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Big Red

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Since he first appeared on the American literary scene, Jerome Charyn has dazzled readers with his “blunt, brilliantly crafted prose” (Washington Post). Yet Charyn, a beloved comedic novelist, also possesses an extraordinary knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood, having taught film history both in the United States and France. With Big Red, Charyn reimagines the life of one of Since he first appeared on the American literary scene, Jerome Charyn has dazzled readers with his “blunt, brilliantly crafted prose” (Washington Post). Yet Charyn, a beloved comedic novelist, also possesses an extraordinary knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood, having taught film history both in the United States and France. With Big Red, Charyn reimagines the life of one of America’s most enduring icons, “Gilda” herself, Rita Hayworth, whose fiery red tresses and hypnotic dancing graced the silver screen over sixty times in her nearly forty-year career. The quintessential movie star of the 1940s, Hayworth has long been objectified as a sex symbol, pin-up girl, and so-called Love Goddess. Here Charyn, channeling the ghosts of a buried past, finally lifts the veils that have long enshrouded Hayworth, evoking her emotional complexity—her passions, her pain, and her inner turmoil. Charyn’s reimagining of Hayworth’s story begins in 1943, in a roomette at the Hollywood Hotel, where narrator Rusty Redburn—an impetuous, second-string gossip columnist from Kalamazoo, Michigan—bides her time between working as a gofer in the publicity offices of Columbia Pictures, volunteering at an indie movie house, and pursuing dalliances with young women on the Sunset Strip. Called upon by the manipulative Columbia movie mogul Harry “The Janitor” Cohn to spy on Hayworth—then, the Dream Factory’s most alluring “dame,” and Cohn’s biggest movie star—Rusty becomes Rita’s confidante, accompanying her on a series of madcap adventures with her indomitable husband, the “boy genius” Orson Welles. But Rusty, an outlaw who can see beyond the prejudices of Hollywood’s male-dominated hierarchy, quickly becomes disgusted with the way actresses, and particularly Rita, are exploited by men. As she struggles to balance the dangerous politics of Tinseltown with her desire to protect Rita from ruffians and journalists alike, Rusty has her own encounters—some sweet, some bruising—with characters real and imagined, from Julie Tanaka, an interned Japanese-American friend, to superstars like Clark Gable and Tallulah Bankhead, as well as notorious Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons. Reanimating such classic films as Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai, Big Red is a bittersweet paean to Hollywood’s Golden Age, a tender yet honest portrait of a time before blockbusters and film franchises—one that promises to consume both Hollywood cinephiles and neophytes alike. Lauded for his “polymorphous imagination” (Jonathan Lethem), Charyn once again has created one of the most inventive novels in recent American literature.


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Since he first appeared on the American literary scene, Jerome Charyn has dazzled readers with his “blunt, brilliantly crafted prose” (Washington Post). Yet Charyn, a beloved comedic novelist, also possesses an extraordinary knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood, having taught film history both in the United States and France. With Big Red, Charyn reimagines the life of one of Since he first appeared on the American literary scene, Jerome Charyn has dazzled readers with his “blunt, brilliantly crafted prose” (Washington Post). Yet Charyn, a beloved comedic novelist, also possesses an extraordinary knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood, having taught film history both in the United States and France. With Big Red, Charyn reimagines the life of one of America’s most enduring icons, “Gilda” herself, Rita Hayworth, whose fiery red tresses and hypnotic dancing graced the silver screen over sixty times in her nearly forty-year career. The quintessential movie star of the 1940s, Hayworth has long been objectified as a sex symbol, pin-up girl, and so-called Love Goddess. Here Charyn, channeling the ghosts of a buried past, finally lifts the veils that have long enshrouded Hayworth, evoking her emotional complexity—her passions, her pain, and her inner turmoil. Charyn’s reimagining of Hayworth’s story begins in 1943, in a roomette at the Hollywood Hotel, where narrator Rusty Redburn—an impetuous, second-string gossip columnist from Kalamazoo, Michigan—bides her time between working as a gofer in the publicity offices of Columbia Pictures, volunteering at an indie movie house, and pursuing dalliances with young women on the Sunset Strip. Called upon by the manipulative Columbia movie mogul Harry “The Janitor” Cohn to spy on Hayworth—then, the Dream Factory’s most alluring “dame,” and Cohn’s biggest movie star—Rusty becomes Rita’s confidante, accompanying her on a series of madcap adventures with her indomitable husband, the “boy genius” Orson Welles. But Rusty, an outlaw who can see beyond the prejudices of Hollywood’s male-dominated hierarchy, quickly becomes disgusted with the way actresses, and particularly Rita, are exploited by men. As she struggles to balance the dangerous politics of Tinseltown with her desire to protect Rita from ruffians and journalists alike, Rusty has her own encounters—some sweet, some bruising—with characters real and imagined, from Julie Tanaka, an interned Japanese-American friend, to superstars like Clark Gable and Tallulah Bankhead, as well as notorious Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons. Reanimating such classic films as Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai, Big Red is a bittersweet paean to Hollywood’s Golden Age, a tender yet honest portrait of a time before blockbusters and film franchises—one that promises to consume both Hollywood cinephiles and neophytes alike. Lauded for his “polymorphous imagination” (Jonathan Lethem), Charyn once again has created one of the most inventive novels in recent American literature.

