Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920s

Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters from Inside the Studios of the 1920s

by Valeria Belletti
     
 

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Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary is an insider’s view of the film studios of the 1920s—and the first from a secretary’s perspective. Rich in gossip, it is also an eyewitness report of Hollywood in transition.
In the summer of 1924, Valeria Belletti and her friend Irma visited California, but instead of returning home to New York, the

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Overview

Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary is an insider’s view of the film studios of the 1920s—and the first from a secretary’s perspective. Rich in gossip, it is also an eyewitness report of Hollywood in transition.
In the summer of 1924, Valeria Belletti and her friend Irma visited California, but instead of returning home to New York, the twenty-six-year-old Valeria decided to stay in Los Angeles. She moved into the YWCA, landed a job as Samuel Goldwyn's personal and social secretary and proceeded to trip over history in the making. As she recounts in her dozens of letters to Irma, Valeria Belletti encountered every type of Hollywood player in the course of her working day: moguls, directors, stars, writers, and hopeful extras. She shares news about Valentino's affairs, Sam Goldwyn's bootlegger, the development of the “talkies,” her own role in helping to cast Gary Cooper in his first major part and much more—often in hilarious detail. She writes of her living and working conditions, her active social life, and her hopes for the future—all the everyday concerns of a young working woman during the jazz age. Alternating sophistication with naiveté, Valeria’s letters intimately document a personal journey while giving us a unique portrait of a fascinating era.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
In 1924, Valeria Beletti, a twenty-six-year-old from New Jersey, moved to Los Angeles and got a job as the personal secretary to the studio head Samuel Goldwyn. In spare moments, she wrote a series of chatty, heartfelt letters to a friend back home. She describes Goldwyn’s mercurial temper; encounters with stars like Valentino and the young Ronald Colman; gossip about Charlie Chaplin and Marion Davies; the traumatic arrival of sound; and her own success in bringing a handsome young actor named Gary Cooper to the studio’s attention. A mass of satisfying detail about early Hollywood suggests that essential features haven’t changed much. “I know you would enjoy these people,” Beletti tells her friend, “even though you have to more or less overlook their moral characters.”
Publishers Weekly
Those who, like Valeria Belletti, worked entry-level jobs in early Hollywood had ringside seats at one of the country's most happening scenes. Belletti, the daughter of Italian immigrants, worked as a secretary for Samuel Goldwyn and Cecil B. DeMille from 1925 to 1929 and this volume presents her na ve letters to a friend back home in New Jersey. Alas, her missives read like a young girl's diary (Belletti was in her late 20s), not a savvy view of Tinsel Town. Despite Belletti's proximity to the rich and powerful-Rudolph Valentino and Gary Cooper, to name two-her musings are remarkably chaste by 21st-century standards. All she can muster for Goldwyn is: "I don't particularly like him, but he's no worse than the others." Although she hints at tawdry interludes-star affairs, scandalous deaths, studio shenanigans-she refuses to reveal anything of substance. Editor Beauchamp, an Emmy-nominated documentary film writer, interjects commentary throughout, contextualizing the events Belletti relates. But dispatches on Belletti's outfits for movie screenings and details on her dates ("We had real champagne.... It was a case of love at first sight") don't make for scintillating-or even enlightening-reading. Only readers with an ardent interest in the period will find these letters of note. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Not all women who wielded influence in early Hollywood were actresses. There were anonymous others like Belletti, whose 1924 California vacation inspired the 26-year-old secretary to pursue a future there. With the editorial assistance of Beauchamp (Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood), Belletti tells her story through letters to her best friend, Irma Prima, in this posthumously published volume. We follow Belletti from job to job (including stints with producer Samuel Goldwyn and director Cecil B. DeMille), each one expanding her knowledge of filmmaking and the studio system. Beyond an insider's look at the nascent film industry, however, Belletti's letters give voice to a young woman simultaneously seeking risk and security. We watch, fascinated, as she makes and loses homes, friends, and boyfriends; rubs shoulders with Hollywood royalty; and negotiates the transition to married life, all in the richly described atmosphere of 1920s Southern California. Beauchamp is to be commended for further illuminating this corner of Hollywood history. An essential purchase for libraries with serious film and/or women's studies collections, though there may be wider demand because excerpts were published in the March issue of Vanity Fair.-M.C. Duhig, Carnegie Lib., Pittsburgh Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Snapshots from Hollywood's early days. The film business may have boomed in the 1920s, but Samuel Goldwyn's secretary Valeria Belletti still had enough down time to get off long letters to lifelong friend Irma Prima back in New York City. Belletti's correspondence survives, presented here with film scholar and author Beauchamp filling in background notes on some of the films and filmmakers Belletti mentioned to her friend. Belletti wrote to Irma that she approached Goldwyn with trepidation since he had a reputation for being a terror. Mrs. Goldwyn soon told Valeria the mogul liked her-after all, hadn't he entrusted her to order bootleg booze for one of his parties? Belletti also got to know the stars on the Goldwyn lot-Ronald Coleman, Rudolph Valentino and an awkward, shy young actor she insisted Goldwyn hire, Gary Cooper. (Her potential courtship with Cooper faded as he headed to stardom.) Belletti also told her friend what was happening on and off the set. Especially poignant is an anecdote about Belle Bennett, who arrived to play the eagerly sought title role in Stella Dallas on the same day her teenaged son died of a sports injury. A single mother, Bennett had told people the boy was her brother. Writing about her personal life, Belletti often falls into a dullish "I'm fine/how are you" tone. However Bohemian her friends may have been, their behavior never rivaled that of their often scandalous Hollywood neighbors. "We sat in front of a big fireplace," Belletti writes of an afternoon tea, "and had an enjoyable afternoon."Belletti, alas, was a prosaic stylist, but her ingenuous point of view lends her stories charm. First serial to Vanity Fair

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780520247802
Publisher:
University of California Press
Publication date:
05/15/2006
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.63(d)

Meet the Author

Valeria Belletti was born in New Jersey on October 11, 1898, the only child of Italian immigrants. Before working for Samuel Goldwyn and Cecil B. DeMille in the mid-1920s, she was secretary to founder of the Theater Guild, Lawrence Langner, in Manhattan. Cari Beauchamp is the author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood (UC Press, 1998), editor of Anita Loos Rediscovered: Film Treatments and Fiction by Anita Loos, Creator of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (UC Press, 2003), and coauthor of Hollywood on the Riviera (1992). She is an Emmy nominated documentary film writer and lives in Los Angeles.

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