Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

by Jerome Charyn

Narrated by Natalie Duke

Unabridged — 8 hours, 3 minutes

Jerome Charyn
Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

by Jerome Charyn

Narrated by Natalie Duke

Unabridged — 8 hours, 3 minutes

Jerome Charyn

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Since he first appeared on the American literary scene, Jerome Charyn has dazzled readers with his "blunt, brilliantly crafted prose" (Washington Post). Yet Charyn, a beloved comedic novelist, also possesses an extraordinary knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood, having taught film history both in the United States and France.

With Big Red, Charyn reimagines the life of one of America's most enduring icons, "Gilda" herself, Rita Hayworth, whose fiery red tresses and hypnotic dancing graced the silver screen over sixty times in her nearly forty-year career. The quintessential movie star of the 1940s, Hayworth has long been objectified as a sex symbol, pin-up girl, and so-called Love Goddess. Here Charyn, channeling the ghosts of a buried past, finally lifts the veils that have long enshrouded Hayworth, evoking her emotional complexity-her passions, her pain, and her inner turmoil.

Reanimating such classic films as Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai, Big Red is a bittersweet paean to Hollywood's Golden Age, a tender yet honest portrait of a time before blockbusters and film franchises-one that promises to consume both Hollywood cinephiles and neophytes alike. Lauded for his "polymorphous imagination" (Jonathan Lethem), Charyn once again has created one of the most inventive novels in recent American literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

★ 04/18/2022

Charyn (The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King) plausibly recreates another chapter in American history in this affecting and searing portrait of Silver Screen superstars Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. Rusty Redburn, “an actress who couldn’t act, a dancer who couldn’t dance, a singer who couldn’t sing,” struggles to make ends meet in Los Angeles. She takes a job in the publicity department of Columbia Pictures, tasked with digging up dirt on directors and actors, including those employed by the studio. Her adeptness in the role leads studio head Harry Cohn to plant her in the household of Hayworth and Welles to spy on them while working as their secretary. Redburn finds the assignment challenging, especially after she becomes aware of the shy, insecure personality Hayworth’s assured exterior conceals. She sympathizes more and more with her quarry as she learns of Hayworth’s past as a victim of abuse by Hayworth’s own father and of her desire to improve herself intellectually to be a better match for Welles. Charyn offers rapid-fire dialogue and slapstick action (“So it’s a bit of blackmail,” Orson says at one point, “lunging” at an adversary though he “wasn’t much of a gladiator with his big flat feet”) along with affecting character development. It’s a rewarding paean to some of cinema’s greats. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt, Inc. (Aug.)

New York Sun - Carl Rollyson

"One of the supreme strengths of Big Red is that Jerome Charyn finds exactly the right voice for the novel in Rusty Redburn, a cinephile and double agent hired by Harry Cohn to spy on the couple even as she falls in love with them... Mr. Charyn does not merely present what a reader might already know about Welles and Hayworth; instead, what we know, and don’t know, is angled through Rusty’s exquisite sensibility."

Nell Beram

"Charyn strikes Tinseltown gold.... Rusty is, indeed, a 'pipperoo,' as Welles calls her, functioning as not just the novel's narrator but also its conscience... Big Red is manna to fans of Old Hollywood, with Rusty, as Charyn's mouthpiece, riffing eloquently on key films on Hayworth's and Welles's résumés."

Chicago Review of Books - David Vogel

"Written with love and affection for its subject, Big Red is an entrancing work of historical fiction that serves as a glimpse into Rita Hayworth’s life far beyond her stardom. Big Red serves as a long-form love letter from author Jerome Charyn to Hayworth (nicknamed Big Red by Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn), through the eyes of our narrator, a fictional character named Rusty Redburn, a self-proclaimed 'actress who couldn’t act, a dancer who couldn’t dance, and a singer who couldn’t sing....' Using Rusty as narrator serves as a successful framing device for the story, as her perspective affords readers a behind-the-scenes glance at two of the most beguiling figures of mid-20th century American cinema. Her descriptions are vivid, humorous, and perceptive... Charyn’s love for film history shines through."

