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Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties Hardcover – May 18, 2004

4.1 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This light, engaging book spends the years from 1920 to 1930 with Zelda Fitzgerald, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber. Without directly tying them together by any theme (other than that they were all "blessed with the gift of laughter"), Meade moves easily among the women, bringing to life four very different individuals and the worlds they moved in, although Ferber suffers somewhat from being surrounded by more colorful contemporaries. Parker, appropriately enough, is introduced with the words "[I]t couldn't be worse" (she was being canned by Vanity Fair) while Millay is evoked with the offhand observation, "[S]leeping with the boy from Vanity Fair was probably a bad idea. But Vincent did it anyway." The emphasis is on the personalities and personal lives of the women, but Meade (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?) fairly seamlessly weaves professional ambitions, successes and frustrations into their stories. (It's also fascinating to be reminded that both Ferber and Millay, who could not have been more different in writing style or personality, both enjoyed a good deal of commercial success.) Serious students of the Roaring '20s or of the writers may not learn anything new here; they may also find the interior monologue of the narrative ("Bunny, poor sweet Bunny, so naïve about the opposite sex") grating. And the story stops, rather than ends, in 1930. But for the curious nonexpert, the gossipy, personal tone makes for an enjoyable and informative read. 2 photo inserts not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The four 1920s women writers Meade focuses on were legends in their own time--and what a time it was. Encapsulating the razzle-dazzle and optimism of the Jazz Age, Meade covers each year of the wild and woolly decade, beginning with Dorothy Parker's firing from Vanity Fair, and embracing Zelda Fitzgerald and her wild drinking and dancing in fountains alongside her husband, F. Scott. Across town on West Nineteenth Street, Edna St. Vincent Millay's fingers flew over the keyboard of a featherweight Corona No. 3 (a gift from her married lover, James Lawyer), turning out "Renascence," the poem that would make her famous. With fellow Pulitzer Prize winner Edna Ferber, those three inspired and intrepid women were free-spirited "celebrities" before the term was coined, in an era whose energy and tumult became legendary historically and literarily. Their unusual and indelible lives, and scintillating milieu, are vividly captured by Meade in this fast-paced and informative group biography. Whitney Scott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (May 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385502427
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385502429
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #626,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Sarah Green on November 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
I loved this book. I don't usually like biographies (they're all the same--someone is born, becomes famous, dies, etc) but this group bio of Edna Ferber, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Edna St. Vincent Millay totally captured my imagination. It's organized by year, and the storytelling jumps from woman to woman in a way that creates much suspense and anticipation. Meade makes each woman seem so three-dimensional, they don't just leap off the page--I could swear I even smelled Dotty Parker's Chypre perfume and taste Zelda's gin blossoms and highballs. This book would make a great gift for any one who loves biography, the Roaring 20s, or any of the writers in question. The large number of cameo appearances by other writers, bohemians, and Round Tablers give the book a wider appeal. As a recovering English major, I feel strongly that anyone who lists "The Great Gatsby" or "The Sun Also Rises" as his favorite book should get a copy as well, if only for medicinal purposes!
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Format: Paperback
An engaging, entertaining read by a skillful writer. . .but if you want a thorough, complex picture of these four women (Parker, Ferber, Z. Fitzgerald, Millay) and their circles, you'll be better off reading a full-scale biography of each, one that places them in historical and literary context. This book's final paragraph sums up both its strengths and its shortcomings -- the ending is crisp and breezy, but it offers no thoughtful conclusions. Instead, it basically says (and I'm paraphrasing), "and so the 1920s ended and passed into history and the people described here went on and lived the rest of their lives." What we have overall is a well-phrased and smoothly-organized collection of largely unanalyzed details.

If you knew nothing about these writers beyond what you read here, you'd conclude that most of leading artistic lights of 1920s New York were shallow, self-centered, silly sots, and you'd wonder how on earth they managed to write anything at all, let alone stuff that is held up decades later as examples of significant art. The only person who doesn't seem to have been an exasperating wastrel is Ferber. If it's really true that these largely despicable, aimless people are nonetheless artists worth our continued time and attention, then I wish "Bobbed Hair" had spent more time examining and explicating this paradox. As it is, we end up with details, details everywhere and not a point to make.

But then again, perhaps I'm trying to turn this book into something it's not: it's not a scholarly biography, never claimed to be, and doesn't have to be. On its own terms, it's quite fun. So if you want a dishy tiptoe through the 1920s tulips, buy this book. If you want context and in-depth analysis, buy something else.
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Format: Hardcover
Marion Meade's new book Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin is like manna from heaven for aficionados of the Roaring Twenties.
Seventeen years ago Meade wrote What Fresh Hell is This? It remains the definitive Dorothy Parker biography; now she expands on the 10 most exciting years of Parker's life, along with Edna Ferber, Zelda Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay.
The subtitle of Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin is "Writer's Running Wild in the Twenties" and it is an exciting read that zeroes in on one decade in the lives of the four women and those close to them. There are other, longer, and deeper biographies and autobiographies of the quartet, but this book digs beneath the surface about what made them so unique, powerful and passionate about what they did.
Meade had a real challenge before her. The reader knows how all four will end up post-1930. The task was to shine a spotlight on the crucial years when all four came into their own and were either on their way up, or down, professionally or personally. Some of the tale is humorous, often tragic, but always fascinating. Anyone who's read about these women before is sure to learn something new that bigger books might have overlooked.
If you're reading Bobbed Hair and happen to be a lover of writers, history, old books and the theatre, then you might know what's around the corner for all of these women. The stock market crash of 1929 is looming. The Depression is on its way. Prohibition will end. Adolph Hitler is coming to power. And yet the book brings these women and their cohorts so vividly to life, like it was only yesterday that they were creating new material and turning up in the gossip columns.
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Format: Paperback
It's an curious fact that each generation thinks that they discovered sex. (If you doubt this, try and imagine your own conception.) But this book demonstrates that venery was more popular one-hundred-years ago than it is today. It also reveals that abortions were legal until 1900 and even afterward were frequently performed -- in addition to inducing miscarriage through folk remedies.

If the authors profiled in this book are an accurate indication, people also drank much more, and from their conduct, one can understand why national prohibition was established. The drunken behavior of F. Scott Fitzgerald was disgusting. He was a mean drunk, and I suppose that people wanted fewer examples of him around. Reading about his despicable antics actually makes sobriety seem attractive.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was awful enough even without alcohol. In At Home: A Short History of Private Life Bill Bryson quotes her as saying, "The only people I hate are servants. They are not really human beings at all." (Since the U.S. edition of At Home has no source notes, no source can be provided for this quote, and Ms. Meade only alludes to this hatred.) Contrary to the impression given in an early chapter here, in one of his memoirs critic H. L. Mencken gloats at how he kept Ms. Millay's work out of his magazines, and she is listed among the people he claims hated him, which of course really means that he hated her. (Although I suspect that since, despite his campaign against puritanism, Mencken was somewhat a prude, his attitude may be due to her slatternly reputation.
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