When a Hollywood star's career is on the skids, she can go to pieces or to Italy. Which explains why 34-year-old Madeline Mandell, once billed as ``the American Venus,'' is consuming pasta on a terrace in Rome with ``Scandinavian screen goddess'' Astrid, ``Germany's sex symbol'' Helga and ``reigning Italian movie queen'' Cleo. Each of them is eager for a role in Boccaccio Volgare, a four-part film epic starring superstar and lovable klutz Umberto Cassini, but their ambitions are threatened by the wicked machinations of a British actress who wants all four female roles for herself. While these matters are being resolved, some predictable diversions are offered: tours of Rome (food and wine included) alternate with myriad sexual encounters of a sort that might make Boccaccio blush. Madeline eschews most of the latter and saves herself for a final fadeout in the arms of Umberto, who is about to become both her husband and co-star. Though film actress Baker's first novel has as much staying power as the lira, it is lively and affable. Baker seems to be prolific: her memoir, To Africa with Love (Nonfiction Forecasts, Feb. 28), is out this month. 40,000 first printing; $40,000 ad/promo; author tour. (May 15)
This tale of film stars and the jet set of Rome focuses on one American actress, Madeline Mandell, a.k.a. ``Venus,'' who dumps slavish Hollywood for Rome, and becomes involved in the lives and loves of three other international film stars as well as the go-for-the-throat competition for the affections of a cinematic Romeo. It is the first novel of film actress Baker, author of the autobiography Baby Doll. The plot is tired, the characters are shallow, and the dialogue and descriptions are embarrassingly awful: ``Her glossed lips protruded, succulent pink sausages, and her breasts appeared, literally, overblown.'' One yearns for the likes of Forever Amber. Not a necessary purchase for any library. Virginia A. Doser, Saddleback Coll., Mission Viejo, Cal.