Cover image for My last movie star : a novel of Hollywood
My last movie star : a novel of Hollywood
Sherrill, Martha.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [2002]

Physical Description:
349 pages ; 20 cm
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Allegra Coleman is young, beautiful, and destined for stardom. Clementine James is a jaded journalist who has been persuaded to write one last celebrity profile, a piece on Allegra for Flame magazine. But when their road-trip interview ends in a car crash, Allegra vanishes into thin air, and America goes into a frenzy of round-the-clock TV coverage, candlelight vigils, and miraculous sightings. Clementine becomes a celebrity by proxy--and while recovering from her injuries, she receives a series of ghostly visits from Natalie Wood, Clara Bow, Myrna Loy, Loretta Young, Gloria Swanson, and other screen sirens of the past. As Tallulah Bankhead tells her, "It's agony, darling...bitter agony--watching everything slip away. Your looks. Your dough. Your mind. Your ass." Has the missing Allegra escaped such a fate? To find out, Martha Sherrill takes Clementine on a riotous, often hilarious journey inside the hideaways of Hollywood stars and the hangouts of Manhattan's power editors. Along the way, Sherrill captures the erotic jolt of celebrity and the way it affects the celebrated.My Last Movie Staris both a parody and parable of Hollywood, at once absurdly funny and weirdly plausible.

Author Notes

Martha Sherrill lives in the Washington, D.C., area.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Fed up with her manipulative editor, entertainment journalist Clementine James is packing up to move to her boyfriend's Virginia farm when Flame Magazine asks her to write an in-depth profile of captivating actress Allegra Coleman. When their interview ends in a car crash, Clementine awakes to find herself a celebrity. Allegra has vanished, and Clementine was the last person to see her. Allegra's disappearance catapults her into instant superstardom. Flame produces an "All-Allegra" issue, Allegra Web sites spring up overnight, and a candlelight vigil attracts the likes of John Travolta and Snoop Dogg. Meanwhile, sirens of Hollywood's past visit Clementine, smoking endless cigarettes and dispensing advice about men, movies, and the uncertain rewards of fame. With a less skilled writer, this device could get tiresome, but Sherrill makes these passages humorous and affecting. Jaded by L.A., skeptical of preening actors, Clementine is nevertheless--like us--in thrall to the movies and the larger-than-life personalities on screen. Sherrill has crafted an absorbing, note-perfect examination of Hollywood's culture of stardom, and film aficionados will savor the many cinematic references. Meredith Parets

Publisher's Weekly Review

Bette, Audrey, Angelina, Julia, Gwyneth-and now Allegra. In this first novel, veteran journalist and experienced celebrity profiler Sherrill (Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Esquire, etc.) brilliantly dissects the vicissitudes of fame and the absurdities of Hollywood idol worship. Sherrill's "It" girl, Allegra Coleman, believes she's creating her stardom herself-"Acting is mostly... having the balls to stay still and not move and letting the camera stare at you like some kind of pervert"-and is AWOL from her obligations at Cosmos Studios. With her on the road is jaded journalist Clementine James, who is doing her absolutely last celebrity profile for Flame, a popzine that she wants to abandon for life on a horse farm with her lover, Ned. Their trip stretches on and on-until a car crash brings it to a screeching halt. When Clementine awakens at the accident scene, she's lost an eye and Allegra's vanished. The world becomes obsessed with Allegra's fate while Clementine, the last person to see her alive, finds herself caught up in a media feeding frenzy. Vigils, air kisses with celebrities, endless gifts, interviews, photo ops and even a one-night stand with Allegra's TV star ex-boyfriend threaten to turn Clementine into a pop icon herself until mysterious "visits" from glamorous movie stars-Dorothy Lamour, Gloria Swanson, Loretta Young, Marion Davies, Myrna Loy and Tallulah Bankhead-teach her the fickleness of celluloid celebrity. It's popcorn parody for the soul, with plenty of butter. Extra perk: a fun "Filmography" glosses movies mentioned in the text. Agent, Philippa Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Feb. 11) Forecast: A clever sideways jacket image communicates this debut's giddy charms. Sherrill's profile-writing credentials will help sales, too-readers may pick up the novel for the bits of real-life celebrity gossip or to debate who the models for Allegra might be. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



