Published by Harper
Publication date: October 13th 2015
After being a novitiate at a San Francisco convent for six years Alda Ducci is told that she is not suited to be a nun. Sent by her family from Italy to escape disgrace, returning home is not an option. Then, a friend of the mother superior gets her a job as a secretary to Loretta Young, the Hollywood star, and Alda’s life changes in ways she could never have imagined. All the Stars in the Heavens follows Alda through the decades as she moves from being an employee to being a friend and confidante to a young woman trying to navigate the personal and professional perils of the Hollywood studio system in the 1930s.
By 1934 Young was already on her way to being a star. When she is cast with Clark Gable in Call of the Wild she is both excited and nervous to be acting with a man who is already a steady box office draw. That she is twenty-one and he is twelve years older and married, but with a penchant for virtually anything in a skirt, is worrisome as is the fact that the movie is being shot on location in the snowbound territory of the Pacific Northwest. Alda accompanies her boss but despite her best efforts, neither Gable nor Young resist the other, with implications that change the course of Young’s life.
All the Stars in the Heavens is the latest from Adriana Trigiani and is further evidence of her skill at composing sagas that capture both the large and the small of her subject. In this case, she contrasts the superficial glamour of a star’s life against the very real fears of a woman bound by a controlling system. At the same time, Trigiani expands the story to encompass the fun and not-so-fun stories of such Hollywood players as Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, and David Niven. That said, the novel is not a gossipfest. Instead, using Alda as the foil to the capricious world of movies Trigiani looks beneath the glamour to the everyday concerns of both the celebrities and those around them. She ensures that Alda’s life is given the same weight as Young’s.
What interested me most about All the Stars in the Heavens is the almost unfathomable difference between 1930s Hollywood and today’s movie industry. That stars now carve out their own destiny, create their own style and persona and live largely as they want stands in stark contrast to the times when every aspect of a star’s life, of their very being was created and curated by the studio heads and where a single misstep could bring their livelihood and life to a crashing halt. And yet, I couldn’t help being struck by one thing that hasn’t changed: by and large it is the women who bore the brunt of the studio’s wrath and censure and they still do. Trigiani is not exaggerating in her portrayal of Clark Gable as a man who seldom met a woman he didn’t want and yet, his biggest fear was the financial cost of a divorce. For Loretta Young, the stakes were higher—both personally and professionally. This was a source of frustration as the novel progressed—Young’s decisions feel so antiquated and unnatural but it likely they were realistic for her time and situation.
Through the course of the decades in All the Stars in the Heavens Trigiani uses research and her consummate skill to follow not only Young’s path and the choices she had to make, but those of other Hollywood luminaries and the supporting cast of people behind the scenes who made their continued success possible. The novel manages to feel both seductive and seedy just like the real Hollywood.