30 review for Big Red

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I was an actress who couldn’t act, a dancer who couldn’t dance, a singer who couldn’t sing. So I went straight to Hollywood after my sophomore year at college in Kalamazoo. Rusty Redburn in Big Red by Jerome Charyn I read those opening lines and fell in love with Rusty Redburn, narrator of Big Red. As a girl she was caught in the alluring web and fantasy of the movies, idolizing Orson Wells’ artistry. In Hollywood, Rusty was a cubical worker toiling in the shadows of Columbia’s Publicity Department I was an actress who couldn’t act, a dancer who couldn’t dance, a singer who couldn’t sing. So I went straight to Hollywood after my sophomore year at college in Kalamazoo. Rusty Redburn in Big Red by Jerome Charyn I read those opening lines and fell in love with Rusty Redburn, narrator of Big Red. As a girl she was caught in the alluring web and fantasy of the movies, idolizing Orson Wells’ artistry. In Hollywood, Rusty was a cubical worker toiling in the shadows of Columbia’s Publicity Department when preditory Columbia boss Harry Cohn calls her to his office. ‘Big Red’ Rita Hayworth is Cohn’s top star and he doesn’t care for her burgeoning relationship with box office failure Orson Wells, previously known as the Boy Wonder. Ensured by Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons that Rusty is ‘reliable’, he hires her to spy on Rita and Orson, posing as Rita’s personal secretary. Jerome Charyn wisely invents Rusty to tell his story. Her first person, close up observations take us into the boudoir and the cutting room. And, talking about movies, she can channel Charyn’s knowledge and insights, and reflect his own love of the cinema. Charyn describes Hayworth’s graceful beauty, her feline physicality of movement. I had to see it for myself. First, I saw The Lady From Shanghai, a movie that figures prominently in the novel. Their marriage floundering by Wells’ philandering, he remade Hayworth, turning the redhead ‘Love Queen’ into a cool ‘topaz blonde’ seductress and murderess. Then, I watched You Were Never Lovelier in which she dances with Fred Astaire, playing a cool virgin waiting for her Prince Lochinvar. Its little wonder that Astaire admitted she was his most worthy dance partner! She is stunning to watch, and there is true joy and happiness in her face as they dance. Last, I watched Gilda, the noir movie that capitalized on Hayworth’s sex appeal; she is both preditory and vulnerable. I saw with clarity the shocking transformation of Hayworth in Lady in which she doesn’t dance or sing; there is no joy on her face, but tears in her eyes and a gun in her hand. Hayworth’s skill as a dancer came at a cost. Her father was a dancer and when she was a pre-teen, he removed her from school and made her his dance partner, preying on her sexually. Her first husband made her career, changing her appearance and pimping her out. She was nothing more than a ‘meal ticket’ for these men. Hayworth was in a relationship when Wells pursued and won her. But he could not be faithful. In Charyn’s novel, we see Hayworth’s great need to be loved, the pain of losing Orson’s love driving her to drink. Big Red dreams of a home and a family, and most of all, a man who loves and cherishes her, but it all eluded her. Although she knows the heartbreak Wells brought Hayworth, Rusty can’t help but be mesmerized by Wells’ stunningly original vision. Citizen Kane was a flop, and the studios placed draconian limits on Wells artistry. We see glimpses in his later films that were radically edited by Violet Lawrence, who appears in Charyn’s novel. Rusty’s relationship with Hayworth is tender and maternal, but her disapproval of a grifter who inveigles his way into Rita’s heart and bedroom causes a rift. Rusty uses her severance pay to buy an art theater. Hayworth later married wealthy royal playboy Aly Khan, another womanizer who breaks her heart but gave her a daughter. The novel ends with the death of studio head Harry Cohn, the end of an era. Hayworth has already disappeared, her last film Pal Joey revealing the ravages of drink and heartbreak, but Rusty is still bewitched by the actress. I have loved classic movies since girlhood. Big Red is a devastating story, peeling back the façade of Hollywood glamour to reveal the abuse and misuse in the industry. We are left wondering what Wells could have done had the demand for box office profit had not limited his creativity. We are angry at Hayworth’s abusive father who broke her self-worth and left her vulnerable to men who could not cherish her. And yet…there is the magical power of those movies, watching Hayworth’s dazzling beauty and the inventiveness of Wells best scenes. Like Rusty Reburn, we can know the brutal truth and yet be mesmerized by the fantasy. I received an ARC from the author in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    talia ♡

    my TRUE problematic faves 😭 (not rita, she was a real-life angel, more so their relationship and orson's treatment of her...) my TRUE problematic faves 😭 (not rita, she was a real-life angel, more so their relationship and orson's treatment of her...)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Zoe

