my_daroga: From Powell's "Peeping Tom" (camera)
my_daroga ([personal profile] my_daroga) wrote2010-05-25 08:39 am

Hollywood RPF

Last year, while exploring a warren of a used bookstore in Kutztown, PA, I came across two volumes of Hollywood RPF. Two flaking, bound volumes from 1942-43:

Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak by Lela E. Rogers, and
Betty Grable and the House with the Iron Shutters by Kathryn Heisenfelt.

The full text of title page for the Ginger Rogers one continues:

An original story featuring
famous motion-picture star
as the heroine


Illustrated by Henry E. Vallely

Authorized Edition


The verso includes: Except the authorized use of the name of Ginger Rogers, all names, events, places, and characters in this book are entirely fictitious.

I was, understandably, fascinated, so I bought them both, put them on my shelf, and promptly forget about them. Until now. Looking at them, they're that very lightweight, cheap sort of thing that I doubt would have held up in a library setting for long. I do wonder where these copies came from. (Betty Grable shows 50 copies on, from $3.79 to $88; Ginger Rogers shows 114 copies from $3.64 to $47.81, if you're curious.) The back pages list charming titles from the same publisher, segregated for girls and boys, though the page of interest reads thus:



Up-to-the-minute novels for boys and girls about Favorite Characters, all popular and well-known, including--

Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak
Deanna Durbin and the Adventure of Blue Valley
Deanne Durbin and the Feather of Flame
Ann Rutherford and the Key to Nightmare Hall
Blondie and Dagwood's Secret Service
Polly the Powers Model: The Puzzle of th Haunted Camera
Jane Withers and the Hidden Room
Bonita Granville and the Mystery of Star Island
Joyce and the Secret Squadron: A Captain Midnight Adventure
Nina and Skeezix (of "Gasoline Alley"): The Problem of the Lost Ring
Red Ryder and the Mystery of the Whispering Walls
Red Ryder and the Secret of Wolf Canyon
Smilin' Jack and the Daredevil Girl Pilot
April Kane and the Dragon Lady: A "Terry and the Pirates" Adventure

(It also mentions that "The books listed above may be purchased in the same store where you bought this book." Oh, if only that were true! Note, by the way, the fact that actresses, not the roles they play, share "Favorite Character" status with comic strip figures. In the case of most of these stars, that's probably fairly accurate.)

This website has a complete listing of the actress titles, which also include Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, Gene Tierney, and Dorothy Lamour. It also reveals that Lela E. Rogers was Ginger's mother, and lots of other stuff I don't have access to, like general information about the writing and the way in which the "real person" angle is handled. According to the site, Heisenfelt wrote half the books, all of which "read like parodies of series books":

Heisenfelt's characters nearly always encounter one or more people who are stricken by fear that is superstitious. The heroine is usually fearful as well, with the difference being that the heroine is able to control her fear enough not to make a complete fool out of herself. Every event in the story has a mysterious importance, and normal, everyday sounds, such as a shutting door or a cat's meow, are often taken to be extremely scary. The mystery usually turns out to be a fairly insignificant mystery, and in some cases would not have been a mystery had everyone communicated with each other. In short, Heisenfelt's books tend to be overly-dramatic. The entire plot of each Heisenfelt book usually occurs in a very short period of time, often in fewer than 24 hours.

It also explains that there are two groups of stories in this loosely-defined "series": books in which the main character is in fact the actress named, and "while the heroine is identified as a famous actress, the stories are entirely fictitious and center around a mystery that convenient appears while the heroine is briefly visiting a dear friend. In some of these stories, many of the other characters fail to recognize the actress in spite of her openness about her identity!" The others are AU adventures where the character has the same name and looks as the actress but is, in fact, just a regular girl. Since I have one of each here, I'll see what I can see without actually reading them cover to cover.

Betty Grable and the House With the Iron Shutters

The story opens:

An April sun which had made several ineffectual attempts to appear from behind a bank of sullen clouds met suddenly with a measure of success. Long streamers of light penetrated the mended laces of a tall window, twining in a caressing halo on the golden head bent industriously over a much-scarred walnut desk. Light played over the paper, too--three sheets, closely written--and over a squat ink bottle tilted on a silver compact so that the faded black yield might be sufficient to moisten the blunt tip of a pen which many fingers had grasped.

