The previous novel in Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series, 1876, is about the power of the press. Hollywood, the next and fifth novel, is about the power of the new medium of motion pictures. Vidal’s point is that regardless of the medium, power-brokers followed the same propagandizing agenda.
The fictional Caroline Sanford, publisher of a Washington newspaper and protagonist of 1876, is in the spotlight again—this time as a producer and star of silent film. Much of the action, however, takes place back in Washington, where Caroline’s half-brother Blaise is running the newspaper in which he shares ownership with his sister. The imperious Woodrow Wilson is president and, as World War I draws to the close, campaigns for support of a League of Nations and ruins his health in the process. His successor, Warren Harding, brings with him to the White House corrupt friends who provide some of the more interesting stories in the book. But overall, Hollywood lacks incisiveness and is one of the weaker novels in the series. And for those who have been reading the whole series, by this point Vidal’s cynicism can feel wearying. One wishes for some American heroism—a wish at which Vidal likely would have scoffed.
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