Katherine Everard a.k.a Gore Vidal
240 pages (estimated) • Rex Press • 25 August, 2012 [ebook]
At the end of the 1940s, Gore Vidal was strapped for cash, although not like your average person would be, but like someone raised in the house of a millionaire that boasted white servants during the Depression. His first novel Williwaw (1946) was a hit, and his third, The City and the Pillar (1948), was a controversial bestseller. The former was a World War II story, whereas the latter was about your average Joe who just happened to be homosexual. The following novels did not make as much money as Vidal would have liked, and did not keep up with his spending, so he penned a series of potboilers under the pseudonyms Edgar Box, Cameron Kay and Katherine Everard.
It was not until 1999, and the publication of Fred Kaplan’s biography Gore Vidal, that the truth about the Kay and Everard books came out. (The 3 Edgar Box murder-mysteries had been reissued under his name in the 1970s.) The price of the second-hand editions consequently soared. There is a hardback of A Star’s Progress (1950) by Katherine Everard currently priced at £1300 on Abe Books. The paperback 25¢ reissue of that title, renamed Cry Shame!, now starts at £87. Vidal would not allow the Kay and Everard books to be reprinted, which is somewhat telling. In August 2012, about three weeks after Vidal died, Cry Shame! was issued as an affordable ebook on Nook and Kindle. Cry shame, publishers!
And so what is Cry Shame!, the story of Graziella Serrano, the ambitious daughter of Mexico’s greatest lion tamer, actually like? It’s like nothing else Vidal wrote, for certain, and the voice doesn’t sound like his at all. The style is plain, and invisible for the most part, although at times it’s so simple as to be almost juvenile. (You couldn’t even accuse the whimsical Vidal novel A Search for the King  of that.) This is how young Graziella’s first sexual experience – when she is 14 pretending to be 18 – is described:
She was often surprised, when she thought of it, how little this experience with George Wilson had meant to her. Always before, when she’d dreamed of such an act, she had associated all sorts of romantic things with it, or, if not romantic things, at least shocking ones, in which she felt that her entire life would be changed, everything would show in her face and she would be — if not transformed and uplifted — degraded.
That, I presume, is what Vidal thought the medium required. Cry Shame! is nonetheless a great pulp read, even though what was shocking in 1950 seems fairly tame now.
Graziella is ambitious, and she wants to be a star. In a Monterrey bar the 14 year old dances without her parent’s permission – it’s not stripping, though, but flamenco. Here she learns to drink hard and play fast. And here she meets a rich older man, Jason Carter, whom she eventually marries, but only when her brother finds out about her moonlighting and she decides to flee Monterrey.
Cut to: 4 years later, Graziella is now 18. It’s the 1930s, but in a Hollywood that the Depression does not touch, and she has been studying ballet for 4 years. Carter knows the truth about her age by this time, although like everyone else he thought she was 18 when she was 14. Vidal doesn’t seem to be bothered about when he found out, nor about the legal ramifications. He has other controversies to stir. On this auspicious day Graziella meets her first homosexuals on the beach, and with them her first Hollywood mogul. She charms, flirts, and ends up being cast in a film.
Graziella is then transformed into Grace Carter, a woman who, in the style of her creator, has a tendency to dream about a blond, blue-eyed dream man who would one day be her true love. Vidal had already met his blond, blue-eyed true love, Jimmie Trimble, who was killed at Iwo Jima in 1945. The City and the Pillar is dedicated to him: “For J.T.”.
When Grace meets her blond, the actor Eric Davis, she is a little too haughty and self-possessed to realise that this could turn into Love.
Eric Davis was a medium-sized young man with short blond curly hair, vivid blue eyes and features which, in life, were nondescript but which, on the screen, became oddly sensual for one so fair. His body looked well-developed under the correct, impeccable tuxedo he wore. His face was only slightly made up and his hair was carefully disarranged. He looked very boyish and windblown; he grinned at her when they were introduced.
At first she thinks he is a stupid, but eventually she falls madly in love. Love has never been Vidal’s topic, and it comes off more as an unsound obsession rather than love. Grace invites Eric to Reno, where she is in the process of divorcing the kindly plot-device-disguised-as-character Jason Carter. Eric mounts her awkwardly. “It was accomplished with such violence that she was almost sick in her ecstasy. She had never known anything like this. She had never known there could be such violence in the world.” How very Barbara Cartland-esque.
Eric then admits it’s his first time with a woman. But not his first time. Grace is confused. “I’ve played the field an awful lot. But this is my first time at this sort of thing,” Eric explains. The penny drops. “She was stunned. She had had no inkling about this. She had no idea he was like so many of the others. He seemed so ordinary and so masculine, so very much the typical American boy: she found it impossible to believe.” Plus it turns out he does have a “well-developed” body hiding under his clothes. The shame!
When she does not get what she wants, Grace spirals downward, and this leads to … well, it would spoil the book to say exactly what it led to. But the blurb on Amazon says, “Grace, the doomed main character, evokes Elizabeth Taylor and her longtime friendship with Montgomery Clift. With camp tempered by pathos and themes of ambition, fame and sexuality, the novel prefigures Vidal’s later Myra Breckinridge.” That’s certainly taking liberties with the truth of the book. There is some commentary on Hollywood, and a hot well-developed blond guy, but that’s about it.
If you’re a fan of Vidal’s work, Cry Shame! makes for a fascinating read. If you like semi-moralistic works about fallen women, or one-dimensional tragic romances, then it will certainly appeal. But if you’ve not read any of Vidal’s work this is not the place to start. It’s fun, and pulpy, but nothing more than that. Still, I hope that it’s a success enough so that an ebook of Cameron Kay’s Thieves Fall Out is also made into an ebook, as that is now the only novel of Vidal’s I haven’t read, and I have a feeling it wouldn’t be worth £95.