Cover image for Coast to coast : a family romance
Coast to coast : a family romance
Johnson, Nora.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2004]

Physical Description:
274 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
PS3519.O2833 Z463 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This brilliant, funny, and moving memoir of growing up in a fractured world is penned by the daughter of the famed Hollywood producer and screenwriter, Nunnally Johnson. of photos.

Author Notes

Nora Johnson was born in Hollywood, California on January 31, 1933. She attended the Brearley School in Manhattan and the Abbot Academy in Massachusetts. She received a bachelor's degree from Smith College in 1954. Her book, The World of Henry Orient, was published in 1958 and was based on her experiences at Brearley. It was adapted into a movie in 1964 and a musical in 1967.

She was a novelist and memoirist. Her novels included The Two of Us, Tender Offer, and Perfect Together. Several of her memoirs dealt with her relationship with her father screenwriter Nunnally Johnson including Flashback, You Can Go Home Again: An Intimate Journey, and Coast to Coast: A Family Romance. She also wrote numerous book reviews, short stories, and essays. She died on October 5, 2017 at the age of 84.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

When your father is celebrated Hollywood screenwriter/producer Nunnally Johnson, and movie royalty such as Bogie and Bacall attend your birthday parties, life may seem impossibly exciting. But when your parents divorce and your mother tears you away from L.A.'s glamour for a more vagabond Manhattan milieu, your new life pales by comparison. Though she may have come from an enviable background, Johnson's pedigree couldn't protect her from the emotional turmoil faced by any child of a broken home. She was frequently lonely, certainly confused, and her peripatetic lifestyle is most definitely unenviable. With a foot in both camps and a stake in neither, Johnson finds herself routinely passed between two homes on two coasts. As she embarks on solitary cross-country train trips to visit one parent, then the other, Johnson seizes these opportunities to reflect on a remarkable, and fleeting, chapter in American culture while struggling to discover her own identity. An acclaimed author in her own right, Johnson, in this captivating coming-of-age memoir, reveals an ethereal time teeming with extraordinary people. --Carol Haggas Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Daughter of Hollywood producer/ screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and actress Dorris Bowdon, the author spent her childhood, after her parents' divorce, shuttling between parents and coasts. She eloquently evokes the 1940s and '50s: the war years and postwar Communist paranoia, bombed-out London and the enormous pressure on women to marry. Johnson also vividly contrasts New York, with its cocktail parties and cabs, and Los Angeles, with its swimming pools and chauffeurs. Intelligent, curious and troubled, the adolescent Johnson is absolutely privileged, except she doesn't feel at home in either family. This is a book full of superstars, and the confusion and loneliness of a child of divorce are amplified by the proximity of celebrities. When the teenaged Johnson and a pal attend a grown-up party, mean, drunk Johnny Mercer insults Johnson's bulimic girlfriend, and Humphrey Bogart comes to the rescue. At Smith, Johnson and Sylvia Plath attend a class together. Her descriptions of the poet are convincingly disturbing, as are those of talented classmates who abandoned bright futures for marriage. Eventually, Johnson herself succumbs, and in surprising contrast to the rest of the book's dreamy impressionism, she ends in high suspense, walking down the aisle in her bridal gown toward a man she doesn't love, unable to figure out how to say no. Agent, Helen Brann. (Aug.) Forecast: Both this work and Kate Lardner's Shut Up He Explained: The Memoir of a Blacklisted Kid (Forecasts, Apr. 12) should attract a literary and film-oriented audience. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Close behind Kate Lardner's Shut Up He Explained: The Memoir of a Blacklisted Kid comes this account of life with a screenwriter father (Nunnally Johnson, The Grapes of Wrath). Unlike Lardner, Johnson (The World of Henry Orient) was separated from her father not by prison bars but by divorce, spending summers in Hollywood with him and his new family and the remainder of the year with her mother in New York City. In between lay countless cross-country journeys, during which she struggled to adopt an appropriate identity for each environment. This struggle eventually led to an identity crisis, which is still not resolved at the end of the book, when she marries a petroleum executive and prepares to move with him to Saudi Arabia. Johnson's gift for description brings to life Southern California and the golden days of the Hollywood colony, as well as the heady atmosphere of Manhattan caf? society. She is at her best, though, when recounting