The fingers which held it now were lovely, tapering to tips of pearl. Only one smudge marred their gentle perfection as the writer penned, "All my love, Betty."

Betty and her friend Loys Lester are sharing a hotel room, and much is made of the contrast between the blonde, glamorous Betty and dark, less rumple-proof Loys. And then there are inadvertently slashy lines like, "Considering Loys in her serviceable slip and her woolly brown cardigan, Betty grinned impishly--but swiftly, with an effort, she subdued herself and approached the bed." Or is that just me? Anyway, Betty is spotless and perfect, hard-working and even-tempered. She and Loys, a Hollywood reporter, are on vacation, during which Betty keeps getting recognized. She deals with this by denying she is Betty Grable, quite effectively it seems. But something seems amiss, and the vacation has lost some of its spontaneous luster.

It's all rather boring, really. The writing, I mean. Clothes are invariably described, characters are referred to by hair color, and Betty stops to think about scary cat noises and looming thunderclouds before dismissing her anxieties with a (usually) figurative toss of her head. She and Loys somehow get stranded with some mysterious strangers at a mansion, where they are accused of theft and locked in a bedroom, until the whole thing is solved because someone was pretending the house was haunted. It's all very Nancy Drew/Scooby-Doo. Then I skipped to the end, where they discuss their next destination (they've been folding up a map and pointing blindly to the next stop) and one of them points out the quilt on the neatly turned-down bed and says, "There's something about a patchwork quilt... Let's do our poking right there!"

Ginger Rogers and the Riddle of the Scarlet Cloak

Ginger Rogers is not Ginger Rogers. She looks like her, talks like her, but is in fact a switchboard operator at a fancy hotel. All the men who call up love that honeyed voice! Naturally, she has an unfortunate friend who... Look, I'm just going to transcribe the whole mess because it's the clearest expression of this I've seen in a long time. Her friend Patsy wants to know why she won't go out with guests:

Ginger smiled. "I notice you never go out when you're asked, either."

"What do you mean, when
I'm asked?" Patsy wanted to know. "Nobody ever asks me and you know it. I'm too wide and too short. They forgot to give ma nose and my second chin's got more character than my first one. I'm pigeon-toed and my underskirt's always hanging and there's nothing I can do about it."

As Ginger's merry laugh rang out through the little room, Patsy added, "And the name's
Patsy Potts! Remember?"

Dear, comical Patsy. You laughed
with her not at her. She didn't really look as bad as she painted herself. That was why it was always funny when she picked herself to pieces for the entertainment of her friends. Patsy wasn't really "too wide and too short." She was just plump, in spots. "Yeah, all the wrong spots," Patsy would say. Her underskirt didn't always hang down, just at times, and usually when Patsy was trying to make a good impression. Patsy was pretty when she "fixed herself up." But best of all to Ginger, Patsy was a true-blue friend. She was devoted to Ginger--all her dreams of romance hovered about the head of her friend, rather than about her own.

SERIOUSLY, 1942. Anyone else feeling a little sorry for the real Ginger? Her mom raised her right, I guess. Anyway, chapter two starts with a bang, literally:

Something happened the very next day that changed the whole life of Ginger Rogers. It was also destined to change the lives of all Americans, of Englishmen, of Australians, of South Americans--and of all of the inhabitants of the civilized world!

Japan treacherously attacked Pearl Harbor while her envoys were talking peace in Washington!

1942, remember? Italics are so not mine. The French-born hotel owner calls her staff together to explain that they're sending all the guests away to open up instead for the use of aircraft workers so they can be comfy while they start churning out secret weapons. Madame DuLhut, after all, doesn't want the US to roll over and give up like France did. Happily, the entire staff--even the German pastry chef, Rogers hastens to assure us--approves of this plan. The Americans who were born here "were no more enthusiastic than those others who were America's adopted children." (I guess the Japanese don't count.)

Ginger and Mme. DuLhut discuss Ginger's mom's edict that she not date rich boys (who aren't interested in marrying working girls), Ginger receives the eponymous scarlet cloak anonymously, and mother worries about her accepting such a gift. Great pains are taken to express both that girls do grow up someday, and that Mary (not Lela) Rogers did a Herculean job of raising her daughter alone.

