The Limits of Limelight, the title of my fourteenth novel, illuminates the inherent conflict its protagonist, the story’s real-life inspiration, must contend with.
In July of 1931, Ginger Rogers and her mother Lela arrived in Oklahoma City, where Lela’s sister and nieces were living. At that time, Ginger had transferred from New York, where she was a Broadway star, to Hollywood, with hopes of becoming a movie star. She hadn’t seen her younger cousin, Helen Nichols, for many years, although they had spent time together as very young children in Kansas City, Missouri, living with their grandparents. Helen, famously, provided her first cousin with the name we all know her by, because at age two, when she tried to say Virginia, it emerged as “Ginga.”
During this very brief reunion with family members, Ginger was struck by how pretty and personable Helen was. She easily convinced her mother that they should take the teenager back to Hollywood with them, in the belief that she could get work in motion pictures. Two years into the Depression, any opportunity to earn income was welcome. So Lela took her niece shopping for new clothes and shoes, and away they went.
What did Helen think about this plan?
She was excited, of course, at this miraculous stroke of good fortune. And flattered to be told, by people she trusted, that she had a chance to become a star. This was her first chance to see the world beyond Oklahoma City. During the train journey, Ginger gave Helen a professional name, Phyllis Fraser. The “flickers” were a leading—and in an era of hardship for so many—necessary form of escapism and entertainment. They presented an unattainable, thoroughly unrealistic opulence in home décor, they influenced fashion and popular music.
Ginger’s connections at the studio served Phyllis well, and she was given a bit part in a comic film, and two lines. When she had to return to Oklahoma to resume her high school education, she was treated like a celebrity. The next year she rejoined Ginger and Lela, and embarked upon a film career in earnest, as a contract player at RKO. There, she lived with or worked with or became acquainted with actresses far more driven than she: Ginger, Katharine Hepburn, and Anne Shirley.
Hollywood, then as now, was populated by people consumed with ambition. For Phyllis, moviemaking was a lark. Working as an extra, sometimes as a bit player with a close-up and few lines, was an easy—if sometimes boring—way to earn money, and a way to live up to Ginger’s and Lela’s very high expectations of her prospects. But her true ambition was unrelated to movies. From childhood she’d been writing stories and poems, sending them to Aunt Lela, a journalist and scriptwriter, for feedback. In her own mind, a writing career seemed a remote possibility. She was therefore content to take on the aspirations imposed upon her by her loved ones . . . and all the while, under the surface, hers was maturing and expanding.
Fate can be contradictory. At a time when Phyllis was getting bigger roles—in small pictures—she found a way to pursue her dream career. She wrote articles for the movie fan magazines, profiles of Ginger and of successful actress friends, which led to a position as a gossip columnist. Lela, alert to the direction of her niece’s desires, helped her into a job as an advertising agency copywriter. Which led to a job writing and producing scripts for radio drama.
Ultimately, by following her true passion, Phyllis Fraser became a force in book publishing, primarily for early readers. With Dr. Seuss, she co-founded the Beginner Books, and both achieved success, prominence, and lasting influence with The Cat in the Hat and the many memorable books that followed.
“Follow your dreams” is popular advice. And any journey towards self-fulfillment begins with self-awareness—not only of passion and potential, but of limitations. Phyllis realized she was not a particularly talented actress, but recognized—as her Aunt Lela did—that she had a flair for writing and a love of books. Their relationship demonstrates another important stepping stone to achievement: the people in our lives whose faith in our abilities helps us navigate the rockiest places in our chosen path.
Publication Date: September 14, 2021
Pretty Oklahoma teenager Helen Nichols accepts an invitation from her cousin, rising movie actress Ginger Rogers, and her Aunt Lela, to try her luck in motion pictures. Her relatives, convinced that her looks and personality will ensure success, provide her with a new name and help her land a contract with RKO. As Phyllis Fraser, she swiftly discovers that Depression-era Hollywood’s surface glamour and glitter obscure the ceaseless struggle of the hopeful starlet.
Lela Rogers, intensely devoted to her daughter and her niece, outwardly accepting of her stage mother label, is nonetheless determined to establish her reputation as screenwriter, stage director, and studio talent scout. For Phyllis, she’s an inspiring model of grit and persistence in an industry run by men.
While Ginger soars to the heights of stardom in musicals with Fred Astaire, Phyllis is tempted by a career more fulfilling than the one she was thrust into. Should she continue working in films, or devote herself to the profession she’s dreamed about since childhood? And which choice might lead her to the lasting love that seems so elusive?
“An engrossing glimpse into a bygone era and the forces affecting a young woman’s evolution into her own abilities and adulthood . . . vigorous and involving to the end.” ~ Midwest Book Review
“A witty and meticulously researched treat.” ~ Kirkus Reviews
“A biographical novel as bright as the Golden Era . . . A lovely tribute to the larger-than-life celebrities of early Hollywood . . . a glitz and glamour novel that shines brighter the deeper you go.” ~ Independent Book Review
“Porter’s elegant, warm and well-researched novel is a joy to read! Perfect for lovers of historical fiction and tales of remarkable women. 5 of 5 Stars.” ~ Literary Redhead, Goodreads
Grand Prize Winner:
Choice of an autographed paperback or an ebook or an audiobook, plus an acrylic 16-oz sippy “go” cup with straw.
2nd and 3rd Prize Winners:
Choice of an autographed paperback or an ebook or an audiobook.
Reproduction vintage Ginger Rogers & Fred Astaire postcard, plus author-autographed bookplate.
The giveaway is open internationally and ends on October 6th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
MARGARET PORTER is the author of more than a dozen works of historical fiction, including The Limits of Limelight (September 2021) and the award-winning Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr. Her critically acclaimed novels have been translated into several foreign languages. Other writing credits include nonfiction, newspaper and magazine articles, and poetry. She studied British history in the U.K. and afterwards worked professionally in theatre, film and television. Margaret and her husband live in New England with their dog, dividing their time between a book-filled house in a small city and a waterfront cottage located on one of the region’s largest lakes. When not writing, she keeps busy reading, tending her extensive rose gardens, or playing the mandolin.
Tuesday, September 21
Review at Reading is My Remedy
Thursday, September 23
Review at Michelle the PA Loves to Read
Friday, September 24
Review at View from the Birdhouse
Saturday, September 25
Review at A Darn Good Read
Tuesday, September 28
Review at With A Book In Our Hands
Wednesday, September 29
Guest Post at Jorie Loves A Story
Thursday, September 30
Interview + Excerpt at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, October 5
Review at Little But Fierce Book Diary