Saturday, July 16, 2011

Keeping it Real

For my women's fiction work in progress (WIP), I'm in the process of writing a dramatic scene where the reader is let in on the other half of a family secret first revealed at the beginning of the story.  I know I'll be going back and revising this scene frequently, because (a) I'm writing out of order and will need to make sure it flows correctly, and (b) I want to make sure the dialogue is in keeping with the pieces of the puzzle the reader already has, because technically they have been introduced to the background but it wasn't completely explained (and I hope no one will be able to guess). In other words, I want it to ring true, not false.

Did you ever see the HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge?  There was a scene early on at a party where a woman was singing and the agent wanted to know who it was.  The camera zoomed in on three young women, a brunette, a blonde, and a black woman who was, of course, Dorothy Dandridge.  All three women introduced themselves to the agent, who said he wanted to make whomever was singing into a star (something else a little silly, because Dorothy Dandridge did not possess a particularly good singing voice, but I digress).  The blonde was Marilyn Monroe, at that point still a few years away from the superstar she would become.  The brunette "star wannabe" introduced herself as Ava Gardner, and therein lay the problem.

In 1951 Ava Gardner was a household name and had been for several years.  In addition to her acting career, she was also notorious for an affair she was having with Frank Sinatra, who was married at the time (they married late that year after his divorce).  Her pleasant singing voice had also been featured in the movie The Killers as well as on the soundtrack for the hit movie Showboat released that year (even though she was dubbed in the film).  She would not have to introduce herself to any man in America, particularly a Hollywood agent.  Offering to make her this star into a star was just plain silly.

In that same movie there is a scene where Dorothy brags to her agent that she is accustomed to Jim Crow, having been a performer all her life (including at the whites-only Cotton Club), and had traveled all over the South, then is shocked when she is told she cannot use the bathroom.  That struck me as about realistic as plastic dog poop.  Yet this phony-sounding scene was used to promote the film.

Writing is hard. Good, believable writing is even harder.


PatriciaW said...

Totally agree on the Ava Gardner point.

Re: Dorothy and Jim Crow, could it be that she had reached a point in her career that she thought her stardom would supersede Jim Crow and that's why she was shocked? I can see that.

Generally, I have problems with historical materials that don't ring true or that take events out of sequence/historical context.

bettye griffin said...

Good perspective, Patricia. I can't remember if the nightclub appearance was before or after Carmen Jones, the movie that made Dandridge a star, was released. I'm leaning toward after, which would certainly make your suggestion a possibility. Thanks for sharing.