Ginger seems to have her pick of the men, despite her lowly status. And it seems one rich aircraft manufacturing man has got round her mother's prohibition, though she really wants Ginger to marry the boy down the street. But Miles takes her to a Hollywood premiere, insisting she wear the cloak, where a strange man "with the face of Satan" keeps staring at her and mysteriously exchanges a packet of cigarettes with Miles. None of which, of course, Miles admits. At a fancy restaurant, Miles leaves her alone to take care of something, and another resident of the hotel, playboy Gregg Phillips, takes her out on the dance floor. It was, apparently, love at first phone call, despite warnings from others (her mother most especially) that Gregg is not the type of man she should know.

Of course, Miles is found injured and passed out and Ginger is soon in over her head in some sort of espionage mystery. And love story. Only Mary Rogers is harboring a SECRET reason Ginger shouldn't see Gregg:

Again Mary Rogers experienced that appalling sense of inadequacy. She was not equal to such a problem. It was all so easy when Ginger was young and needed only foo and clothing and kindness. Now she needed a guiding hand, wise and patient, and Mary felt herself deficient in both qualities.

Not Shakespeare, sure, but interesting that her fictionalized spy story about her own daughter has so much of her mother in it--and how it veers between the perfection of their relationship and its (fictional) problems. Including hiding from Ginger the truth about her father--according to wikipedia, her parents separated shortly after her birth, and her father even kidnapped her twice. And it was her mother's influence that pushed her towards the stage and Hollywood. Wiki also reports that mother and daughter were close as long as Lela lived, and that Lela was a huge influence throughout Ginger's career. How much was Lela Rogers exorcising in this little novel? How did Ginger feel about it? What on earth is going on when a mother writes RPF about her daughter, including parental conflict, a love affair, and the mother's own marital issues?

Now that is the story I want to write.

Anyway, things continue apace, with Gregg and Ginger deciding to get married after one eventful evening, Mary tossing Gregg out of the house, and the nice-guy boyfriend Patsy thought not good enough for Ginger luckily turning out to be good enough for her. Ginger trusts whom she trusts (read: likes) and suspects those she doesn't. Good rule, when you're drawn into service of your country! There is talk of a "Fifth Columnist" and some lovely writing, such as the doozy: "Indeed, there was so much to tell and yet there was nothing really definite and tangible. Everything was indefinite and intangible--that is, simply 'sort of suspicious.'"

The real-life weirdness continues when Gregg reveals that he's known Ginger's dad, Josh, his whole life. Josh Rogers is with the FBI, lives clean, and was like a second father to Gregg--which is interesting, since he doesn't seem to have been a first father to Ginger. But he's a great man, honest! Especially exciting is the fact that in real life, "Rogers" was Ginger's step-father's name, though she was never technically adopted. In fantasy-land, Gregg thinks Mary's down on rich boys because Josh used to be rich and she suspects it spoiled him and ruined their relationship--though Gregg assures Ginger that Josh never stopped loving her mother. So. Ginger's fatherless state is due to a misunderstanding, and Rogers is her real dad.

In the end, Ginger catches the real spy through her switchboard know-how, and then totally inexplicably goes off alone with him before anyone else knows what she does. She's marginally clever throughout, but relies mostly on intuition and being saved by men. At least she is a "working girl," I guess. Happily, she's rescued, Mary and Josh have an off-screen reunion, and everything's cleared up pretty much on the last page.

In short: these books are not very good. Nor did they really need to be, if you think about it. And the fascination lies not in their quality, but their existence. How did people respond to the idea of RPF back then? Was this a common practice in movie mags of the time? Who authorized the use of these personae? I haven't found a link by studio or anything like that. And what else are we missing from the history of RPF, before it got a clever name? Does it even count as such, when no effort is made to make it "real" beyond the names and likenesses?
scarlettgirl: (Default)

[personal profile] scarlettgirl 2010-05-25 04:16 pm (UTC)(link)
(Here via rm on LJ)

I actually have several Whitman editions that feature Shirely Temple, Annette Funnicello and the Lennon Sisters. They really are an odd mix of fact and fiction with a heavy bent on fiction. My theory was that these actors, under the old studio system, played a public persona that was more character than reality. To have that "character" have additional adventures in novel form wasn't too far a stretch. It is fascinating, though.

