her up for a day at the beach, she innocently asks why he's lashed a toboggan to the roof of his car - it's a surfboard.
* the bit about horse operas, and the studio lots filled with NYC streets

About the Author
Winifred Esther Wise was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and worked as a reporter, a writer on Comptom's Encylopedia and as an ad exec at Marshall Field & Company. She married Stuart Palmer (1905-1968), a writer of mysteries who did the Miss Hildegarde Withers series. They lived on a ranch in the San Fernando Valley, and had three children. In the Wisconsin Academy Review excerpts from her unpublished autobiography, Wise writes of her experiences in WWII Chicago and living in a remote house on the dunes in Indiana with her first daughter, Jennifer.

Wisconsin Academy Review article - The Life and Times of Winifred E. Wise (I)
Wisconsin Academy Review article - The Life and Times of Winifred E. Wise (II)
Wisconsin Academy Review article - The Life and Times of Winifred E. Wise (III)
Wikipedia on Compton's Encyclopedia

Books -fiction
Frances A La Mode
Frances By Starlight
"Minnow" Vail
Tammy: Adventure in Squaw Valley
The Wishing Year

Books - nonfiction
Thomas Alva Edison: The Youth and His Times
Young Edison
Jane Addams of Hull-House
Swift Walker: A True Story of the American Fur Trade
Thomas Alva Edison. (Real People series)
Rebel in Petticoats. The Life of Elizabeth Cody Stanton
Harriet Beecher Stowe: Woman With a Cause
Fanny Kemble: Actress, Author, Abolitionist
Fray Junipero Serra and the California Conquest
Benjamin Franklin

The Revolt of the Darumas

Not sure
Away With the Circus
Lincoln's Secret Weapon
Chipula: A Saga of Old Hungary. Privately printed for Theresa Renner, 1969.
Forget-Me-Nots and Pigweed: The Life and Times of Winifred F. Wise. Unpublished, 1993.

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