Alli Sinclair, an adventurer at heart, has won multiple awards for her writing. She is Australian and has lived in Argentina, Peru and Canada, and has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains, worked as a tour guide in South and Central America and has travelled the globe. She enjoys immersing herself in exotic destinations, cultures and languages but Australia has always been close to Alli’s heart. Alli hosts retreats for writers and presents writing workshops around Australia, as well as working in film on international projects. She’s a volunteer role model with Books in Homes and is an ambassador for the Fiji Book Drive. Alli’s books explore history, culture, love and grief, and relationships between family, friends and lovers. She captures the romance and thrill of discovering old and new worlds, and loves taking readers on a journey of discovery.
Words // Alli Sinclair
Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a fascination with actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age—their grace, fashion sense, beauty inside and out, sense of self and, sometimes, sass have always felt larger than life. So, when I set out to write The Cinema at Starlight Creek, I wanted to bring this special magic to the characters, especially the heroine of the 1950s story, Lena Lee.
Lena is a culmination of some of my favourite Hollywood actresses whose lives off-screen were as fascinating as their on-screen characters. Not only had I grown up watching the movies these actresses starred in, I have spent a lifetime watching documentaries and reading their biographies and autobiographies. So to celebrate some of the most memorable women of classic Hollywood, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite actresses and some little-known facts about these amazing women.
Mae has been quoted as saying, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough”, and she certainly lived by her words. In 1927 she wrote a play called Sex and landed in jail for obscenity, sparking the start of a turbulent battle with censors that lasted her entire career. She was offered her first Hollywood contract when she was thirty-eight years old and with incredible writing skills, she wrote nine out of the thirteen films she starred in. Mae was business-savvy and had excellent negotiating skills and by 1935, she became the highest-paid actor in Hollywood (and the second highest-paid individual in America). Although renowned for her curvy figure, blonde locks, double entendres and wit, it was Mae’s passion for questioning censorship and demanding equality that proved women, no matter what age, can live their dreams and do it on their terms.
Although Hedy Lamarr’s beauty inspired Cat Woman and Disney’s Snow White, it is her dedicated work on inventions that is most captivating. Born in Austria in 1914, Hedy worked in German and Czechoslovakian films, which brought her to the attention of the producers at MGM in Hollywood. During the day she would film movies with co-stars such as Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Jimmy Stewart and on breaks and in the evening, she would work on her inventions. It was Hedy who suggested to her aviation tycoon friend Howard Hughes that he consider redesigning his aeroplanes to make them more streamlined, like the fast birds and fish she had been studying. Take a look at the planes of today and you’ll see Hedy’s legacy flying through the skies.
During WWII Hedy wasn’t content to stay in Hollywood and make money while others suffered, so she considered quitting to offer her services to the newly established Inventor’s Council in Washington. She decided to remain in Hollywood once her work with composer friend Georg Antheil ended up having a major impact on communications in the war. They came up with a frequency-hopping signal that meant a third party couldn’t jam the signal. This invention has led to technology we use today—Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth. While Hedy’s inventions have had an impact on our lives today, it’s only in recent years that the world has learnt about them. This quote from Hedy beautifully sums up her life as an inventor and actress: “All creative people want to do the unexpected.”
Like a lot of kids of my generation, I grew up watching repeats of I Love Lucy, but it wasn’t until I was older that I discovered how influential Lucille Ball was in the world of TV production. When Lucy married Desi Arnaz, a Cuban-American actor, she insisted he play her husband in the show she’d created—I Love Lucy. She turned forty just before the pilot aired, and the show was the biggest break of her career. Although a comedy, the show pushed boundaries at the time by having an interracial couple and Lucille was the first real-life pregnant actress to play a pregnant woman on television (even if the word “expecting” was used rather than “pregnant”!).
Although Lucille and Desi were a fabulous match on-screen, their life off-screen was more dramatic. Despite their rocky relationship, they formed Desilu Productions in 1950, making Lucille the first female to run a major Hollywood studio. The production company became the largest in America and produced Star Trek, The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. Lucille was intelligent, beautiful and funny and her passion in life has brought joy to millions over the generations. As Lucille Ball once said, “It’s a helluva start, being able to recognise what makes you happy.”
Keen to read more books about women in history?
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