Underfoot in Show Business, by Helene Hanff
If you're a regular Treehouse reader, you already know that I enjoy Helene Hanff, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, and the books that connect the two. I read Q's Legacy earlier this year and liked it, mostly. I think I was hoping for a bit more insight into exactly how Helene studied Sir Arthur's books, rather than a memoir of her writing career, but that's all right.
She spent quite a bit of time in Q's Legacy talking about how she got to know the editor Gene Young, and how Gene persuaded her to write her first book, Underfoot in Show Business. The two books actually work well together--one seems to fill in details that the other is missing. But out of the two, I actually like this one better. It's very funny...well, most of it. I can't find a great deal of humour in the extended descriptions of how Helene and her equally poverty-stricken friend Maxine used to sneak into the second half of movies and plays (usually by mingling during the intermission and then looking for empty seats). But the bits about living on the "ladies' floor" of a New York apartment building, and having to share a communal kitchen etc., were wonderful. (I had a very similar experience living off-campus during university.) One note: she is talking about life in the big city, and life in the big city, even in the 1940's and '50's, had its seamy side; there are some bits of the book that you would not necessarily want your kids reading. Just saying.
There is a really good chapter--this is probably similar to the New Yorker article that got Gene Young's attention in the first place--about Helene's early job working for a theater company that produced a series of flops, but that was trying one last time, in 1943, with a show that nobody expected anybody to like. And wouldn't you know...
And the best part, the part I won't give away so that you'll have to read the book, is about her later job as a reader for a movie studio. She, and an assortment of other characters, got paid to read and review all kinds of things--books, stories, plays--for the studio to consider as movies. Then she got her absolute worst assignment ever--a little light reading for over the weekend.
I'll give you a hint.
It was a trilogy that had been published in Britain but that was just then being published in the United States.
Here's another hint.
It was Long.
P.S. I found Underfoot in Show Business at the library. If you can get hold of a copy and you like 84, Charing Cross Road and the rest, you'll like it. Four out of five stars.