Lady Be Good: The Life and Times of Dorothy Hale
by Pamela Hamilton
Koehler Books

"Couples were huddled together, and elegant women, a dozen or more, their diamonds sparkling under dim lights, drank champagne and flirted with men."

Hamilton’s book depicts the elegant but complicated life of American socialite and aspiring actress Dorothy Hale. Hale can be considered one of the original 1920s “bad girls.” She broke societal rules in order to chase her dream of working in show business. Along the way, she crossed paths with the likes of 1920s elites like Fred Astaire, Gertrude Stein, and even Ernest Hemingway. However, Hale’s fame and fortune never quite made up for the loss, gossip, and betrayal prevalent in her private life. She at first married the rich, handsome, and seemingly romantic Gaillard Thomas. Nonetheless, their marriage crumbled. Hale eventually found her way into a romance with Harry Hopkins, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s top adviser.

In this book, readers encounter the life enjoyed by the rich and the elite during a period of radical social change in America. At times, the book’s focus on the rich’s excesses will remind readers of The Great Gatsby. This is most evident in the chapter “The Crazy Years.” In this chapter, the author skillfully portrays the indulgences that abundant wealth afforded the upper class. One such example is Dorothy’s encounter with her friend Elsa. Elsa discloses that she and Cole Porter, the famous American composer, overcame Porter’s intolerable boredom by making an impromptu trip to Italy. The trip came with a rather excessive surprise. Using a portion of his inheritance, he bought a barge and “transformed it into a nightclub paradise that floated through the canals of Venice.” Aboard the barge, Porter’s guests “‘had a wonderful time eating and drinking off his impeccably starched cuff.’” This description also conveys the economic rift rifling America even then, one which will remind contemporary readers of the ongoing conversations about celebrity disconnect with the population’s majority.

Hamilton's book also subtly highlights the objectification and oppression of women during this time period. One of the initial depictions of this occurs via the character Wallace Harrington, who, despite his wife’s presence, ogles Hale. Harrington openly admits to his wife, “‘I like the one with the dark hair.’” Harrington’s open admission exemplifies how women were often seen as easily traded or acquired commodities. This theme continues throughout the book, and it resonates with occurrences in Hale’s career and life. Historically, it is rumored that American financier and statesman Bernard Baruch informed Hale that because Hale was thirty-three, she was too old to remain successful. The ageism Hale faced then echoes with the ageism and scrutiny contemporary artists like Madonna have recently faced.

The story surrounding Dorothy Hale’s tragic death echoes those of celebrities like Amy Winehouse, Robin Williams, and Naya River. The news of Hale’s death rippled through and shocked the rich and the famous, and perhaps, it even signaled an era’s end. For those interested in the 1920s and especially fans of The Great Gatsby, this book will be a thrilling read. In many ways, this book is a historical primer for readers interested in the lives of early celebrities who paved the way for today’s. At its core, while it does focus on the pressures accompanying fame and fortune, it also highlights the additional scrutiny with which female celebrities live and strive to overcome. Hamilton's book is a gripping, well-researched read about an actress and a time period infrequently discussed.

The 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Runner-Up in E-Book Fiction

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