Hollywood noir and celebrity gossip has long captured the collective imagination, transcending boundaries, and influencing other aspects of popular culture, including literature. Hollywood, with its glamorous façade and captivating secrets, has become an enigmatic world that enthralls audiences and authors alike. This article delves into the reasons behind society's captivation with these themes and explores how they have found their way into contemporary fiction, shaping modern storytelling and creating a bridge between reality and fiction.
The enduring appeal of Hollywood noir
Part of the appeal of Los Angeles as the home of American cinema is the quality of the light. Los Angeles is almost preternaturally golden; at a certain time of the afternoon, it can be almost comically difficult to drive west into the sun’s rays. Those rays provide perfect cover for filming off a soundstage; they also provide a striking juxtaposition to
Hollywood noir, characterized by its dark and mysterious undertones, originated from the classic film noir genre. It focuses on the underbelly of the glamorous world of Hollywood, shedding light on its hidden truths, corruption, and moral ambiguity. Contemporary society's fascination with this genre can be attributed to its portrayal of human flaws and the allure of the forbidden. Readers and writers alike are drawn to stories that explore the darker side of fame and wealth, tapping into their desire to uncover the truth behind the glitzy exterior.
And writers don’t have to scratch too deeply under the surface for Hollywood noir inspiration. Take James Ellroy, whose L.A. Quartet kicks off with a fictionalized look at the real-life murder of Beth Short, an aspiring actor also known as the Black Dahlia (a nickname taken from the noir film The Blue Dahlia, penned by none other than the grandfather of Los Angeles noir, Raymond Chandler himself). Or Steph Cha’s masterpiece, Your House Will Pay, which uses a fictionalized version of the 1991 murder of Latasha Harlins to explore the racial tensions boiling beneath the Southland’s surface.
The thrill of celebrity gossip
In 1911, the first movie studio opened on the Sunset Strip—and approximately fifteen minutes later, the first gossip rags (precursors to the tabloids we know today) went into business. I’m exaggerating, but not by much: celebrity gossip became an industry right alongside movie-making, with actor’s reputations and off-screen antics impacting their box office returns.
Then, as now, celebrity gossip offered a blend of the salacious and the mysterious. It’s storytelling every bit as compelling as any movie that graced the screen. The intrigue of celebrity gossip lies in the desire to get a glimpse of the lives of those living in the limelight. Readers find a peculiar pleasure in peering into the personal struggles and secrets of celebrities, blurring the lines between reality and fiction. Consider Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: Jenkins created a pastiche of “real” Hollywood gossip and fiction to offer readers the chance to step behind the Tinseltown curtain, while staying safe within their own lives.
In my novel, The Hurricane Blonde, I attempted to bring together both of these obsessions: Hollywood noir and celebrity gossip. In The Hurricane Blonde, my main character, Salma Lowe, comes from a famous Hollywood family, and she herself was once a child actor before a fall from grace (mercilessly documented in the tabloids) precipitated by her sister’s unsolved murder. When the novel opens, Salma is giving true crime bus tours through Hollywood—which offered me the chance to share some of my favorite myths and anecdotes—when she discovers a body of a young woman who looks strikingly like her sister. It's Salma’s knowledge of these dark myths that will guide her back into the heart of Hollywood, as she gets pulled into investigating a new murder, and trying to unravel the truth about what happened to her sister all those years ago.
I modeled Salma and other characters in the novel on various real-life personalities, blurring the line between fact and fiction as writers so often do. Hollywood noir and celebrity gossip offer readers a chance to look deeply into their own murky desires without having to endure the real-life consequences of the messy choices that thrill us. Hollywood glitz and glamour endures; but so, too, does its darkness, offering an enticing blend of escapism—and cautionary tales.
'Hollywood loves a dead girl. She’s always so photogenic.'
'Lose yourself in the glittering allure and dark underbelly of Hollywood' - Halley Sutton
Salma Lowe is the offspring of Hollywood royalty and a former child-star turned guide on a true crime bus tour. She understands beter than anyone how Hollywood chews up and spits out starlets.
Her own sister, Tawney, dubbed the ‘Hurricane Blonde’, was murdered in the mid-'90s, and the case remains unsolved. Salma herself has sworn off acting and just hopes to stay sober and out of trouble, until she discovers another dead woman with an uncanny resemblance to Tawney on the very property where her sister once lived and died.
Salma has to face the fact that a killer has struck again and with the police investigation going nowhere, she needs to plunge herself back into Los Angeles’ seductive allure to find the culprit. But the search for the truth will take her deep into the roten heart of Hollywood past and present, and into her family’s dark secrets.
HALLEY SUTTON is the author of The Lady Upstairs and The Hurricane Blonde, the latest novel to scratch the below the surface of Tinseltown. She lives in Los Angeles, where she immerses herself in Hollywood trivia. She has a degree in creative writing from the University of California Santa Cruz, and a master’s in writing from Otis College of Art and Design. Her writing has appeared in Ms., Daily Beast, Crime Reads and Los Angeles Review of Books. Halley is a true crime fan, and she is obsessed with Hollywood, so much so that a trip on a true crime bus tour around Los Angeles inspired her to write The Hurricane Blonde.
Hurricane Blonde By Halley Sutton is out 8th August 2023 price £14.99 ISBN 9780749030629