Lady Be Good

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Based on the real life and tragic demise of Dorothy Hale, an actress and socialite who took Jazz Age New York by storm, Pamela Hamilton’s Lady Be Good is a richly detailed work of historical fiction that truly captures the atmosphere of the time and place, the personalities of the characters involved (both real and imagined), and the events that unfolded over the course of Hale’s extraordinary lifetime. What’s more, Hamilton combines all these factors to produce a surprisingly fast-paced and engaging story that fosters a real sense of sympathy and understanding for Dorothy.

Born into a life of wealth and privilege, Dorothy Donovan rejects familial expectations and chooses to pursue a career on Broadway. Following a stint as a Ziegfeld showgirl at age nineteen, she finds success as a dancer after Fred Astaire offers her a role in his production of Lady, Be Good. Although an unfortunate injury prematurely ends her dancing career, Dorothy’s star continues to rise and she finds some further success after moving to Hollywood to act in movies. Later, she shifts her focus to art and literature and again has brushes with fame and fortune.

Along the way, Dorothy becomes involved in several important romantic relationships, including a brief first marriage and, more significantly, a second marriage to famed artist Gardner Hale. She also forms close friendships with a number of notable figures, including Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, James Roosevelt, and Frida Kahlo. Sadly, despite capturing the public’s attention as the in-demand “It girl” of her time, Dorothy’s personal life rarely proves fulfilling in the long term.

Many of the events and personalities featured in Lady Be Good will be familiar to fans of Dorothy Hale and scholars of the golden age of Hollywood, as will the calamitous episode that opens the novel, although Hamilton recreates and augments them in intriguing and engaging ways, which ensures that the story still has plenty of suspense and a number of surprises. Hamilton has clearly dedicated substantial time and effort to researching Dorothy’s life and the lives of those close to her, bringing a level of authenticity and detail to the story that should impress even those who already feel familiar with it.

The remarkable nature of much of Dorothy’s life, and the fact that she knew so many famous figures and was present for so many major events, mean that her story should also appeal to those who have perhaps not heard of her before but who enjoy atmospheric and eventful historical fiction. Likely to be of particular interest is Hamilton’s take on the reasons behind Dorothy’s shocking death, which is inspired by various inconsistencies she unearthed during the research process and which adds a certain air of mystery and danger to the story.

Lady Be Good is the enthralling story of an astonishing life lived largely in the spotlight, with all the good and bad that entails. Hamilton clearly has a deep appreciation for all that Dorothy was and all that she achieved, and her enthusiasm for both the core story and the period in which it is set render the novel a true delight to read.

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Author Pamela Hamilton
Star Count 4.5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 298 pages
Publisher Koehler Books
Publish Date 31-Mar-2021
ISBN 9781646632725 Buy this Book
Issue June 2023
Category Historical Fiction


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