    Scandalous, nostalgic, and entertaining! Big Red is the intriguing, dramatic tale of two of the most famous actors of the 20th century, Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles and their on-again, off-again relationship with each other and Hollywood, told from the perspective of Rusty Redburn, a young woman working in Columbia Pictures’ publicity department who is hired by top executive Harry Cohn to take on the role of Rita’s PA in order to spy on the couple and let him know what goes on behind closed doo Scandalous, nostalgic, and entertaining! Big Red is the intriguing, dramatic tale of two of the most famous actors of the 20th century, Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles and their on-again, off-again relationship with each other and Hollywood, told from the perspective of Rusty Redburn, a young woman working in Columbia Pictures’ publicity department who is hired by top executive Harry Cohn to take on the role of Rita’s PA in order to spy on the couple and let him know what goes on behind closed doors. The writing is informative and light. The characters are talented, driven, and unique. And the novel is a compelling tale of one couple’s personal and professional successes and heartaches both on and off the screen, including a past littered with childhood abuse and a tumultuous marriage grounded in love but consistently strained by infidelity, differing visions, and crippling insecurities. Overall, Big Red is a captivating, descriptive, fascinating tale by Charyn that highlights his considerable knowledge and impressive research into these renowned historical figures whose lives and work have had a tremendous impact on the motion picture industry. Thank you to OTRPR and Liveright Publishing for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    I’ve read dozens of books about Orson Welles/Rita Hayworth/Harry Cohn but not a novel involving those three Hollywood icons. And the novel was great. With depth and intelligence concerning the movie business , stardom, and how people live, this is a fantastic book. Charyn brings his estimable writerly skills to this topic in a way that is funny, profane , informative and touching. If you have any interest in this kind of material get this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brenna Sherrill

    Big Red is a perfectly fine novel for fans of old Hollywood, but it reads it large part like a recitation of facts that plenty of film buffs already know about Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. I had more fun learning the stuff I heard here from Karina Longworth's "You Must Remember This" podcast just because the point of that podcast is more intentionally informational rather than blurring lines between reality and fiction. I think this book feels a bit more like a love letter to Welles's craft th Big Red is a perfectly fine novel for fans of old Hollywood, but it reads it large part like a recitation of facts that plenty of film buffs already know about Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. I had more fun learning the stuff I heard here from Karina Longworth's "You Must Remember This" podcast just because the point of that podcast is more intentionally informational rather than blurring lines between reality and fiction. I think this book feels a bit more like a love letter to Welles's craft than to Hayworth, which isn't really a problem, but doesn't fit with the title or advertised focus of the story. I also had a hard time figuring out Rusty as a protagonist—she never felt like a real person to me, which maybe also says something about the difficulties of inventing characters while also writing about real people. On a separate note, I read this on audio and didn't much enjoy it in that format, particularly because it seemed that the narrator didn't have the background in the field necessary for the text. A narrator who doesn't know the correct pronunciation of Marlene Dietrich's name in a book about Old Hollywood is a real bummer.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tony Laplume

    It was just as if Jerome Charyn wrote this one for me… I’ve been reading Charyn since 2008’s Johnny One-Eye, most of what’s followed and a good chunk of what preceded it, and I have read a lot of great material from him, but seldom what flowed so effortlessly through my thoughts. I’m an Orson Welles guy. The post-Citizen Kane struggles are what I know best, but in Charyn’s prose it opens beautifully. Charyn has his own peculiar language, as any master does, that you will find again and again, both It was just as if Jerome Charyn wrote this one for me… I’ve been reading Charyn since 2008’s Johnny One-Eye, most of what’s followed and a good chunk of what preceded it, and I have read a lot of great material from him, but seldom what flowed so effortlessly through my thoughts. I’m an Orson Welles guy. The post-Citizen Kane struggles are what I know best, but in Charyn’s prose it opens beautifully. Charyn has his own peculiar language, as any master does, that you will find again and again, both in the words and images. In that sense Big Red, with its mirror redheads, is all but the perfect Charyn tale. Rita Hayworth emerges as a thoroughly modern tragedy, with narrator Rusty Redburn visible enough in the edges to reflect (if you know any of this material you will appreciate the phrasing here) what Welles leaves in his wake. As with many of his recent books Charyn has returned to the stage of WWII, that generation just before his own, Welles barred from serving and wasting time shooting footage that would one day have a counterpoint in Lady from Shanghai, Rita ascending, even a glimpse of the evil only recent years have been brave enough to shatter, the internment of Japanese Americans. As he envisions Welles and Hayworth, they were the Hollywood royalty at the end of the Golden Age, and as such (the ending is really one of his best, poetry worthy of the subject matter) an elegy, much as Tarantino sketched his rebuke of the town’s fall from innocence in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A book of this achievement bridges much of Charyn’s interests over the years, and as such must be understood to be a career statement. Because it is one. And perhaps Hollywood might even finally come calling, a fitting late chapter for Charyn, Welles, and Hayworth.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Poptart19 (the name’s ren)

