Blonde little Elsa Emerson loves the stage. Born in 1920, she’s just in time for the delight of the silver screen and the glamour of acting. She grows up around and on her father’s stage, playing small roles, and loving and being loved by her two sisters, especially beautiful Hildy. When tragedy strikes her family, Elsa decides that she should live her life on a bigger stage, and when Gordon-from-Florida Pitts comes to her small town in Michigan, Elsa heads straight for Hollywood. There, she’s christened Laura Lamont by the most famous producer in town, transforming from blonde and wholesome country girl to glamorous screen star.
The early days of Hollywood have always held a strange fascination for me. Modern celebrities don’t interest me at all, but the first years of films have passed into the realm of history, and the fact that we can still see all of these people on screen today makes their lives all the more interesting. Laura Lamont is, of course, fictional, but she’s been written in such a way that she could have been many famous actresses from our time. Her transformation from “ordinary” girl to superstar is actually quite remarkable; with the change of name, hairstyle, and diet, Elsa becomes Laura in a way that she hadn’t precisely anticipated, and the consequences of that are profound.
What I most liked about this, I think, was the way that Laura’s life was so far from perfect. The contrast between her public and her private lives was absolutely immense. Even when she grows older, the reaction that she gets from people who loved her old films is notable compared to her actual life outside them; it shows how little we really know about celebrities when they keep their personal lives quiet, and how eternal they seem to us when, in reality, they are flawed and age just as the rest of us do. We don’t really spend all that much time experiencing a “glamorous” lifestyle through Laura’s eyes; the book really focuses on her actual life behind the screen and her family, both at home in Michigan and in Hollywood.
Straub is naturally influenced by what happened in real-life Hollywood; I’ve even seen various guesses of who Laura herself is inspired by. Some of her silver screen friends are somewhat obvious, but I didn’t spend much time trying to pin who was inspired by who. For those who know more about Hollywood history than I do, there is undoubtedly quite a bit to spot here in terms of influences, but it’s not critical to liking the book, at least it wasn’t for me.
A thoroughly enjoyable read, although sometimes unsettling thanks to the ups and downs of Elsa / Laura’s life, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures is a good choice for anyone who enjoys thinking about the early days of Hollywood or is at all interested in the lives of celebrities behind the scenes.
I received this book for free for review.