Cover image for I lost my girlish laughter : a novel
I lost my girlish laughter : a novel
1st Vintage Books ed.
Physical Description:
xxv, 192 pages ; 21 cm.
General Note:
Originally published by Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, in 1938. --Title page verso.

"The classic Hollywood novel of the 1930s"--Cover.

"Jane Allen" is a pseudonym for Jane Shore, a professional writer, and Sylvia Schulman, who had worked as a secretary for David O. Selznick.
In this thinly-disguised pseudonymous satire, Madge Lawrence is a "good girl" trying to make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood. As secretary to a big-time producer, Madge learns the movie business from the inside. The story unfolds in a series of documents--memos, telegrams, newspaper items, and letters from Madge to a former colleague in New York.


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A lost literary gem of Hollywood in the 1930s, I Lost My Girlish Laughter is a thinly veiled send-up of the actors, producers, writers, and directors of the Golden Age of the studio system.

Madge Lawrence, fresh from New York City, lands a job as the personal secretary to the powerful Hollywood producer Sidney Brand (based on the legendary David O. Selznick). In a series of letters home, Western Union telegrams, office memos, Hollywood gossip newspaper items, and personal journal entries, we get served up the inside scoop on all the shenanigans, romances, backroom deals, and betrayals that go into making a movie.
The action revolves around the production of Brand's latest blockbuster, meant to be a star vehicle to introduce his new European bombshell (the real-life Marlene Dietrich). Nevermind that the actress can't act, Brands' negotiations with MGM to get Clark Gable to play the male lead are getting nowhere, and the Broadway play he's bought for the screenplay is reworked so that it is unrecognizable to its author. In this delicious satire of the film business, one is never very far from the truth of what makes Hollywood tick and why we all love it.

Author Notes

SILVIA SCHULMAN LARDNER was born in New York City in 1913, the child of Russian Jewish immigrants. She attended Hunter College in Manhattan before leaving to work for RKO as a secretary. She later worked for MGM and Selznick International, as producer David O. Selznick's personal secretary. She cowrote a play with fellow Selznick staffer Barbara Keon in 1935 and worked on A Star Is Born (1937) and preproduction for Gone with the Wind (1939). She left Hollywood in 1937 and published her novel I Lost My Girlish Laughter , in collaboration with Jane Shore, in 1938. She raised two children and worked for many years as an interior designer and building contractor in California. She died of cancer in 1993.

JANE SHORE came to Hollywood from New York City in 1928 to write a film for Nancy Carroll, which was ultimately not produced. She collaborated with Silvia Schulman on I Lost My Girlish Laughter and continued to write under the pseudonym of Jane Allen for "A Girl's Best Friend Is Wall Street" (adapted for the screen in 1941 as She Knew All the Answers ). Her novel, Thanks God! I'll Take It from Here (1946), written in collaboration with May Livingstone, was adapted for the screen and retitled W ithout Reservations (RKO, 1946).

J. E. SMYTH is professor of history at the University of Warwick (UK) and the author of several books about Hollywood, including Nobody's Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood (2018).

Reviews 2

Kirkus Review

This delicious satire of old Hollywood, originally published in 1938 and largely unknown even by cinephiles, gets a welcome reissue.The hijinks start early in this screwball sendup, since, as one Hollywood veteran tells a newbie writer, "We not only preoccupy ourselves with sex at the box office but feel we must live life as we see it on the screen for twenty-four hours a day." Sidney Brand, the powerful Hollywood producer standing in for legendary real-life producer David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind; Rebecca), gets the job done but, god, he's a monster to work for. He's narcissistic, needy, chauvinist, and a big ole liar, though he does work really hard, to give him a little credit. Allen dishes on the cupidities and venality of daily life in the big studio system of 1930s Hollywood through her protagonist Madge Lawrence's letters home as well as interoffice memos, telegrams, journal entries, and gossip columns. Madge is new to Hollywood, hunting for a studio job; Brand hires her as his secretary. He's desperate for a big commercial success but wants it to come off as a prestige number, so he counts on Viennese import Sarya Tarn (a double for Marlene Dietrich) to bring the quality, but she only brings a healthy dose of divadom. Brand's frenemy at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, a rival studio, won't loan him Clark Gable to play opposite Tarn, so the producer has to rely on Broadway success Bruce Anders, who makes Madge's heart flutter; meanwhile, the studio's publicity whiz, Jim Palmer, wittily, mordantly pursues her. This novel is the product of two writers, Silvia Schulman Lardner, who was Selznick's secretary (and was married to writer Ring Lardner Jr.), and screenwriter Jane Shore. The characters and plot are so thinly veiled that the authors decided a single pseudonym was the wisest path to publication, as film scholar J.E. Smyth explains in her thoughtful introduction.This novel is a hell of a lot of fun. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

1930s Hollywood was a wonderful, awful place. This fictionalized account of a secretary's observations of the movie business and her powerful studio boss (a fictionalized David O. Selznick) was first published in 1938. It was a tell-all sensation at the time, but when studios failed to option it for movie rights, it faded into obscurity. Now resurrected, the novel follows secretary Madge Lawrence's viewpoint, through fictional telegrams, inter-office memos, and letters, which center around trying to secure Clark Cable and an actress (based on Marlene Dietrich) for the leads in an upcoming movie. Readers will note that some players in the story retain their ""real"" names while others are changed. Half the fun is teasing out the fictionalized roles. The author is a pseudonym for two women, Silvia Schulman Lardner and Jane Shore, who co-wrote the book. Schulman Lardner's work as a secretary to Selznick fueled the book's plot; an introduction by J.E. Smyth situates this work in its historical context. Old-movie buffs and lovers of Hollywood gossip will geek out on this fun, satirical read.--Joan Curbow Copyright 2010 Booklist