All the Stars in the Heavens

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By Adriana Trigiana

Adriana Trigiana is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Shoemaker’s Wife, the Big Stone Gap series, the Valentine series, the Viola series for young adults, and the bestselling memoir Don’t Sing at the Table. Trigiani wrote and directed the major motion picture Big Stone Gap, based on her debut novel and filmed entirely on location in her Virginia hometown.

Adriana Trigiani’s All the Stars in the Heavens is a romantic novel about the Golden Age of Hollywood. The novel focuses on the life and career of Loretta Young and begins when Loretta was a young starlet in the early 1930s. She met Spencer Tracy, and in her efforts to not break up his marriage, Loretta renounced love. Tracy was married and had children so Gretchen, Loretta’s real name, refused to break up his marriage or marry him and claimed theirs was a platonic affair. Few believed her, but then, fans prefer salacious gossip to the facts.

The main thrust of the novel is Young’s affair with Clark Gable. They met on the set of The Call of the Wild, filmed on Mount Baker in the North Cascades of Washington. During the seven weeks of filming in the isolated northwest, Gable and Young carried on a love affair that resulted in the birth of her first daughter, Judith. Shortly before her death, and after the death of Gable, Young claimed that Gable had date raped her. In the movie world of the ’30s, the big studios kept their stars under strict contracts. Starlets such as Loretta Young didn’t dare subject themselves or their costars to the possibility of scandal. Young’s pregnancy was hidden from the public and from Gable because of the strict Hays Code and morals clause in her contract.

The popularity of the stars and the profits of the studio were closely guarded. Loretta wanted to protect Gable because of his prominence in the film industry. Not even Young’s closest friends knew the truth of her pregnancy, and she kept the secret for most of her life despite the strenuous efforts of Hollywood reporters at the time to discover the facts and publish the story. There’s no way for the reader to know whether Young’s version is true or whether the truth was she had an affair with Gable.

Throughout the novel, Trigiani asks, “What is the price of keeping secrets?” There’s no one answer; each reader must decide for herself. It seems that the only justification is to keep harm from coming to another person.

David Niven is another Hollywood star mentioned in the novel. During the time in which the novel is set, he was trying to break into Hollywood films. He became a close friend of Tracy, Gable and Young. He was helped by Gable and Young and enjoyed their friendship throughout his life.

One of the most interesting characters in the novel is the woman whom Trigiani invents as personal secretary to Young, Alda Ducci. Ducci is a former nun released by the Mother Superior of her convent, who feels that Ducci is unsuitable to be a nun working with young, unwed mothers. She is sent to be Young’s secretary. As she learns about film and movie stars, Ducci becomes an indispensable part of Young’s life. Ducci answers Young’s mail, packs her suitcase and consoles her. Over the years, the two women become close friends

While on location on Mount Baker with Young, Ducci meets the man who will become her husband and lifelong companion, Luca Chetta, a set painter for the production. His realistic backdrops were used to liven up the scenes, since few films of the era were filmed on location. The relationship between Ducci and Chetta is as complex as that of Young and Gable. Nevertheless, they fall deeply in love and get married during the filming of the movie, with Gable and Young as their witnesses.

Throughout the novel, Trigiani explores her themes: What is love? What is family? The Young family is portrayed as a closely knit family unit. Gladys Belzer, Loretta’s mother, is a single mother trying to raise her four daughters and establish her interior design business. Not only did Belzer create an interior design business that was popular in Hollywood, she also became the owner of considerable properties as a safeguard against the fickleness of Hollywood. The oldest daughters help with expenses by appearing in films. Loretta Young had appeared in more than 50 films before she met Tracy and Gable.

Trigiani explores the life of the single mom, the couple on the verge of divorce, the couple who wants children and can’t have them, and the starlet looking for true love. All of the stories are tragic, and most have no resolution. The way Trigiani deals with each aspect of love makes the novel interesting and worth reading. HLM