    3.5 stars, RTC!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tina

    BIG RED: A Novel Staring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles by Jerome Charyn just wasn’t for me. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Natalie Duke and it was fun to hear the slang of that time and learn more about Rita and Orson but I found it weird the way Rusty was telling their life stories. Maybe if you’re a big fan of Old Hollywood and these two stars then you’d enjoy this book more. . Thank you to HighBridge Audio via NetGalley for my ALC!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    Unfortunately a DNF for me.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rekha Rao

    I only have praises and more of it for this marvelous, fantabulous masterpiece by Jerome Charyn. The story begins with Rusty summoned to the head of Columbia Pictures' office. He has a task for Rusty. He wants her to spy on Big Red aka Rita Hayworth and her latest boyfriend Orson Welles. Rita moved in with Orson within weeks of courting. As Rusty inserts herself into Rita and Orson's lives, she takes the responsibility to protect Rita from desperate men, gossip columnists and ruffians. She learn I only have praises and more of it for this marvelous, fantabulous masterpiece by Jerome Charyn. The story begins with Rusty summoned to the head of Columbia Pictures' office. He has a task for Rusty. He wants her to spy on Big Red aka Rita Hayworth and her latest boyfriend Orson Welles. Rita moved in with Orson within weeks of courting. As Rusty inserts herself into Rita and Orson's lives, she takes the responsibility to protect Rita from desperate men, gossip columnists and ruffians. She learns of Rita's childhood - the incestuous relationship she was forced to have with her father and her first role in a movie which finally lead to her stardom. Rita and Rusty get along well at their first meeting. Rusty also meets Orson and his 'valet' Shorty Chivallo. After Rita and Orson get married, Orson decides to try his hand at politics. As his visits to the DC and White House increases, Rita finds herself alone at home - and lonely. Rusty helps her in getting ack her self-esteem. But Rita is still scared of meeting the First Lady. After the birth of their daughter, Rita and Orson drift apart. Rusty remains Rita's loyal companion. Though their relation is tested many times, Rusty remains Rita's most loyal aide. As the story proceeds, we see Rita turn from the girl who loved to sing and dance to a woman who has only tears in her eyes. Apart from the tumultuous life of a famous Hollywood actress, we readers are also given a glimpse of the other side of Hollywood - sex and sleaze, rumors and gossip selling like hot cakes, and much more. I absolutely love Jerome Charyn's writing. He's a master storyteller. Through the eyes of Rusty, Jerome has narrated a story that a reader will remember forever and ever. I would love to see this book being made into a movie - I already watched it in my mind's eye once. But I would love to see it on the big screen. If you are looking for an engrossing and entertaining read that is part fiction and part facts, I would highly recommend you to give Big Red by Jerome Charyn a try.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Janet Graham

    Historical Fiction, Not Biography I got this book expecting a biography of Rita Hayworth, What I read was historical fiction about Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. The official description is 're-imagined biography'. I am a history nut and hate seeing fiction parade as history. These are two fascinating people whose lives intersected during a valuable period in their lives. But what is truth and what is fiction? We have a 'sexually fluid' cinephile who narrates the book and is a major character, b Historical Fiction, Not Biography I got this book expecting a biography of Rita Hayworth, What I read was historical fiction about Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. The official description is 're-imagined biography'. I am a history nut and hate seeing fiction parade as history. These are two fascinating people whose lives intersected during a valuable period in their lives. But what is truth and what is fiction? We have a 'sexually fluid' cinephile who narrates the book and is a major character, but she is fiction. How many other characters are? Certain scenes seem contrived to show one thing or another, but did it really happen? There is no research, no footnoting, no reality. Most of the scenes that feature well-known Hollywood big-wigs seem to be something out of gossip magazines rather than a first-person account. It is one thing to take artistic license through an historical fiction media about persons who died centuries ago. It is entirely different to try this with persons who lived within the memory of the readers. A good portion of those who read this book, and I am one of them, are going to remember the real people, movies, and occurrences that are 're-imagined' in this book and heartily disagree with how they are presented. Even after I was resigned to reading this book as the fiction it is, I just didn't like the book. The entire book is segmented into eras, but there is no continuity, especially in the later years. The book will jump over many years with no accounting for time. The daughter born to Orson and Rita is very important for a page or two then is not mentioned again until she and a younger sister are visiting European relatives for a while many years later and then only as an afterthought. I actually Googled some events because they were so poorly portrayed. Meh, it could have been so much better.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ira Smith