I also recall reading old, hand-me-down Teen Beat and Tiger Beat Magazines when I was younger and being fascinated by a particular story about a girl who was Marie Osmond's BFF and a really great singer who also had a huge crush on Donny and how she would visit their house but also duck out of sight whenever Donny came into the room. There was a scene that involved a birthday cake she'd baked for him but was too shy to present it (and it was the most awesome birthday cake EVER!). Mind, this was all told in the first person so I think you could classify it as sanctioned Mary Sue RPF!
dejla: (Default)

[personal profile] dejla 2010-05-27 06:04 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, I have several of those too -- they were certainly interesting to me as a child, just because of the way they wrote the people in them.
xcarex: Photo of me, at a wedding. (Default)

[personal profile] xcarex 2010-05-27 07:36 pm (UTC)(link)
I have a ton of the Annette and Lennon Sisters/Janet Lennon books as well--- and for the longest time, I vaguely knew they were real people but didn't distinguish the books as different from the other Whitman classics I collected, like Donna Parker or Trixie Belden. I wonder if someday the RPF that I write could ever be confused with fiction by someone who is unfamiliar with the actors or musicians portrayed within?

[identity profile] 2010-05-25 04:28 pm (UTC)(link)
In case you are unaware of it there is a book or erotic short stories called Starf*ckers (yes, the star is really in the name, I think it came out in the '90s or '00s -- I'd have to look at my copy), that is basically Mary Sue encounters with various really famous people/personas including Ziggy Stardust.

[identity profile] 2010-05-25 04:37 pm (UTC)(link)
I think so, but I think it's one of those murky place (the other stories are not murky in that manner). I have this weird backstage Lady Gaga/Ziggy Stardust thing I've been working on as criticism for ever. But it's one of those "potential pro project without a home" things for me.

Regarding David Bowie

[identity profile] 2010-05-25 10:03 pm (UTC)(link)
In a similar line, are you aware of the Rock Fantasy comic book line? They're a strange brew of rock star personas IN SPACE. I have "Ziggy Lives", which claims Ziggy is Bowie's secret super-power alter ego who goes and hangs out with the galactic council of rock stars that protect humanity... or something. It's all very exciting. doesn't show the correct cover, but lists the rest of the series, and there are lots of scans online.
verasteine: Steve (Default)

[personal profile] verasteine 2010-05-25 04:44 pm (UTC)(link)
I think this is all very, very fascinating. I've no knowledge to add to this discussion, but I want to thank you for sharing this wonderful information with us.
cest_what: (Default)

[personal profile] cest_what 2010-05-25 10:56 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh wow, I had no idea. This is fascinating.
amproof: (Default)

[personal profile] amproof 2010-05-26 04:56 am (UTC)(link)
Many years ago I bought a Gary Cooper adventure in a used bookstore. :) I can't remember the adventure, but I believe he was a cowboy!
j_crew_guy: (Reading)

[personal profile] j_crew_guy 2010-05-27 03:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Here via metafandom. I, too, have found a couple of these novels and own them proudly.

Dorothy Lamour and the Haunted Lighthouse and Judy Garland and the Hoodoo Costume.

I posted about finding them last year, with the bonus of a list of possible titles if they did something like this today.
lettered: (Default)

[personal profile] lettered 2010-05-27 06:25 pm (UTC)(link)
You should write book reviews! All the relevant info here was so concisely and amusingly stated.

The only thing I have to say re: rpf is yes, it is rpf. I think RPF as a genre is defined by the names involved. Not for any objective reason, but because that is the way people use the term. In this case I think that's a valid reason for defining it that way.

Interestingly, some people use RPF to mean heightened fantasy. Kita's trailer series, for instance, was more cracktastical and wish-fulfillment than any of her original fiction that I've seen. Same goes for a lot of other RPF--it's the chance to go straight to kink-hitting, without bothering about staying true to the characters. (Stories like Kita's remain internally true to characters, and are of an excellent writing quality.) Something about using the names and maybe "sense" of the people seems more liberating than complete originality or fanfiction.