her efforts to define herself as both a woman and a person in 1950s America. It is hoped that Johnson will continue her memoir, which is highly recommended for public libraries. M.C. Duhig, Carnegie Lib. of Pittsburgh (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One I was born in the old Hollywood Hospital a few years after the talkies came in. You might even say because the talkies came in, since the reason we were there was so my father, Nunnally Johnson -- along with hundreds of other writers -- could make money writing dialogue for the movies. It was the depths of the Great Depression, the bottom of the birthrate curve, the year Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, the end of Prohibition, the year we went off the gold standard, the day after Hitler came to power...but Los Angeles was a boomtown. The local news was: Cavalcade won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1933, and Nathanael West sold Miss Lonelyhearts to Zanuck for his new Twentieth Century Pictures. Movies based on my father's first two scripts for Paramount -- Mama Loves Papa and A Bedtime Story -- were released, as were King Kong and Dinner at Eight. It was the year the Screen Writers Guild was founded, the year of drought and the Dust Bowl and the earthquake that cost $40 million and killed 120 -- in the middle of which my parents picked me up and ran out to the patio of our $175-a-month ranch house in Beverly Hills, the nanny being fast asleep. As they waited for the ground to crack open beneath their feet, I smiled for the first time in my very short life. My father's first salary, $300 a week, doubled in a year, and went to $2,000 five years and twenty scripts later. Much happened during that time. We moved from Bedford Drive to Maple to Beverly to Camden. Hedy Lamarr's picture Ecstasy was seized by the U.S. Customs for indecency. The Farmers Market opened on Fairfax. Nunnally produced Dimples, starring Shirley Temple. Bertolt Brecht, Arnold Schoenberg, and other future Hollywood artists fled the darkening political scene in Europe. My father turned down a certain Civil War novel because he thought nobody would go and see a picture about two people named Scarlett and Rhett. Three young actresses, Linda Darnell, Mary Healy, and Dorris Bowdon, arrived from the South in search of stardom. Among Nunnally's scripts during this period were The House of Rothschild, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back, The Prisoner of Shark Island, The Road to Glory, and Jesse James. While his star rose, my mother went to auctions, decorated houses, played polo, and took speech lessons to get the Flushing (Queens) out of her voice. While he talked, laughed, and drank at the Brown Derby and Chasen's with the likes of George Jessel, Ben Hecht, William Faulkner, Herman Mankiewicz, PhilipWylie, Gene Fowler, Harry Ruby, Oscar Hammerstein, Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash, Jack Benny, George Burns, Groucho Marx, Robert Benchley, Don Stewart, and Dash Hammett, she lunched and played badminton, had facials and massages, and, at one party, held the inebriated Scott Fitzgerald's head in her lap.When beautiful actresses clamored for parts in Nunnally's pictures and solicited further attentions, she wept at home, indulged in some revenge flirting with John O'Hara, or went on extended cruises, one of which led to great disappointment because, though other countries had welcomed her, she was refused a visa to Russia. In 1938 the rains came, ending the drought. Dorris Bowdon came to Nunnally's office, determined to get a part in Jesse James. My mother, the nanny, the Swedish chauffeur, and I packed up the big black Cadillac and drove to New York, leaving California forever. The next year The Grapes of Wrath opened with Dorris Bowdon playing Rosasharn, and in February of 1940 Nunnally and Dorris's marriage was announced on the radio by Walter Winchell. My mother cried, the nanny cried, I cried. In 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and my mother's new lover, Commander Jo Golinkin, was called to active duty in the Pacific. After their divorce my parents sent me back and forth twice a year. I was supported by the gold on one coast and schooled on the other, as the British children in India were shipped home to be educated. I and others like me knew the Super Chief menus, the porters on the Twentieth Century, and the Albuquerque train station the way other children know the way to school and the crossing guard. We learned how to have two homes, to drop names of stars and producers and restaurants, to be two people at once. We got used to being taken to "21" and Romanoff's and hearing about the war and the society and how rotten everything was and how poor people were and how we should clean our plates because of the starving Armenians/Chinese/whatever group was currently worse off. We grew up amid contradictions...we knew everything and nothing. Copyright (c) 2004 by Nora Johnson Excerpted from Coast to Coast: A Family Romance by Nora Johnson 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.