Rights offering detail :
Lola in Paradise
July 26, 2018
Barbara Mujica
Fiction: Women's/Romance
When, during the Mexican Revolution, Doña Antonia stuffed her tiny daughter Lola into a laundry basket and snuck her out of violence-wracked Durango, she couldn’t have suspected that the child would grow up to be one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. The success of films such as La La Land and The Artist attest to the public’s enduring fascination with early cinema, but fiction has hardly explored the extraordinary contributions of Mexicans to the American film industry. Barbara Mujica’s new novel, Lola in Paradise, provides a new perspective on Hollywood in the 1920s and 1930s: the rise to stardom of Dolores del Río, her struggle to maintain her popularity in the face of “talkies” that put foreign actors to a disadvantage, and her survival as a movie idol after the United States turned fiercely xenophobic prior to World War II.
Forced to flee their comfortable residence in Durango when the Revolution erupts, Lola and her mother Antonia make a hair-raising escape to Mexico City. In spite of the war, the family lives in affluence. Lola attends a French convent school, studies dance, and attends parties. At 16, she marries a wealthy and worldly landholder, Jaime del Río. However, Jaime soon runs into financial problems and finds himself harassed by creditors and resentful peasants. In the meantime, Lola—a talented and beautiful young woman—has caught the eye of the Hollywood director, Edwin Carewe, who wants to make her a star. Lola has the looks and sex appeal, says Carewe, to be a “female Valentino.” With few prospects for success in Mexico, Jaime accepts Carewe’s offer to launch both their careers in Hollywood.
The Marxist-inspired Mexican Revolution (1910-1917) causes thousands of wealthy, well-educated Mexicans to flee north. By the early 1920s, the movie industry is booming, and many of these newcomers find work in silent films. Ramón Novarro, Lola’s older cousin, is one of the first Mexican actors to gain prominence in the States, starring in Ben Hur in 1925. Lola quickly rises to stardom with films such as What Price Glory? and Ramona. However, in 1927, with the introduction of sound, everything changes. Many of the foreign actors see their careers disintegrate. Ramón, who is struggling to hide his homosexuality from a vehemently homophobic society, has a few more hits, but then slips into depression and alcoholism. Lola, on the other hand, is one of the few to adapt to the talkies. She learns English quickly and plays foreigners in roles in which her accent is an asset.
However, Hollywood is not the paradise that Lola imagined. Carewe’s interest in her is neither altruistic nor solely professional. She soon learns that directors will promote promising novices, but they expect sex for favors. Soon Carewe becomes possessive, manipulating, and demanding. Anti-miscegenation laws, which prohibit love between actors of different races onscreen, threaten to place restraints on Lola’s career, although Carewe gets around the ban by marketing his protégée as a Spanish (white) aristocrat. Lola’s success puts strains on her marriage, leading to a divorce. Several affairs follow, and Lola goes on to marry the artistic director of MGM, Cedric Gibbons. She also embarks on an affair with the brilliant, sensual, and highly erratic Orson Welles. Eventually, she finds the love of her life, the entrepreneur Lew Riley.
With the onset of World War II, American audiences become intensely xenophobic. Foreign actors, including Lola, Novarro, and their close friend Marlene Dietrich, find it increasingly difficult to find work, especially after they are accused of being Communists. Lola begins to dream of returning to Mexico, not only because of the political situation, but also because she is tired of acting in the kind of frivolous comedies then en vogue in the States. In Europe and Latin America, directors are experimenting with new techniques and making serious, socially relevant films. Lola arrives back in Mexico just as the country is entering the Golden Age of Cinema. Frida Kahlo arranges for her to meet influential movie people, and soon she is working with the legendary director, Emilio Fernández. A brutal and demanding artist, Fernández mistreats and humiliates Lola on the set and off, and yet, it is with him that she makes her greatest films, including María Candelaria, which wins first prize in the Cannes Film Festival.
The recent surge of news stories about sexual abuse in Hollywood make this novel particularly pertinent at the moment. All of Barbara Mujica’s novels revolve around tough, independent women. Frida (Overlook 2001), based on the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, was a Book-of-the-Month Club alternate and an international bestseller published in nearly twenty languages, including Spanish, German, Romanian, Polish, and Turkish. Sister Teresa (Overlook 2007; Spanish edition, Cuarto Propio 2017) was inspired by the life of Teresa de Ávila, the 16-century saint who advocated for a new, more authentic kind of spirituality and clashed with the Church hierarchy. Sister Teresa was adapted for the stage at the Actor’s Studio in Hollywood, and the play premiered in November 2013. I Am Venus (Overlook 2013) focuses on the women in the life of the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Central to the story is the identity of the mysterious model for the Rokeby Venus, Velázquez’s only extant female nude. Created at a time when the Spanish Inquisition forbade nude painting, the work provoked outrage, fascination, and endless conjecture. I Am Venus was a winner of the Maryland Writers’ Association national fiction competition in 2012. Lola in Paradise was a winner in 2017. In addition to novels, Barbara has published two collections of short fiction and many individual stories, some of which have won prizes. She is presently a professor of Spanish literary at Georgetown University where she teaches coursed on Frida Kahlo, the Mexican Revolution, and early modern Spain.
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Leticia Gomez
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3 Griffin Hill Ct., The Woodlands, TX 77382
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