CrimeReads - Lisa Levy

"Jerome Charyn... does a bang-up job of capturing Hayworth through the eyes of a second-rate gossip columnist: her rise to stardom, her tempestuous marriage to Welles, and her incredible performances in movies like Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai. If you can’t decide between a book or a classic movie, Charyn’s got just the ticket for you."

Wall Street Journal - Tom Nolan

"Cinematic and bittersweet...[Charyn] subtly evokes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 'The Great Gatsby' in telling his saga of star-crossed charismatics through the eyes of an all-seeing peripheral figure, an outsider-insider named Rusty Redburn... His novel, with its multiple layers of fiction and fact, resurrects the vanished world it celebrates and explicates it in all its grand illusion."

Library Journal


In 1943 Honolulu, cryptanalysist Isabel Cooper is concerned when the only other female codebreaker at Station Hypo goes missing; perhaps The Codebreaker's Secret is uncovered in 1965 when a rookie reporter and a crusty old-timer discover a skeleton near the ever-so-fancy Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Ackerman's (75,000-copy paperback and 10,000-copy hardcover first printing). In Burton's The House of Fortune, a companion to the New York Times best-selling The Miniaturist, 18-year-old Thea Brandt hides out in 1700s Amsterdam's playhouses from her family's money quarrels, refusal to discuss her mother's death, and fear of the mysterious, soul-capturing Miniaturist (200,000-copy first printing). In Carey's 1950s Britain, ruled by a triumphant Reich that ranks women from the gorgeous (and advantaged) Gelis to those past childbearing good for domestic drudgery and living in Widowland, a Geli named Rose Ransom gets involved with subversion against the government. Narrated by a small-potatoes lesbian gossip columnist, Charyn's Big Red reimagines the entwined careers of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. With The Thread Collectors, debuter Edwards joins the USA TODAY best-selling Richman in a story paralleling New Orleans-based Black woman Stella, who embroiders intricate maps for enslaved men intending to flee and join the Union army, with New York-based white, Jewish, abolitionist Lily, who rolls bandages for Union soldiers and wants to join her husband fighting in Louisiana (125,000-copy paperback and 10,000-copy hardcover). In debuter Sivak's Mademoiselle Revolution, Sylvie de Rosiers, the biracial daughter of a rich white planter and an enslaved Black woman, flees her privileged life in Haiti during the revolution and ends up in Paris amid another revolution, befriending Robespierre and his strong-willed mistress, Cornélie.

Kirkus Reviews

A fictionalized telling of the troubled life and storied film career of Rita Hayworth and her marriage to Orson Welles, as seen through the eyes of a sympathetic outsider.

Film-smart and street-smart—if that street happens to be Hollywood Boulevard—the made-up witness, Rusty Redburn, is an Illinois farm girl who dropped out of college to test her fortunes in Tinseltown. She gets a job with Columbia Pictures' publicity department digging up dirt on celebrities. She's so good at it that she's hired by repugnant Columbia head Harry Cohn to spy on the uncontrollable Welles and his wife, Hayworth, whom Cohn lusts after. In her guise as Hayworth's gal Friday, Redburn, a lesbian, comes to care for the actress, whose "crippling fear of her own unworthiness" can be traced back to abuse by her father, her childhood dance partner. But though Redburn idolizes Welles for Citizen Kane, she quickly discovers he's better at acting the role of charmer than actually caring for anyone, including Hayworth, as much as himself—and is physically clumsy to boot. Tracing Hayworth's sad decline through films including Cover Girl, Gilda, and The Lady From Shanghai, the novel has a good time with cutthroat gossip columnists; the ego-driven female film editor who chopped Lady; and crass hustlers including Eddie Judson, Hayworth's first husband, who altered film history by having her hairline raised and the color of her hair changed to her trademark fiery red. Redburn, a serious film buff who writes mimeographed movie reviews as Regina X, is a nifty invention, allowing Charyn the novelist to play Charyn the critic. Hayworth "sang" with her every movement, “in the shake of a shoulder, in the jig of her leg.” Kane was "a sarabande of moments." The veteran author's charm and easy sense of irony further lift this surprisingly affecting book.

A novel that transcends concept with its human touches.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940175228282
Publisher: HighBridge Company
Publication date: 08/23/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

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