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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2007
Valeria Belletti was an energetic, intelligent young woman who came to Los Angeles from New York and worked as a secretary to some of the most powerful and interesting people in Hollywood in the late 1920s. During this period, she wrote dozens of letters to her best friend, describing not only her experiences at the movie studios, but her personal feelings and day-to-day life in southern California and on an extended trip to Europe. These letters make up the bulk of this short book, which left me liking Valeria very much and wishing there had been more. Well-written background notes are provided by editor Cari Beauchamp.

While Beauchamp supplies some valuable padding-out of the events and personalities Valeria described, she tends to give the compilation a modern feminist point of view the author of the letters did not seem to have in mind. In contrast, the letters indicate that rather than being the victim of an "iron ceiling" (Beauchamp's term), Valeria, although a high school dropout, had opportunities to grow professionally beyond being a secretary, but chose not to pursue them. Furthermore, rather than half-heartedly marrying a man she was "only fond of" (Beauchamp again) as a sort of economic expedient in an oppressive patriarchal society, Valeria was an independent woman who went where she wanted to go and did what she wanted to do. She had no trouble supporting herself comfortably, and she enthusiastically married a man of modest economic means, of whom she wrote, "The more I'm with him, the more I love him."

I have the paperback edition and find it odd that the name of Valeria Belletti, the delightful author of the letters comprising this book, does not appear on the front cover or the spine, while Beauchamp's name is displayed in large print. For enthusiasts of early Hollywood or 1920s southern California, Valeria's letters are well worth reading, while taking her editor's feminist leanings with a large chunk of salt.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2006
This book is not only for film buffs, it is a window to a world that is long gone. It is a bird's eye view of Hollywood at the end of the silent era and transitioning into the age of the talkies.

Aside from the great Hollywood dish, of which there is plenty, Belletti was remarkably candid and refreshingly not star struck. Although, I must confess that I can totally relate to having a crush on Ronald Colman. In the end it is the delightful, matter of fact, take no prisoners Valeria Belletti that you come so much to admire in reading her letters. She was a wonderful letter writer and these letters are, indeed, treasures. At the turn of each page you are delighted anew with some insight or adventure. She was one spunky girl and wrote letters that are filled with details of her days and nights in Hollywood. We need to bless her beloved friend Irma for saving these letters and presenting them to her many years later.

We must also thank Cari Beauchamp for bringing these letters to light and annotating them carefully with her own delightful and informative prose. As I said before, this is a window to a lost world. More than that, it is a celebration of an independent young woman making her way in a man's world and celebrating her life at the height of the jazz age. This will be a volume I will turn to again and again. Don't miss it, this will brighten the gloomiest and dampest spirits on a rainy day.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2006
Fabulous Book. If you want to know the inner-workings of the star-studded Hollywood Machine in the 1920's then this is the book for you. An insider's account with all the trimmings. Cari Beauchamp does it again. BRAVA!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Valeria Belletti was an ordinary girl who moved to the west coast for her health. Her asthma got better in the sunshine of California, and before long she got a job as a secretary to Samuel Goldwyn. At his studio she met many famous celebrities like screenwriter Frances Marion and actor Ronald Colman. Later, she visited her home in Italy and returned to California to work for Cecil B. DeMille. Her story is told through her letters to her friend Irma which were rediscovered decades later by author Cari Beauchamp. Beauchamp edits this text by adding notes about the contents of the letters and brings everything into context.

More than anything, this is a fascinating look into the culture of the 1920s. We see that women could work until they got married, but no one was surprised when they quit their jobs for domestic life. Belletti displays typical moral values of the time period, which are at times shocked by the bohemian lifestyles of her friends and by Hollywood in general. The California setting makes the book even more interesting because it provides a glimpse into the studios by someone who was not looking to break into the movies. Her casual assessments of movies and stars are great fun to read and sometimes comical.

The biggest disappointment is the way the letters seem to trail off at the end. Beauchamp attempts to give the history of what happened later, but this quick sum-up is not as effective as more letters would have been, and the end seems to abrupt to be entirely satisfying.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2009
You do not have to be a movie buff to enjoy these letters from a young secretary in Hollywood to one of the biggest moguls in the 1920's-the writer provides abundant facts about everyday life in Los Angeles at the time including the costs of housing, meals, modes of entertainment and travel, etc..she describes her new outfits, the men she meets, as well as many stars she gets to know through her job. While she comes off as a bit of a prude at times, this is her upbringing after all, but her letters are full of warmth to her dearest friend and continue over a period of years...i really enjoyed it and it made me wish I had lived in Hollywood in the truly golden age of the movie industry...not to mention the spectacularly low rents!
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on December 31, 2014
The letters:
As the gossipy letters of a young woman in her twenties living in Hollywood between 1924 and 1929 they're fine. Doesn't have a particularly witty expiatory style but okay. Details about salaries, rents, and general everyday life of the period, all that is swell. Several of the letters were written during Valeria's break from Hollywood in Italy. As a chronicler of golden age Hollywood, their value has perhaps been overstated. The main thing they have going for them is that there are few (accessible) firsthand accounts of the Hollywood studio system from a non-mogul, star or other prominent figure's perspective. Valeria's work at the movie studios is described between accounts of her illnesses, her dates and social life and I didn't find it to be particularly insightful. It's not Valeria's fault; she wasn't writing for posterity, but rather just tossing off letters to a friend. She relays some mild gossip and opinions about this or that actor/actress that her friend probably enjoyed but doesn't exactly shed any light on any inner workings of the film industry. For example though she was there during the transition to sound pictures, she doesn't offer an inside information or keen observations about its effects- mainly noting that the "talkies" are really revolutionizing the movie business and vocal coaches are springing up around town.