CHAPTER 1 It didn't feel like a lark anymore. We had started out in Palm Springs that morning and now found ourselves on an empty stretch of Interstate 5 pointed north, still inland but edging slowly toward the coast. It was hot--strange Christmas weather. Allegra had insisted on driving. "It'll be more fun," she said. But she was dopey behind the wheel, was paying half attention, grinding gears, and swerving abruptly. The top was down and her blond hair kept blowing into her eyes and she'd leave it there. Knots had formed on the windward side of her head. She kept touching her bottom lip, nibbling it, and scratching her neck. I could hear the engine behind us, its low baritone growl. The old white Porsche sat so low to the ground that the heat-cracked highway was a blur of gray cement beside me. Allegra had borrowed the car from an old boyfriend, a recently dumped boyfriend, a TV star who looked like he wanted to be more than that but never would. He lacked the necessary depth, or mystery, or pain. He was probably wondering where the car was. He was probably wondering all kinds of things. Allegra had almost married him--a grotesquely large ring had been designed--but now she never mentioned him, not even to tell me this was his car. I had come across his name and address on a white registration stub in the glove box while searching for a tire-pressure gauge the day before: Tom Swimmer, 1147 El Cabron Drive, Hollywood, CA. He lived in one of the canyons, probably gazed foggily out his windows every morning, at the dry brush and brown hills and the smog line coming and going, and told himself life was good. The only problem was, he had to keep reminding himself. He'd been left behind--Allegra moved quickly--discarded, relinquished. "Isn't it amazing how you can forget a person exists?" I could still hear her saying. "They just slip from your mind." And I wondered how many days after we'd parted, after I'd done my work, asked my questions, taken my notes at night in the bathroom with the door closed while she watched TV on the hotel bed, comforted her through an ordeal or two-- a temporary girlfriend, an extemporaneous yes-man-- before she'd forget that I'd ever existed too. Or perhaps that process had already begun. Way off ahead, a big white box of an RV was taking up a point of road on the horizon. It was either stopped or going so slowly it looked stopped. I noticed it just as Allegra veered again, more dramatically than before, as though she'd seen the RV too and had been startled or awakened by it. She looked over at me and laughed. It's what she did when she didn't have another idea. My eyes met hers, then returned quickly to the road in a demonstration of seriousness. I had learned that prolonged eye contact with Allegra would initiate more eye contact, more talking, and then gesturing. She had to connect when she talked. She needed to meet another gaze even while driving. As we approached the RV, the Porsche's tires played with the center line, moved over the white slashes then back. Over and back again. It seemed deliberate, at a regular rhythm, as though Allegra was paying attention after all--toying with the RV, teasing it. And me. "It's weird how there's no traffic," she said as we roared past the camper. "Oh, somebody will turn up," I said, "when you don't expect it." "No cars for, like, miles." "It's Monday." "Oh yeah." She sped up. Her legs were stretched out in front of her, and I could see her bare feet in the shadows under the dashboard. When she pressed on the pedals, the blood left her toes, made them turn whiter, and I could see her new coat of reddish-purple toenail polish glistening in the dark. San Simeon was today's destination. Allegra insisted I see it before returning east. It was her "favorite place on earth," as she put it, "haunted and scary and full of ghosts." What would we do there? "Talk about the old days," she said. I went along. I was older, certainly smarter, had been picking up the tab for meals, the syrupy pancakes she ate almost every morning for breakfast, the Cobb salads and chef salads and wilted-spinach numbers with the hot bacon dressing she had for lunch (my wallet was bulging with receipts from Coco's), but this was Allegra's show entirely. It felt like a slightly dated road-trip picture. Everything was a little false and too laughy. The old white bathtub roaring toward a hilltop castle. Two gals roaring into the future. The journalist and the