This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for years. I bought it because of the blockbuster movie Titanic.
The late Gloria Stuart (2010) was our beloved “Old Rose” in the movie. In 1997, she was 86 years old and made up to look 101.
She’d been acting her entire life, from “the flapper days in Santa Monica, California,” and although she gained early stardom, it would not be until Titanic that she became an award-winning household name.
I Just Kept Hoping is the memoir of her life.
Disclosure: This book is difficult for me to write about.
The story of how I got to this point unravels like this:
I bought the book, sight unseen (except the cover, of course), and put it on the shelf. Slight digression to say the cover is a lovely photo of Ms. Stuart.
I categorized it as “fluffy” and went on to heavier tomes and self-help-ier titles.
A few years later, I picked it up and began to read.
This is where it gets…
It is not – I repeat NOT – poorly written.
But it is…
(as I figured)
Kinda… and I hate saying this… annoyingly so.
Here’s what I think happened. And I have no inside scoop. Just guessing.
Stuart either jotted notes or an outline … or … possibly … spoke into a tape recorder.
Enter co-author, Sylvia Thompson who pulled it all together.
Yes, it is written in Stuart’s voice.
… as if she is talking to you …
You know how when you talk freely you might repeat words and get all sappy?
Like… and this is my example, not from the book:
It was a pretty day. I wore a pretty dress. I got a drink with a sweet, little umbrella that was so pretty!
I hope I don’t sound snarky because it’s not my intention.
The voice of the entire book just sounds…
And… well, it’s been said: a little annoying.
And I hate that I feel that way! Because I adored her in the movie and quite frankly, the contents of this book are wonderful!
This is a dishy book about old Hollywood and I LOVE LOVE LOVE that kind of stuff.
I love the photos!
In fact, Stuart’s life story is spectacular!
The writing? Not my bag.
I will keep the book for sentimental reasons.
In doing research for this post, I read that Stuart was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933 and of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936. (Link) I wondered if she was a contemporary of Marsha Hunt, who I discussed with (all-around Hollywood guy) Roger Memos for our interview. She didn’t talk about it in the book and I wondered why… because that would have added some depth.
I plugged in Stuart and Hunt’s names together on Google and found nothing. I did find one about actors who lived to over 100 and both were listed there. Ms. Hunt is still alive, too!
But to get back to the book itself…
I’d like to share a story from the book that gave me pause. Actually, I had a visceral response. Let’s see what you think.
My short version. Stuart’s GYN found a lump in her breast. She didn’t want anyone to know. She went through a first and second opinion, scheduled an appt with a surgeon for a lumpectomy, and had the surgery. She swore her grandson, who would be taking her back and forth, to secrecy. He was the ONLY person who knew.
For fourteen YEARS she kept this secret from EVERYone. Including **her husband**.
How in the hell?
This is how! She only let her husband see her naked in the dark. In “layers of chiffon”. Her breast only changed a little and he never noticed. (!!!)
Cancer never recurred.
She says she doesn’t remember why she eventually told him.
Her reason for hiding it? All the usual suspects from Murder, She Wrote, which I’ve mentioned frequently. I’ve talked about how in the olden days of pre-1990… a “child out of wedlock” was ******the worst thing that could happen****** !!!!! In such cases, one would pretend she was the child’s sister, not the mother, or put the child up for adoption, or have a family member raise the child as if it were their own. The point being to HIDE the truth.
Same with disease or crippling affliction. Remember An Affair to Remember? And yes, there is a Murder, She Wrote episode about it too!
So, there’s that.
In this case, there was also the fact that her husband at the time had nursed his late former wife with cancer, so Stuart didn’t want him to worry about that again.
On the one hand, kind. On the other, not so much.
So yes, this is a story about transparency vs privacy vs secrecy, with which I have had my own struggles.
The whole thing pissed me off. I feel that everyone in a scenario has a right to know what’s going on in their own life – in age-appropriate ways, for children.
But that’s just me.
You might find it all very sweet.
It all makes a kind of sense if you read this with an eye toward Stuart being an old-time-y Hollywood starlet who knew the Marx Brothers (her husband produced – or was it directed? – their movies). She shares stories about dinner parties, and war-time, and movie life in old-time California.
Did I already mention that I LOVE that kind of stuff? I thought so!
I give it a 10 in sudsies, a 9 in sentamentality, and a 5 in writing chops. Your mileage may vary.