A great rollercoaster rags-to-riches-to-rags tale of Hollywood’s first black sex goddess.
• Like Elvis, like Marilyn, the first black film superstar didn’t die tragically, but lives among us still, changed out of all recognition…
• This is the story of the tragic rise and redemptive fall of Hollywood’s first black sex symbol
• Propelled out of Depression-era poverty by the ambition of her mother and her own talents, young Irene O’Brien finds she attracts attention easily – both welcome (she is talent-spotted from Mississippi to Harlem to Hollywood) and unwelcome (at six, a fat, over-friendly storekeeper gets altogether too excited when she sits on his lap…)
• She blazes a trail no other black performer has taken before and becomes an international sex symbol in the 1950s – ‘the black Monroe’
• Fame and fortune come running: she is the first black woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress
• But happiness eludes her: her celebrity marriage never works; her daughter is autistic; and the studios soon tire of her as she ages
• Her descent into drunkenness and derangement ends with her very mysterious ‘death’ in the mid-1960s at the age of forty-three. But, beaten but not bowed, Venus Johnson rises from the ashes of Irene O’Brien to tell her tale and live out her days in tranquillity…
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Irene Matthews is born into an impoverished and abused childhood in the Depression-hit Harlem of the 1920s. Poor and uneducated, inspired by the atmosphere of the Harlem Renaissance and the blues of Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, Irene dreams--but dares not hope--of becoming a showgirl. Aspirant grit and extraordinary circumstances combine, and Hollywood manufactures her dream through the decisive force of producer Samuel Gottlieb. She is reborn Irene O'Brien, sex symbol, Oscar-nominated movie star, and groundbreaking phenomenon, shattering the moulds of both the Black Mammie and White Bubble Gum Venus.
Marsha Hunt's Like Venus Fading brilliantly depicts Irene's luminary ascent to--and harrowing descent from--fame. The novel movingly and incisively shows how Irene becomes a victim of the nightmare of Hollywood's inhumanity, and its racial anxieties and sexual fascination with black femininity (the real life Adelaide Hall, known as the "lightly-tanned Venus", and the legendary Josephine Baker, are near at hand as compound models for Hunt's fictional memoir). Irene revels in the apparent security of material wealth ("Pretty shoes always helped me look other people in the eye"), but finds that the price of her success is the burden of the intensely erotic image projected onto her exoticised body.
Destroyed as a black star and a victim of her times, Irene remakes an anonymous identity under the stars on the roof of a young--and unlikely--saviour who challenges her with a new language of race consciousness and enables her to confront the final reality that "nobody knows us like we know ourselves." Hunt's study of fame and its costs is an utterly enthralling--and painfully well written--story, which exposes the ways in which racial myths continue to shape the perceptions of 20th-century America. --Rachel HolmesReview:
Reviews of Repossessing Ernestine
‘An amazing story, full of twists and turns, Dickensian coincidences and discoveries… Repossessing Ernestine moves the reader to anger but should remind most people of what being human and humane is really about’
Eileen Battersby, Irish Times
‘No anger over the wrongs of the past could be as eloquent as this cool truth-telling. Let this book get a grip on you – you won’t regret it’
Jill Paton Walsh, Sunday Express
‘I was moved to tears’
Val Hennessy, Daily Mail
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Book Description Flamingo, 1998. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Second Impression. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX000225686X
Book Description Flamingo, 1998. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # 000225686X