Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces Out West

On to the penultimate Aunt Jane's Nieces book. My copy is in good shape, but it's definitely not a first edition. An advertisement lists the entire series, and it also lacks a frontispiece. I found it on Google Books, though.

Out West might make you think "Cowboys!" "Mountains!" "Horses!"

Nope. In fact, if you ask me, the book should have been called Aunt Jane's Nieces in Hollywood.

Beth and Patsy are spending the winter in Hollywood with Uncle John, and are noting the booming film industry.

We know Baum was very much interested in the film industry, and in fact, this is the book for 1914, when he spent a lot of time working with the Oz Film Manufacturing Company, so likely the book drew from a lot of the research into film Baum had done into creating, manufacturing, and distributing of motion pictures.

While attending a premiere of a film that Beth and Patsy accidentally guest-starred in, they meet another set of Aunt Jane's nieces: Maud and Flo Stanton, nieces of Jane Montrose, who cares for the two girls who have become popular movie stars. Soon, they all become fast friends (Louise and Arthur rejoin the company, Inez and baby Jane making a fleeting cameo) and enjoy each other's company.

While visiting a beach, Patsy spots a young man drowning, and thanks to Maud's swimming and Arthur's quick use of a boat, they manage to save him.

The group quickly draws the young man into their company: he is a sickly fellow named A. Jones (the A. meaning nothing at all), who says he is from an island named Sangoa. His parents are dead and he is their sole heir. However, being ill, he is very careful of his diet: all his dietician allows him to eat are regular wafers, which are providing him with little nutrition.

Patsy being Patsy decides to take A.'s life into her own hands again and forces him to eat a solid meal. This does wonders and he soon realizes he actually can stomach normal food.

A. proves enigmatic. He's not very forthcoming with his life. He's rich, and he says it is because Sangoa has a thriving pearl industry. And surprisingly, he holds a lot of sway with Maud and Flo's manager.

Beth and Patsy come up with an idea to produce films for children and have theaters designed for them. A. offers to back the project. However, these plans seem to meet an early demise as a detective arrives and claims A. is actually Jack Andrews, an international pearl thief! Uncle John, Arthur, the Nieces, and the movie starlets cannot believe this claim, but soon A. is put under arrest and they have to scramble to find the truth of A.'s life and prove his innocence!

Once again, Baum uses his regular pacing for non-fairy tales: build a cast of characters, engage them, add a mystery, and throw in an exciting climax. Well, if it isn't broke, don't fix it...

Baum writes very well on the subjects of making films and pearls. It seems he definitely researched his subjects carefully and made them sound much more authentic. Though, really, the film industry has certainly changed since 1914 as Baum's story reveals.

Also, Baum blatantly draws from his life in naming the starlets. "Maud" was the name of his wife, of course, and "Stanton" was his mother's maiden name, which he later gave to his son Robert as a middle name, and used in his pseudonym Schuyler Staunton. It is Roger S. Baum's middle name.

I've more or less given up hope of seeing Mumbles or Myrtle again in this series... Boy, did I think wrong when I read Aunt Jane's Nieces and Uncle John.

One more book left, and it's going to be an odd one to look at. It's an L. Frank Baum book with two different endings.

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