In 1950 Hollywood, Loretta Darling Battles a System before #MeToo

Like so many other young women, Loretta Reynolds dreams of leaving Britain to make her way in Hollywood. Not as an actor, but as a makeup artist. She manages the trip by tricking someone into taking her along on an ocean voyage and a cross country drive. Arriving on Sunset Boulevard, she’s not discouraged by the seedier parts of Los Angeles. A prostitute named Primrose befriends Loretta and soon the two are living next to each other in roach-infested apartments. 

Loretta finds a job as a waitress in a diner called Van de Kamps. One of her frequent customers, Raphael Goddard, tells Loretta he works for the Blue Book Modeling Agency and, with his recommendation, she soon has a job making up the models. She also begins to see more of the good looking Raphael. Although Loretta isn’t sure she’s in love with him, when he asks her to marry him she says yes. On her limited budget, she manages to find an oatmeal colored suit to wear on her wedding day, the event arranged by Primrose. 

Katherine Blake (Photo Credit: Amanda Herbert)

Things rapidly go south. Raphael, eager to become an actor, takes Loretta to a party at a mansion owned by The Emperor, Oscar Romero, a famous actor. She is shocked at the orgy taking place, naked people on the grounds, in bedrooms, and in the swimming pool. Raphael nearly drags Loretta upstairs and she soon finds herself alone with Romero and one of his friends. She is about to be raped when a writer, Scott Eliot, rescues her. It becomes clear to Loretta that Raphael had an agreement with Oscar to hand over Loretta for a part in a film.

With the marriage over, Loretta sheds her married name and becomes Loretta Darling. She redoubles her efforts to work for Alecs Petras, the most famous makeup artist in Hollywood. Loretta has talent and chutzpah, showing up at his Beauty Studio, saying she was sent by the “agency.” He’s impressed when she talks about her techniques for making the actors shine. Despite the disproval of Arvella, who manages the studio, she’s hired. Soon Loretta finds herself applying lotions, powders, and lip colors to some of the most famous faces in Tinsel Town. She also begins to dream that she can launch her own makeup company, using the nickname others have attached to her, The Lip Girl. 

Loretta documents her life in Hollywood by sending postcards to her sister, Enid. She also finds a support system with Grace, a Grace Kelly like starlet, Alice, another makeup artist, and, of course, Primrose. She spends time with Eliot, but they bond as friends, not lovers. Eliot’s wife, Agatha, died recently and he’s not yet ready for another serious relationship. That’s fine with Loretta because she has three things on her agenda – advancing her career, launching her lip business, and plotting revenge against the two men who have hurt her, Raphael and Oscar. 

Katherine Blake’s The Unforgettable Loretta Darling, imagines what the film industry was like for women in the 1950s and beyond, really up until the men like Harvey Weinstein were sent to prison. Were there other Loretta Darlings who fought back? Perhaps one day we will know. Until then, Blakes gives us a fascinating character we can’t help but root for.

The Unforgettable Loretta Darling
Katherine Blake

Top photo: Bigstock

About Charlene Giannetti (715 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.