Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The Chelsea Girls: 1950's Women in the Entertainment Industry vs. the McCarthy Era

I have wanted to read books by the author Fiona Davis, but didn't have the time due to all my review commitments. Then publicist Becky O'Dell representing the publisher of Davis' novel, The Chelsea Girls, approached me about reviewing it.  She asked me to post my review around  December 8th when their new paperback edition would be published.  I promised that the review would appear within the vicinity of that date on this blog, Flying High Reviews.  

My co-blogger Tara reviewed The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis and called it "fantabulous" here when this blog was known as Book Babe. I hoped to follow her example. So I accepted a digital copy of The Chelsea Girls from Dutton Books via Net Galley. 

Below is the cover of the new edition of  The Chelsea Girls. I feel that it authentically depicts the women who are shown in this novel.  They were living in the 1950's but were doing their best to avoid being confined by that decade's expectations of women.


The Chelsea Girls has a particular focus on the blacklisting of individuals as  alleged Communists during the McCarthy Era.  I had read non-fiction about this issue as a teenager such as The Strange Case of  Alger Hiss by William Allen Jowitt.  I knew about the Hollywood Ten, a group of Hollywood writers who were accused of being Communists and called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

I have never read any books about women accused of being Communists during this period, but I am now aware that playwright Lillian Hellman had actually been a member of the Communist Party and had been blacklisted during the McCarthy Era. Davis says in her Author's Note that the experience of The Chelsea Girls protagonist Hazel Ripley with HUAC was based on Lillian Hellman's.

Hazel was an actress and a playwright, but hadn't met with much success when she was blacklisted for attending an anti-fascist rally during WWII.  Like many of the accused in the McCarthy Era, there had been no real basis for Hazel being labeled a Communist.  

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible (1953)  about women being falsely accused of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials as an indirect representation of the red-baiting that was going on during the McCarthy Era.

I was inspired by Hazel's courage when she faced HUAC.  I also liked the fact that she was vindicated in the end by the respect of her community.  History shows us that before the end of the 1950's America had rejected both Communism and McCarthyism.   The Chelsea Girls makes me feel optimistic about America's emergence from its current political crisis.






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