Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Glitter and be Gay

Kay's first two novels began life as serials in College Humor magazine. Glitter was published in book form in 1926, and Little Sins followed a year later. 

There’s really little point in giving detailed synopses of the plots. Suffice it to say that the books are full of glamorous young people doing the things that glamorous young people did back then. They go to dances and drive fast sexy cars. They drink too much and smoke endless cigarettes. They stay out until the wee hours and never rise before noon. They fall in and out of love, often with each others’ spouses, and sometimes with disastrous results. They…well, you get the idea.

Of course the books are dated, frequently in funny ways that the author certainly never intended. They do not, it must be readily admitted, have the timelessness of that greatest of their comtemporaries, The Great Gatsby. But they are a lot of fun. And to be fair, 85-year-old popular novels should really be judged not by how true to life they seem to us but by how true to life they were in their own day. They measure up pretty well in that regard.

Both novels are rare 
in their dust jackets
The only review in print of Glitter that I have been able to find appeared in the April 1926 issue of the campus publication The Ohio State Engineer. 
The Engineer’s reviewer found that the novel’s characters “in every way seem to be the people that we meet every day,” and went on to predict that “this book will soon be the best seller in college circles.” I cannot confirm whether or not that prediction ever came true, but according to Kay's "autobiography" This is on Me,  the book sold about 8,000 copies, apparently quite respectable for a first novel of the time.

Little Sins seems to have attracted a little more attention. In what is the earliest review of a Brush work by a major publication that I have seen, Time magazine had this to say:

The Significance. Nowadays it takes a mental eye of high velocity detail, the myriad activities of knowing young Manhattanites. There are so many things to do and everything is done so quickly. To cover the assignment with the thoroughness and mimetic accuracy (but not the rancor) of a Sinclair Lewis, and at the same time to create four central characters of breathless reality, and a Dickensian hurly-burly of minor characters, and to keep them moving through their swift social traffic under their own power and in their right positions, requires a highly developed social instinct and something akin to literary genius. Socially and book-technically, Little Sins is a stunning performance. And to its fundamental perfections are superadded real whimsy, real pathos, an unobtrusive cleverness at small talk.

Did you catch that?  "Mimetic accuracy of a Sinclair Lewis".  "Breathless reality".  "Literary genius".  "Stunning performance".

Though Glitter is cited as source, Kay gets
no credit on this lobby card for
The Drop Kick

Glitter’s story was filmed--twice, apparently--as silents. (A third, talking picture was planned but never came about.) The Drop Kick from 1927 starred Richard Barthelmess, and is mostly known today for an early appearance of a 20-year-old John Wayne.  (Keen-eyed admirers of the Duke can spot him in a crowd scene.) The second, according to This is on Me, was titled Football Coach, though there is no such film listed at As with so many other silent movies, we must assume this one lost. And although Time thought Little Sins “looks like another sure-fire [film] scenario,” that book never did make it to the screen.

Perhaps Time was right when it called the novel “one of those rare books with more electricity in its pages than can ever be added to it in a projection room.

Pifflingly Unimportant: Kay covered the 1925 Atlantic City Beauty Pageant for the Brush-Moore Newspaper chain of Ohio (her father-in-law was an owner). The experience provided material for Little Sins.

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