The editing:
There's little in the way of annotation here and what there is seems curiously random: Ben Turpin and Sue Carol get footnotes but others, like Viola Dana and Corrine Griffith, whom Valeria disparages, for example, don't. The story about Belle Bennett and her brother who was actually her son particularly should have had clarification, as Valeria's version isn't exactly correct (Beachamp notes that friend Francis Marion "knew the truth of Bennett's life" but doesn't say what "the truth" was. It wasn't that complicated: Belle shaved 10 years off her age in Hollywood, noting later after the story came out that she did so in order "hide the dreaded fear of age" from her employers." After Stella Dallas, Belle was typecase in "mother" roles until her own untimely death at age 41 in 1932). There are few notations about the films Valeria worked on, either. After all the build up about Stella Dallas was it a success or not? What of Gang War, which was to be the studio's first talkie? For the most part people and places pass through uncommented on, which is a shame and a missed opportunity to see them in a broader context. Valeria mentions in her letter of 5-20-1925 all the "extra girls running after" assistant director James ("Jimmy") Dugan "ready to give themselves up to him for the sake of a little part in some picture"-it would have been appropriate to see some background on the creation of the Central Casting system in 1925 largely in response to this situation and the danger it posed to young women.

One thing in the book I thought was enlightening was Valeria's gossip about the reputed affair between Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies (though, apparently only a fragment of this letter remains) and the rumors of that pioneer director Thomas Ince- enlightening, that is, because it's contemporary gossip; most information about all of this was cobbled together long afterward. The editor's account of the event, however, adds little to the discussion. She clearly doesn't buy the shooting theory and the facts presented seem cherry picked to reflect that slant.

Overall:
This struck me as missed opportunity. The letters are largely banal, but could have been made more interesting placed within the larger context of their time with added annotation and background information. It's a slim volume, easily readable in one sitting so could double the length and still be manageable. As another reviewer noted, Valeria's name does not appear on the cover or spine of the paperback edition.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2006
This is a very fascinating book if you're into Hollywood history, specifically of the 20's. Although written as letters to a friend, they a lot like a diary, and as such it's a look at Hollywood of that era from a viewpoint we've never seen: the regular employee. There are plenty of books by and about the stars, directors, executives, etc., but this is the first one from a secretary, and while that may not sound as exciting as, say, a book about Buster Keaton, it really is interesting.

What's great is that these were just casual letters, not something their author (Valieria Belletti) expected anyone but her friend to read, consequently she speaks her mind with an openness and honesty you just won't get from someone who's expecting to be quoted. The letters are full of comments and incidents about major stars and directors, but are presented in a casual way, not jazzed up as they would be upon later reminiscence or if they were being told in an interview.

The only thing I didn't like, and this is to be expected from the private letters of one young woman to another, is that the "search for a husband" stuff gets a bit tiresome. It's still interesting in terms of being a window on the mores and social life of the time, and therefore some readers might find it better than the movie studio parts, but I came at the book through an interest in the movies not an interest in how women dated in the 20's. (As I said though, I did find this stuff interesting, it's just that it started to occupy more space than the studio stuff. And in Valieria's defense, it sounded like she was wearying of it after a while too.)

So I'm glad I read the book and I definitely recommend it, just don't expect wall-to-wall insights and revelations about Hollywood. Not that I expected that, but just be sure you don't either.
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on April 21, 2014
Beautifully written first person account of Hollywood life from someone within the "inner circle". I only wish she had written more letters!
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on August 25, 2014
Great little book. Fast read. Fascinating little slice of history from someone other than a Hollywood actor or actress perspective. Highly recommend.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2013
The letters are (mostly) not that interesting -- a lot of name-dropping (well, she's writing to a friend, so it makes sense). It feels like the letters (and, definitely, the title) are a hook for the Editor to use to write what she knows about Hollywood. Needs fact checking. I have a library of 'Hollywood & Broadway' books-- this would be on the bottom shelf
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