Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures
by Emma Straub
When Elsa Emerson, the youngest of three sisters, is cast in one of her father’s plays at their family’s Cherry County Playhouse in Wisconsin, she is given her first taste of the limelight. This sets into motion her life’s trajectory — shooting like a rocket out of Wisconsin and into the warm allure of Hollywood. Here, she begins her transformation from small-town blonde to a sultry brunette named Laura Lamont — an Academy award-winning movie star.
What I loved most about this book was how authentic it felt. Elsa/Laura was largely fictitious (based loosely on this actress), her story an invention of Straub’s mind and careful historical research. However, having recently read a few memoirs of Hollywood starlets from this same era (Katharine Hepburn’s “Me: Stories of My Life” a couple years ago and Esther Williams “Million Dollar Mermaid” a couple months ago), I felt as though Miss Lamont could have been shooting on a sound stage just down the hall from either of these real-life ladies!
An interesting similarity I found in reading about Hepburn and Williams was the loss of a beloved sibling early in their lives. Both women experienced the death of a brother and in turn felt a heightened sense of responsibility and drive. Esther Williams explains in her book how her brother was the one who was supposed to “make it” in life and in Hollywood. After his death, she felt as though she was two people in one body — her brother Stanton and herself. Hepburn threw herself into her studies after losing her brother and even celebrated her brother’s birthday as her own.
Similarly, the eponymous Lamont loses the sister she deems to be the most talented and beautiful of the Emerson brood. I think this is a fascinating look at the sacrifice and loss that sometimes sits lurking behind a person’s fame and success. How many of Hollywood’s elite might point to a dark cloud they used to buoy themselves? How many have a tragedy that compelled them to succeed in place of, because of, or in spite of this missing piece?
The book also delves into intergenerational mental illness and suicidality as multiple branches sprouting from Laura’s family tree find themselves facing loss and depression. It’s no secret that mental illness, addiction, and all sorts of family problems (divorce, death, MONEY) have gone hand in hand with Hollywood since film started rolling. But looking at these issues over the course of an entire life, and within multiple generations of a family, is a more fitting lens for exploring the effects of our favorite tabloid fodder.
Who should read this book – Anyone interested in The Golden Age of Hollywood, film making during the studio system era, and intergenerational mental illness.