    Orson Welles, one of my favorite directors. Rita Hayworth, immortalized in her role as Gilda. Hollywood’s “Golden. Age”. All these elements are brought together into one of my favorite novels of the year, Big Red, by Jerome Charyn. Rusty Redburn is our guide to the world of Hollywood in the 40s and 50s. We first meet her working in Harry Cohn’s studio as a digger, someone hired to dig up dirt on other studios, directors and stars. She’s so good at her job that she’s hired by Cohn to become Rita H Orson Welles, one of my favorite directors. Rita Hayworth, immortalized in her role as Gilda. Hollywood’s “Golden. Age”. All these elements are brought together into one of my favorite novels of the year, Big Red, by Jerome Charyn. Rusty Redburn is our guide to the world of Hollywood in the 40s and 50s. We first meet her working in Harry Cohn’s studio as a digger, someone hired to dig up dirt on other studios, directors and stars. She’s so good at her job that she’s hired by Cohn to become Rita Hayworth’s personal secretary so as to “spy” on her. At the time, Hayworth was living with Orson Welles and was soon to become his second wife. Through Rusty’s eyes, and Charyn’s superb narration, we live the story of Welles’ and Hayworth’s relationship, the creation of her memorable films, and witness her rise and the eventual decline of America’s “love goddess”. There’s so much information about both Hayworth and Welles packed into the narrative, especially Hayworth’s childhood and that she was abused by her father. Yet this information is presented so incredibly well in the story that it’s never a distraction. Another part of the story is the way the studio system of the time functioned. It’s not presented in a good light at all. The studio moguls are misogynistic, and truly despicable. They couldn’t understand Welles’ unorthodox style of moviemaking. Rusty, our heroine, if you will, is quite memorable. Charyn really brings her to life. Even though she’s a completely fictional character, she’s so seamlessly placed in the novel that I had to keep remembering she’s a fictional character. I just loved Big Red. I couldn’t put it down, and I highly recommend the book. My thanks to W. W. Norton and Comapny, and to Netgalley, for an ARC of Big Red.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lorin (paperbackbish)

    First things first: I LOVE classic Hollywood – everything about it. The movies themselves, the histories of the actors and actresses, the whole vibe that it represents. As such, I was thrilled to be granted early access to Big Red. Fortunately for me, the book did not disappoint. Somehow, Jerome Charyn has managed to write a book that reads exactly like a vintage Hollywood film. It's a touch breathless and vaudevillian in structure, with events and bits of dialogue rushing at you in that perfect First things first: I LOVE classic Hollywood – everything about it. The movies themselves, the histories of the actors and actresses, the whole vibe that it represents. As such, I was thrilled to be granted early access to Big Red. Fortunately for me, the book did not disappoint. Somehow, Jerome Charyn has managed to write a book that reads exactly like a vintage Hollywood film. It's a touch breathless and vaudevillian in structure, with events and bits of dialogue rushing at you in that perfect in-your-face style. I just loved it. Rita, as in life, is flawless despite her flaws. Orson is damaged in that evil genius way of his. And our fictitious narrator, Rusty, is so perfect that I found myself wishing she really had existed. I think the ending was perfect, and I'm glad that Charyn didn't follow our characters any further in time. Again, it gave the perfect amount of closure, like a scene from a classic Hollywood film. I do believe that readers of this book would greatly benefit from having watched Rita/Orson films, or just a general knowledge of the histories and names of the time period, but I don't think it is necessary to the understanding or enjoyment of the story. A lovely read! Thank you to Jerome Charyn, WW Norton & Company, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this ARC!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl Malandrinos

