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From the Stacks -- 'City of Angels'

April 6, 2011 |  2:52 am





  City of Angels  

  Rupert Hughes’ “City of Angels,” 1941.  


How much of a book must one read before deciding that it’s going to be a dog? Does an author deserve a running start of the first chapter? Can one truly tell that a book is going to be a stinker after one page -- or maybe the opening line, especially if a columnist like Lee Shippey recommends it?

In this case, yes.




 
  March 16, 1941, City of Angels  


By Page 2, I knew that Rupert Hughes’ “City of Angels” (1941) was going to be rubbish. It’s the kind of old novel that a desperate reader might unearth while rummaging around in a summer cabin that reeks of mildew and mold, forgotten in a back bedroom with some Reader’s Digest condensed books, water skis and a canoe paddle.

The thoroughly unlikable main character is a liability, to be sure. But even worse is the lifeless humor of dated satire -- as flat as last night’s club soda. 

“City of Angels” was intended as a satire on Hollywood featuring an impossibly handsome  lifeguard (Warren R. Thorburn) who ignores (almost) all the ladies swooning at his feet because his heart beats only for his studies at Caltech. Right.

While on lifeguard duty, Thorburn rescues the wife of a wealthy fellow known as Ranleigh the Realtor and then Ranleigh himself. Thorburn’s heroics get his picture in the paper and suddenly Hollywood is after him. The rest of the novel writes itself. At least it reads that way.

Although I haven’t read it in many years, I recall that one of the best satires on Hollywood’s early days is Carroll Graham’s 1931 “Queer People” (and no, it’s not what you might think). The book was so popular that there was a sequel: “Whitey: The Playboy of Queer People Runs Riot in Manhattan.” Both of these books are long out out of print but can be found on the used market – or in your local library!

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