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Mortgage on Life by Vicki Baum
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Mortgage on Life

by Vicki Baum

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191537,190 (2.75)2

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Vicki Baum was a Jewish author, born in 1888 in Vienna. Up until 1932, she was a very popular and successful German author, but in 1933 the Nazis targeted her and burnt her books. In 1932 she settled in the US, obtaining citizenship in 1938, and started writing in English in 1941. Mortgage on Life (ger: Verpfändetes Leben was published in English in 1946.

Mortgage on Life can be classified as a crime novel, although lovers of that genre may be disappointed, as the interest of the book is more on psychology than on mystery. The book is somewhat difficult to read because of the large number of characters and its structure of flash-backs through time.

The novel opens with a dramatic scene in which Betsy Poker shoots Marylynn, and turns herself in. Miss Poker is Marylynn's agent. Betsy discovered her and turned her into a super-star: the deal that was struck, a 50-50 profit share. Marylynn's success was built up from the ground: Miss Poker gave her life, and more. As Marylynn lies in hospital, three men flock to her bedside: they all once courted Marylynn with some success, but were all, eventually, rejected. Marylynn remains somewhat elusive; as much as the novel is mainly written from Miss Poker's point of view, Marylynn's point of view, her ideas and what she wants or may have wanted remains unclear. The rejection of the three men, and an apparent preference for a certain Jack, a simple guy from her hometown, is puzzling. For him, she wants to give up her career, as if this career is not something she had wanted...

When Vicky Baum moved to the US in 1932, she settled in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, to work on the motion picture script for Grand Hotel based on her novel Menschen im Hotel (eng: Grand Hotel). The stage adaptation was a Broadway hit, and it was filmed by MGM with Greta Garbo in 1932. This film takes particular precedence in Garbo's career as she became closely associated with a line from the script: "I want to be alone, I just want to be alone"

The connection and proximity to Hollywood must have given Vicky Baum access and opportunity to observe the life and careers of film stars. The Faustian bargain to success is a worthy theme for a novel, which seems remarkably unexplored. There are many rags-to-riches careers in Hollywood, in which happiness seems left out, somewhere

It seems Mortgage on Life could very well be inspired on the career of Greta Garbo, as an echo of the myth at the beginning of Garbo's career: I can make a star out of her. It is the power of the novel to call yet other film stars to mind, such as that other famous Marylynn who, incidentally started her career in 1946, and in that very year picked the name she did not like much: Marilyn. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Apr 1, 2012 |
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