Of the partially ghostwritten Emilie Loring books, Forsaking All Others is one of my favorites. This is not the 1934 movie with Clark Gable, Robert Montgomery, and Joan Crawford. That’s an entirely different story, although it looks like fun.
Forsaking All Others is a tussle of cross-purposes between actress Jennifer Hayden and her physician husband, Bradley Maxwell:
“Jenny didn’t expect to live happily ever after with her new husband. After all, they didn’t love each other. And the Show Business world was stunned that the dazzling young star would give up her brilliant future for a new life in a sleepy desert town. Jenny herself almost regretted the marriage. But it wasn’t long before her flair for the dramatic started changing the small town of Desert Winds and the lives of everyone in it… including her own.”Amazon description, Forsaking All Others
When I first read Forsaking All Others, I was living in California where this story takes place. Desert Winds is a made-up town at the edge of the Mojave Desert but not too far a drive to Los Angeles and Hollywood–think Barstow, Bakersfield, or thereabouts. I hadn’t yet been to Maine or Massachusetts, but I knew California, so I was excited to read on.
Much is made of the desert’s emptiness, a metaphor for Jenny’s prospects at the outset of the story. Her first ray of hope comes in the guise of Mrs. Gates, who runs the local motel.
At the motel the desert had not been allowed to have its own way. There were flower boxes and flowering bushes and palm trees.
… Jenny did not quite know how it happened, but within a quarter of an hour she was chattering as freely as though she had known Mrs. Gates all her life.
Emilie Loring did not write Forsaking All Others, nor was it written by her estate’s oft-used ghostwriter, Elinore Denniston or by Emilie’s two sons, who often collaborated in their latter years. Selden Loring died in August 1970, and the full task fell to the remaining brother, Robert.
Emilie Loring’s short stories “Why?” (1914) and “Converting Phyllis” provided elements of the novel, and Robert supplied the rest. [You can read “Why?” here: An Original, Emilie Loring Story: “Why?” and Part two: Why?]
Of the brothers, Selden was the writer, not Robert. Then again, since his father’s death, and particularly in Emilie’s last years, Robert had read Emilie’s drafts for her and knew how she wrote, what she corrected, and why.
How did he do?
Emilie’s first lines usually got right to business:
The engine shrieked a warning. Porters shouted, “All aboard!” As the train shivered into action, a black cocker spaniel jumped from the baggage car.Here Comes the Sun!
The elevator shot to the fourteenth floor. “Far’s we go,” announced the grim-faced operator.Fair Tomorrow
The French window in the library shook from the impact of a frenzied fist. A white face pressed against the glass.It’s a Great World!
Robert’s first line wandered:
In spite of the STANDING ROOM ONLY sign under the words MATINÉE TODAY, a patient line, made up for the most part of women, stretched from the box office, through the lobby, and out into West Forty-fourth Street, where they stood huddled against the blustering December wind.Forsaking All Others
Emilie Loring’s young women were generally twenty-four or twenty-five, and the men were thirty-two. As this story begins, Jennifer Hayden is only twenty-one and already a Broadway star. According to the timeline, she must have gotten her first part right after high school, at eighteen. Bradley Maxwell is twenty-six and already a physician. Focused on their careers, neither is looking for love.
The early pages are unpolished. Two-year-old Richard needs “that medicine for fever,” and Bradley Maxwell has “a good nose and chin.” The initial antagonism between Jenny and Brad is exaggerated, and Jenny is downright rude–never a characteristic of an Emilie Loring protagonist.
Moreover, the premise strains credulity. Jenny is caring for her sister’s orphaned son, and the boy’s half-uncle wants to gain custody, presumably to get control of the boy’s eventual fortune. The marks against Jenny as guardian are that she is unmarried, an actress, and lives in New York City. The boy has asthma and needs to move to a warm, dry place. Remarkably, the boy’s doctor comes to see her performance in the company of a young doctor who must marry to get the one job that apparently would suit him at present–in a desert town in California. What else was there to do but give up her career, marry a stranger, and move?!
Character influences writing, and Robert’s views and personality made Brad the hero of this story and Jenny an immature woman who requires his guidance. In fairness, he strikes a chord for men whose child-rearing strengths have been under-rated. Brad is the one who best handles little Richard. Jenny is not good at it, and she doesn’t even like homemaking–another deviation from Emilie Loring’s characters. For me, the juxtaposition goes too far–Brad too condescending, Jenny too inept.
Once underway, however, Forsaking All Others is an absorbing, enjoyable story. There is no mystery and no crime (despite Joe’s willingness to undertake one). Instead, this story is about people trying to control one another, especially parents and children, to gain approval, independence, attention, or respect.
The rough edges in dialogue fall away about one-third of the way through, and characters behave more as we expect Emilie Loring characters to behave. Jenny becomes charming, behaves with insight, and helps others. She and Brad behave more equally toward one another. The flow is better, too. I wonder if there was more of Emilie’s source material used that I haven’t yet discovered.
By the end, all conflicts are resolved, and everyone finds a partner–except, of course, gossipy Mrs. Fulmer and Chatty Charlie. Like the farces Emilie’s father wrote, the whole affair is unbelievable, but with intriguing scenes and engaging dialogue, Forsaking All Others is an enjoyable read.
Save the date!
Our annual Emilie Loring tea will be Thursday, July 7th at 4:00 p.m. in your time zone.
You will receive an invitation soon with all of the details.
Watch for something EXTRA-SPECIAL this year!