    Rusty is a starry-eyed lesbian who grew up on a farm. She doesn't have the talent for Hollywood, but she loves reading and films and has a knack for language, so she heads to Hollywood and ends up working in the basement of the Writer's Building at Columbia where she comes to the attention of Harry "The Janitor" Cohn. Cohn, who is in love with Hayworth, hires Rusty to spy on Welles and her. Rusty's life now revolves around a woman whose shyness belied the sexual prowess she displayed with her da Rusty is a starry-eyed lesbian who grew up on a farm. She doesn't have the talent for Hollywood, but she loves reading and films and has a knack for language, so she heads to Hollywood and ends up working in the basement of the Writer's Building at Columbia where she comes to the attention of Harry "The Janitor" Cohn. Cohn, who is in love with Hayworth, hires Rusty to spy on Welles and her. Rusty's life now revolves around a woman whose shyness belied the sexual prowess she displayed with her dancing, and a man with a genius eye for the camera whose tumultuous life was marked with tragedy and missed opportunities. As the reader follows Rusty's story, they are treated to a glimpse into the Golden Age of Hollywood. They are granted a backstage pass to a woman's life plagued by the memories of a young girl violated by her father and whose shyness made her more comfortable in the company of hairstylists and makeup girls than the political players Welles stumped for on a regular basis. Charyn's writing captivates the reader, drawing them into his characters' world and never letting go even after that last page is turned. Big Red is a fabulous novel. I highly recommend it if you like historical fiction, Hollywood stories, or a creative story with unique characters.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Big Red by Jerome Charyn is a fantastic novel that brings the Golden Age of Hollywood to life! You will fall under the spell of narrator Rusty Redburn, a hip (secret) film scholar-ish character who becomes deeply entwined in the brief, tumultuous marriage of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. For film aficionados, Charyn fills Big Red with great nuggets of wisdom, but never detracting from the story. This is historical fiction at its most powerful. Speaking of Hollywood, Big Red would be a star vehic Big Red by Jerome Charyn is a fantastic novel that brings the Golden Age of Hollywood to life! You will fall under the spell of narrator Rusty Redburn, a hip (secret) film scholar-ish character who becomes deeply entwined in the brief, tumultuous marriage of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. For film aficionados, Charyn fills Big Red with great nuggets of wisdom, but never detracting from the story. This is historical fiction at its most powerful. Speaking of Hollywood, Big Red would be a star vehicle for a cast of actors hoping to make their career turns. I see Academy Award Winning film here...it is that stellar! (Who wouldn't want to play Rita or Orson?) What I enjoy about historical fiction most (as a historian) is when the story is so riveting and powerful that the lines blur between reality and illusion. Charyn is a master across genres, but I find his historical fiction dazzling. He brings the reader deep into the minds, inner lives, and worlds of these characters in a way that makes them even more interesting. I could go on and on about Big Red and Charyn's gifts, but let's leave it at this -- Jerome Charyn is a master of contemporary American literature. Big Red is a wonderful gift to his readers!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ace Boggess

    I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and surprised myself by burning through it in two days. It's parts literary historical novel and dual biography of two Hollywood legends, Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth. The story is told from the perspective of Rusty, a tomboyish bi woman writer who gets thrust into the dual roles of secretary to Hayworth and spy on her for movie exec Harry Cohn. The book takes a compelling and fascinating look at the nature of Hollywood, stardom, and how one experiences a I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and surprised myself by burning through it in two days. It's parts literary historical novel and dual biography of two Hollywood legends, Orson Wells and Rita Hayworth. The story is told from the perspective of Rusty, a tomboyish bi woman writer who gets thrust into the dual roles of secretary to Hayworth and spy on her for movie exec Harry Cohn. The book takes a compelling and fascinating look at the nature of Hollywood, stardom, and how one experiences a film (or movie, depending on what the screen holds). It tells this story from a distinctly modern point of view, through Rusty, whose perspective is more Gen-Z than what was the norm in the 1940s and 50s. This will undoubtedly turn off some readers, but it completely works. It's a fun and enlightening read. I was unfamiliar with Jemore Charyn when I won this book, but I'll definitely check out some of his other novels. This one's a winner.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte Grisafi

    Rusty Redburn is summoned up to Harry Cohns office, head of Columbia pictures to act as Big Reds personal secretary while spying on them for Harry. Big Red is Rita Hayworth who was Columbia pictures biggest star and married to Orson Welles. Orson was tolerated as long as he was married to Rita, some thought he was genius and others a madman. Shorty Chivallo is Orsies “valet” who can get or fix whatever needs taken care of. After Orson and Rita separate he tries to claw his way back up with not m Rusty Redburn is summoned up to Harry Cohns office, head of Columbia pictures to act as Big Reds personal secretary while spying on them for Harry. Big Red is Rita Hayworth who was Columbia pictures biggest star and married to Orson Welles. Orson was tolerated as long as he was married to Rita, some thought he was genius and others a madman. Shorty Chivallo is Orsies “valet” who can get or fix whatever needs taken care of. After Orson and Rita separate he tries to claw his way back up with not much luck, he goes to Europe where they appreciate him to make films his way. They each marry again, Rita more than once and many ups and downs for them both. There is a lot of facts interwoven with the fiction, things I didn’t know and sent me googling Big Red, she was a very interesting lady who was made to grow up to fast, she never had a childhood and was exploited by her parents. I give this book my honest review that is 10 out of 10 stars. #bigred#wwnortonand company

