When one thinks of author Edgar Rice Burroughs images of dense jungles and far off worlds come to mind but as I’ve shown in these reviews those certainly were not the only arrows in his quiver. Though in the case of his 1922 serialized story The Girl from Hollywood he really steps out of his comfort zone to give us a story of drug trafficking, lost love, and the corruption of the innocent.
Published in the pages of Munsey’s Magazine this is an interesting case of a story about prohibition written during the early days of this turbulent era in American history, and this story not only dealt with illegal distribution of alcohol but of heavy drugs like cocaine, morphine and heroine as well. The story follows two threads one being the Pennington family who run a large ranch in Northern California and the other of a young woman hoping to make it big in Hollywood. Let’s just say that Burroughs is not a fan of Hollywood and I’m betting his experience seeing his Tarzan being made into a film had some effect on this book and thus we get a book that is almost a diatribe about the evils and corruption of Hollywood versus the noble ranchers who care and love the Great Outdoors.
The title character is Shannon Burke a two-bit actress stuck mainly doing walk-ons and extra work in the movies and when she meets director Wilson Crumb she is tricked by him into taking cocaine which he tells her is only aspirin. Slowly Crumb increases her dependence on the drug until she is fully hooked, but Crumb does not win her virtue as she insists on going home to her place every night. She does end up working for him by selling cocaine, morphine and heroine out of his bungalow until one day when she gets a telegram informing her that her mother is gravely ill and must head up north to be with her. Crumb wanting to make sure she comes back only supplies Shannon with enough drugs to last her a week so that she will have to come crawling back to him to feed her addiction. Unfortunately for Crumb it turns out that Shannon’s mother’s place is next door to the Pennington spread and when Shannon’s mother passes away the Penningtons take her in and almost adopt her as one of their own. Seeing these good decent people and how they open their home to her helps Shannon break free from her past.
Added to the mix is even more drama; Grace Evans a young woman with a long understanding that she’d eventually marry Gus Pennington puts their marriage plans on hold so that she can pursue her dream to be an actress. She of course runs afoul of Wilson Crumb and is soon lured into doing nude scenes and his world of drugs and deceit. Meanwhile her brother Gus Evans is being blackmailed by shady partners of Wilson Crumb to help smuggle in drugs and alcohol through land owned by the Pennington’s. When Gus stumbles on to the smugglers route he ends up being framed for the smuggling himself and then later is set-up for a murder charge as well. High drama to say the least
This book is like reading a night time soap opera in the vein of Dallas or Knott’s Landing with very little action that fans of Burroughs have come to expect. There are no black & white sides here as even the nominal hero Gus Pennington has a substance abuse problem and not the brightest tool in the box. What elevates this book above its subject matter is the handling of Shannon Burke who is a complex and intriguing character and the real hero of the book as she battles her own inner demons.
This is not an easy book to recommend but it does have some interesting ideas and characters so if you do end up checking it out you won’t be too disappointed.
Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.