rising star--young, alive, learning from each other, writing in their respective diaries at night--except, I'm afraid, that fantasy was part of Allegra's show too. She was full of shows. Her handwriting was loopy and cutesy. She bought secondhand dresses at thrift stores. She washed her face with water and uncooked oatmeal. Everywhere she went, she left behind piles of old clothes and half-empty cardboard canisters of Quaker Oats. She was dreaming she was free, pretending she was still a girl, pretending she wasn't levelheaded, or a hard worker, or ambitious, or doing a sky dive toward some bull's-eye of fame. It was hard to remember whether she was sixteen or twenty-six or somewhere in between. She had been on her own for years, already been married and divorced, raised her younger half brothers, driven her semifamous parents and stepparents to drug-treatment centers and dry-out tanks. Her mother, the sometime B actress Kay Blyth, had eventually dried out so much she turned to ashes. Allegra drove to Big Bear Lake to scatter them. She was probably going to see a few million this year, now that Sphinxa was looking like it might be a hit, a controversy, something. The offers of more movies and more money were coming in every day, people wanting her, needing her, hoping to make some cash off her, gambling that she'd be golden and lucky and hardworking forever--that somehow she'd keep that thing about her, the girlishness, the irresistible careless-idiot thing that made you want her around, want what she had, and think, while you watched her and desired her, that you could get some too. Get some of that . . . what? Joy? Insousiance? Tendency to forget? "Do you ever worry, when you're sitting in a car, that there's something alive under your seat?" She was looking at me with a puzzled expression. She waved her hand around and finally pointed to the shiny wooden hump between us. "Like things stabbing you from underneath? I have that feeling sometimes, like there's something alive under the car, sort of lying in wait for me. You know, like a snake or a poison frog, a knife . . . some kind of long pipe. Do you have that?" Her voice was floaty and ethereal. She whispered, really, and her thoughts emerged in thin little bubbles that drifted out of her mouth and blew into the wind, bouncing down the long stretch of gray highway behind us and melting in the waves of heat. I could hardly hear her, barely caught the spume as it floated past me. The wind was whirring in my ears, and her blond hair was flying. Her lips moved as though in a silent picture. They were large lips--outlined by gravy-colored lipstick--and when they parted, shadows hit a small gap between her front teeth. At the Erawan and Two Bunch Palms, hotels in the desert, she had stretched out by the pool in a white polyester bikini that looked as old and dated as the car. The bottoms looked like wres- tling briefs. The cups of the bra were dented, old plastic and foam, and several sizes too small. "It used to be my mom's," she said. "Truly." When she talked about her mother, she grew neutral, quieter--seemed tired. And in the sun, she turned light pink, then deep rose, and by the end of the week she'd roasted to an oaky golden brown. As she grew dark, her teeth had become improbably white. "I've never had a tan before," she'd said, and I suppose I believed her. On the screen she was luminescent but almost translucent too. You saw her skin but felt you were seeing more, the insides of her. I wondered how a tan would change that, how differently she might refract the light. She had a movie to make soon--or rather, a movie she was under contract to make. But that was a commitment she appeared to be avoiding, a subject she didn't seem to want to discuss or had forgotten about already. Like Tom Swimmer. "I did it once on the beach in the pouring rain," she said by the pool one late afternoon when the sun was slipping behind the wall of the hotel and nobody else was around. On the subject of sex, she was open in the way women never are after they've become very famous, unless they happen to be crazy too. "It was nighttime," she said, "and I was all wet and cold but hot and sweating, if you know what I mean, and the waves were amazing. The dark sky was so moody. The guy was so amazing--some surfer dude from Newport Beach. Excerpted from My Last Movie Star: A Novel of Hollywood by Martha Sherrill All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.