The Hollywood Blacklist was at its height in the mid-50’s. Writers, directors and actors were all scrutinized for any sign of “un-American” activity, real or imagined. It was a dark time when people could not talk freely, express a point of view, living in fear that they could lose their livelihood. Julian David Stone’s new novel, “The Strange Birth, Short life and Sudden Death of Justice Girl” takes us back to those dark days in a wild ride that is both frightening and funny.
The time is 1955, live TV is the order of the day and the center of it all is in New York. TV writer Jonny Dirby is about to be fired by the network because he won’t sign a loyalty oath and is quickly branded a commie. As a final act of revenge against the network he writes a last minute new character into the script that he believes will ruin the show he use to work on. But it backfires and instead ignites an explosion of audience excitement giving birth to super heroine Justice Girl, a sort of female version of Superman.
With Justice Girl sparking an immediate response from viewers, even creating a nationwide catch phrase “Justice is served,” the head of the struggling network, Hobart Daniels, rehires Jonny to come up with a show featuring the world’s newest superhero. It needs to be scripted, cast and ready to be aired live in one week and Jonny’s is put completely in charge of production! Added to the mix, is Felicity Kessington the daughter of a pro McCarthy Congressional hopeful. Felicity auditioned and got the small role of Justice Girl in the original sketch in order to gather information on all the commies she knows are flooding the TV industry, including Jonny, to feed it back to her father. Suddenly she finds herself as the star of her own hit TV show. She now faces her own dilemma on how to continue her crusade to help her father’s political ambitions, or become a TV star she now craves. Jonny meanwhile is caught between battling for control of the show with the network honcho Hobart and dealing with his own past. I won’t say any more for fear of giving away too much.
One of the strongest elements of the novel, without a doubt, is the meticulous precision the author has recreated the dark era of the mid 1950’s being transported back in time to those days of early television when the infant industry was struggling to discover itself and doing it live in America’s living rooms.
One minor error though comes early in the novel when Jonny, and three blacklisted writer friends he is using to write the first “Justice Girl” script, meet at a restaurant hidden away among the boutiques and bars just off St. Marks Place in the East Village. In 1955 there was no East Village. St. Mark’s Place was located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan as that area was then called. The name ‘East Village’ did not come into use until the mid-1960’s when artists and hippies began to move into the then ethnic neighborhood.
That said, with “Justice Girl” Julian David Stone has created an impressive, fast paced moving novel that is dark and comic. The characters are intriguing and you come to care about them all. Anyone interested in the early days of a television and the McCarthy witch hunt era will find this a spellbinding read.
A review copy was provided by the Publisher.