More Classic Hollywood Intrigue from Renee Patrick

Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (aka Renee Patrick) are back with their fourth Edith Head/Lillian Frost mystery set in Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Edith and Lillian investigate a poison pen scandal in The Sharpest Needle.

Rosemarie and Vince Keenan (aka Renee Patrick) are back with their fourth Edith Head/Lillian Frost mystery set in Hollywood’s Golden Age. Film buffs will delight in the parade of stars like Orson Wells, Marion Davies, Barbara Stanwyck, Charlie Chaplin, William Randolph Hearst, and Cecil B. DeMille. This playful, meticulously researched novel weaves in juicy gossip with a page-turning thriller. The married scribes shared their thoughts about celebrity and history with Library Journal.

Why does Edith Head, a costume designer, make such a good sleuth?

There are no secrets in a dressing room, and that’s essential to Edith’s sleuthing success. A costume designer has to win over the people she’s dressing, learn (and camouflage) their figure flaws, and do so without ruffling any feathers. That combination of curiosity and discretion is perfect training for a detective.

How much research went into this book?

We’re lucky that watching old movies counts as research. We love combing through vintage newspapers and magazines, and visiting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences library. The Sharpest Needle also involved a field trip to Hearst Castle at San Simeon. The trick is to steep yourself in the era and then forget about it once you start writing. We never want the period particulars to overwhelm the story.

This book is set against the backdrop of World War II. How did those events affect Hollywood?

Los Angeles is far from Europe, but Hollywood felt much closer because of the exiles who found work in the film business. That expat community of writers, directors, and musicians flourished in Southern California. We wove them into the books starting with Dangerous to Know. Hollywood felt the reality in full after the attack on Pearl Harbor. People started spotting phantom Japanese planes in the skies over Los Angeles that night, and the city remained watchful from then on.

Lillian says, “Stars, in my experience, had a strange solidity to them; they somehow filled the extra space they’d claimed as their right.” What distinguishes the stars of 1940 from today’s celebrities?

In the 1930s and ‘40s, the studios curated the public images of their stars: planting stories about them in the press, working to bury unflattering rumors, sometimes paying for their private wardrobes. In the social media age, each star is an individual enterprise. They’re curating their images themselves. What we find funny is how little difference there is between a star’s Instagram account and what might have appeared in a 1942 issue of Photoplay.

Will Golden Age Hollywood stars become our Olympian gods?

Those big names actually were Olympian, put on a pedestal built and tended by the studios. That elevation doesn’t exist anymore. Our series wouldn’t work as well in the 1970s, for instance. Even a star as big as Jack Nicholson isn’t venerated in the same way as Humphrey Bogart. Playing with those outsized personas and exploring what’s behind them is what we enjoy most about writing these books.

The Sharpest Needle features dark secrets and poison pen letters. Are there any secrets left in the internet age?

There will always be secrets, especially in Hollywood. The questions are how well are they hidden, and who’s digging them up. Everybody knows so much about show business that most of the illusion has been stripped away. And there’s a huge difference between writing to your favorite star hoping for an autographed photo, and having them like one of your tweets.

Lillian is from New York and you both grew up in Queens. How did NYC influence early Hollywood?

Paramount had a studio in Astoria, Queens, which we incorporated into Lillian’s family history. Rosemarie was thrilled to learn that the pioneering filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché made movies in Rosemarie’s birthplace of Flushing. When the industry moved to California, it started to develop its own culture. New York was ascendant again when sound came in and playwrights and journalists were needed to write dialogue.

How do Edith and Lillian get onto our screens? A series? A feature?

We’re not picky. Considering that The Sharpest Needle is the fourth book, with more on the way, a series seems like the better option. There’s so much material we don’t have room to explore in the books.  And with the release of Mank on Netflix (which features many of the real-life figures who appear in Needle), there has certainly been renewed interest in the golden age of the studio system. The key is finding the right producer—someone who loves classic Hollywood film, possesses terrific comic chops, and has a track record with female characters. Tina Fey would be perfect. And if she wanted to play Edith herself, we wouldn’t say no.

 

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