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Kelly

    Big Red by Jerome Charyn is a "Big" novel about Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. The narrator is Rusty Redburn tells the story of Rita and Orson, their beginnings, and follow-up lives. Rusty is fictitious but the book is full of real people from the Golden Age of Hollywood. We see the good and the bad in these people, their problems, foibles and their intimate lives. Rusty worked in a cubicle in the basement of Columbia’s Publicity Department. Harry Cohn, head of Columbia wants her to "spy" on Rit Big Red by Jerome Charyn is a "Big" novel about Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. The narrator is Rusty Redburn tells the story of Rita and Orson, their beginnings, and follow-up lives. Rusty is fictitious but the book is full of real people from the Golden Age of Hollywood. We see the good and the bad in these people, their problems, foibles and their intimate lives. Rusty worked in a cubicle in the basement of Columbia’s Publicity Department. Harry Cohn, head of Columbia wants her to "spy" on Rita and Orson. Big Red, Rita Hayworth is an up-and-coming actress and Harry is not happy with her relationship with Orson who he feels is a loser. Rita loves Orson and they eventually marry. Rita was a 12-year-old girl when she started dancing with her father, we later find that he had been molesting her. She started out as Rita Cansino. She then becomes the top star in the 40's. Top pinup girl to the GI's during the war. She was most popular for her role in Gilda. She had 5 marriages, Orson and Aly Khan among them. She had two daughters. Her skill as a dancer was exceptional. Orson was a producer, actor, screenwriter, and producer best known for his work in film, radio, and stage. He is known as one of the most influential filmmakers ever. He was married three times and had two partners, including Rita. He is best known for Citizen Kane. He was also a goodwill ambassador during the war and a campaigner for F.D.R. His life was fraught with ups and downs, successes and flops. Rusty Redburn, is the narrator of the story. Her relationships with Harry Cohn, Rita Hayworth, and Orson Welles were bittersweet relationships. I enjoyed that she was the teller of the tale of these people, famous for their work during the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond. We often think that famous people have a golden life but they do not. Money can not buy happiness. I had a bit of a time getting into the book but once I did I did not want to put it down. It made me go and do some research on the people in the book. Not Rusty though as she was fiction. The author did an exceptional job telling the story of Big Red. I give the book 5 stars. I received a copy of the book for review purposes only.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Nursebookie

    This is my first book by Jerome Charyn, and I was wildly entertained by this wicked gem of a novel. As a long time Los Angeles resident, I was excited to read about the gilded age of American Hollywood Royalty – Big Red certainly had me intrigued. It’s a fictional tale about Rita Hayworth and her marriage to Orson Welles. ⁣ ⁣ Charyn begins this story set in the early 1940’s, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with a larger than life character, then adds a bold narrator - a gossip columnist and a This is my first book by Jerome Charyn, and I was wildly entertained by this wicked gem of a novel. As a long time Los Angeles resident, I was excited to read about the gilded age of American Hollywood Royalty – Big Red certainly had me intrigued. It’s a fictional tale about Rita Hayworth and her marriage to Orson Welles. ⁣ ⁣ Charyn begins this story set in the early 1940’s, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with a larger than life character, then adds a bold narrator - a gossip columnist and a lesbian, Rusty Redburn from Kalamazoo, who becomes Rita’s confidant and a BFF of sorts. ⁣ ⁣ There are so many characters that you will love and hate in this rambunctious ride of the Hollywood past before the #metoo era. Charyn’s inventive imagination tells a vivid tale that is heartwarming, heartbreaking, and full of historical tidbits about Tinseltown. ⁣ ⁣ This was a fantastic ride of a novel, and cinephiles will find this historical tale a joy to read.⁣

  20. 4 out of 5

    AnnieM

    If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would. Staring with the beautiful cover art and the photo inside of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, Charyn creates a highly entertaining story with a loveable narrator who gives us backstage access to the studio system and Harry Cohn as well as the personal lives of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Having read biographies on these two stars as well as on the history of Hollywood, Charyn brilliantly weaves in facts as he recreates imagined dialogue and If I could give this book more than 5 stars I would. Staring with the beautiful cover art and the photo inside of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth, Charyn creates a highly entertaining story with a loveable narrator who gives us backstage access to the studio system and Harry Cohn as well as the personal lives of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. Having read biographies on these two stars as well as on the history of Hollywood, Charyn brilliantly weaves in facts as he recreates imagined dialogue and scenes. He is able to capture the essence and personalities of all the characters and this was a book I could not put down. This is a book I plan to keep to read again. I also am going to read other books by Charyn since I enjoyed this one so much. I highly recommend this book! Thank you to Netgalley and Liveright (W.W. Norton & Company) for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Diane Hernandez

    Big Red is a reimagining of the life story of Rita Hayward through the eyes of a fictional sexually fluid female would-be gossip reporter, and part time spy for Rita’s boss, Rusty. In real life Rita had an interesting life. This book reads like a Hollywood scandal sheet version hyping up the sensational parts. It skips the probably boring parts in between. I think Big Red would have been better if I had already read at least one biography of Rita first. As it was, I spent a lot of time googling to Big Red is a reimagining of the life story of Rita Hayward through the eyes of a fictional sexually fluid female would-be gossip reporter, and part time spy for Rita’s boss, Rusty. In real life Rita had an interesting life. This book reads like a Hollywood scandal sheet version hyping up the sensational parts. It skips the probably boring parts in between. I think Big Red would have been better if I had already read at least one biography of Rita first. As it was, I spent a lot of time googling to see what was truth and what was likely fiction. Still, with the right background knowledge, this book is an entertaining read. 4 stars! Thanks to W.W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for a digital review copy of the book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Steph Elias

