Rachel Shukert has always been obsessed with the fascinating lives of Old Hollywood icons — people like Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Fred Astaire, Loretta Young, and Clark Gable. Her deep knowledge of the goings-on of Hollywood’s golden years is on display in her young-adult novel series, Starstruck, which follows three young starlets — Margo, Amanda, and Gabby — as they try to make it in the pictures. Based heavily on the lives of real Hollywood stars, the books are like Valley of the Dolls for a new generation, set in an era when fierce talent and playing the part were vital to survival on and off camera. Love Me, the second book in the series, comes out today, and to celebrate I asked Shukert to talk with me about some of her favorite tales of classic Hollywood scandal, heartbreak, and desperation. Here are the stories she told.
The Judy Garland-Artie Shaw-Lana Turner Love Triangle
The really good story that I sort of recreate a little bit in Love Me, without giving away too many spoilers, was inspired by the love triangle between Judy Garland, Artie Shaw, and Lana Turner. I think it was about 1940, and Artie Shaw had just arrived in Hollywood from New York, and he was really handsome and really, like, brooding and intense. I mean, a horrible person with an incredibly difficult personality that was just like catnip to women, in that way where he would like make you feel really stupid and so you would really want to fuck him. And Judy Garland completely fell for him.
And they were hanging out, and he really respected her as a singer but he wasn’t attracted to her, because she was like this weird, pudgy, little 18-year-old. But she was like, “We’re in love, we’re dating…” I don’t know if they ever actually had sex or not — I mean that’s sort of an open question. But they would go out, making public appearances, and he would take her to hear music. And she was trying to break out of this little-girl mold and trying to assert herself as a sexual being and all these things, and Artie Shaw was a handsome, viable person who everyone wanted to go out with, and he was hanging out with her. And she was completely besotted with him.
And then all of a sudden, in the newspaper, she read that he had just eloped with Lana Turner, who he had met the night before. Like, they hung out at some nightclub one night, and by the morning, they had driven somewhere and gotten married. Judy was completely brokenhearted and had this total meltdown over it. He and Lana were only married for like seven months, because Lana Turner was also like 18 years old and just really hot. Basically that’s all that it came down to: Lana Turner was really hot.
Judy had this enormous meltdown because she had this rivalry with Lana Turner, because they were both in the Andy Hardy movies, those teen stars. And Mickey Rooney slept with Lana, and Judy always had this huge crush on Mickey. But he always thought of her as his best friend, his kid sister, and then the same thing happened again with Artie Shaw. It sort of set Judy up for this life of romantic disappointment and finding comfort in much younger gay men. Because who doesn’t?
But Lana was the beautiful one that everyone wanted to sleep with and thought of as this sexy woman, while Judy was like this sort of kid sister, asexual little troll — or at least that’s how she felt she was treated. I think Judy might have had suicide attempts, I can’t remember. No one really knows the whole story… Well, Liza probably knows.