    Big Red is such a great story. Well-written and fascinating. Rusty Redburn runs a small movie house and also works the lots for Harry Cohn a big-time guy in Hollywood. There she meets all kinds of stars, some good, some bad. Her favorites Orson Welles and Rita H. hire her as a secretary and she is witness to the crazy inner workings of Welles and crew. From the always helpful valet Shorty to Orson himself, this story is filled with larger-than-life characters and crazy tales. I loved it and foun Big Red is such a great story. Well-written and fascinating. Rusty Redburn runs a small movie house and also works the lots for Harry Cohn a big-time guy in Hollywood. There she meets all kinds of stars, some good, some bad. Her favorites Orson Welles and Rita H. hire her as a secretary and she is witness to the crazy inner workings of Welles and crew. From the always helpful valet Shorty to Orson himself, this story is filled with larger-than-life characters and crazy tales. I loved it and found myself reading the Orson parts in his voice. The Errol Flynn yacht stuff was crazy fun. If this is what Hollywood was even a little bit like I want to read more. This author has such a fantastic writing style, I loved it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Rozier

    I am OBSESSED with this book that spans 15 years from 1943-1958 and tells about Rita Hayworth’s life and her relationship with her true love, Orson Welles. This book made me feel like an insider into part of the Golden Age of Hollywood. This is historical fiction but after watching a documentary about Rita and reading the author’s notes at the end, I’ve learned that a lot of what happened in this book is real. The narrator of the story, Rusty Redburn, is completely fictional but is placed in the I am OBSESSED with this book that spans 15 years from 1943-1958 and tells about Rita Hayworth’s life and her relationship with her true love, Orson Welles. This book made me feel like an insider into part of the Golden Age of Hollywood. This is historical fiction but after watching a documentary about Rita and reading the author’s notes at the end, I’ve learned that a lot of what happened in this book is real. The narrator of the story, Rusty Redburn, is completely fictional but is placed in the story as an active participant. I’m now working my way through Rita’s films and Jerome’s backlist books!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    The use of Hollywood history is fantastic, and it's what fascinated me the most...because the character development only goes so far. When it happens, it's first rate...but eventually there is so much going on, so many characters taking part, and so much time passing...I wish it would slow down, take a breath, and luxuriate in the character development. Admirable, compelling...but I wish I loved it more. The use of Hollywood history is fantastic, and it's what fascinated me the most...because the character development only goes so far. When it happens, it's first rate...but eventually there is so much going on, so many characters taking part, and so much time passing...I wish it would slow down, take a breath, and luxuriate in the character development. Admirable, compelling...but I wish I loved it more.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Peaches

    This book goes off on tangents, making the limited story difficult to follow. Characters are introduced and described in detail, but they have nothing to do with the story. Unfortunate word choices take away from the flow of reading and anecdotes repeat, reminding one of a comic who continues to repeat a joke hoping to get someone to laugh.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Fascinating read about Rita Haywood and Orson Wells. A historical fiction novel that makes you feel like you are there.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Doria

    Read this book only if you love old Hollywood. If in fact old Hollywood is your thing, and this book is right up your alley. Is the detailed story of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles relationship before and after they were together. The narrator ties a story together. Great read highly recommend.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Nease

    I love reading about old Hollywood. Rita Hayworth was a favorite but I always thought Orson Welles was a bloated pontificator. This book pretty much aligns with my theory!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Michelle "Champ"

    This old film fan found this exciting, quite like standing on an old movie lot and watching what was going on all around you. What you have is a front-row seat to Rita Hayworth's life as told by Rusty. Rita was a woman that had a horrible upbringing and became a movie megastar. Rita was the perfect "IT" girl. Then she meets the "genius" Orson Welles and it is this love story we get an intimate look into. Rusty not only guides us through this love affair but also through the offices of Harry Cohn This old film fan found this exciting, quite like standing on an old movie lot and watching what was going on all around you. What you have is a front-row seat to Rita Hayworth's life as told by Rusty. Rita was a woman that had a horrible upbringing and became a movie megastar. Rita was the perfect "IT" girl. Then she meets the "genius" Orson Welles and it is this love story we get an intimate look into. Rusty not only guides us through this love affair but also through the offices of Harry Cohn and his many underhand dealings. My favorite part about the whole book was that the text is written in the 1940s. It was a more eloquent time in terms of speech, in my opinion. I think that fans of old movies will very much enjoy this one. Thanks NetGalley for this interesting book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gillian

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