While the Locklears’ book, Exposure, is set in contemporary times, Richland’s The Starlight Trilogy takes place during 1950’s Hollywood. As friends and fans of one another, the three recently decided to sit down for a discussion on Hollywood’s role in fiction.
Morgan and Jennifer Locklear: Our thanks go out to Bookish Temptations for inviting us to share our thoughts on Hollywood in fiction with everyone here. We also wish to thank our friend and fellow author, Alexandra Richland, for agreeing to speak with us on the subject.
Alexandra Richland: I want to thank Jennifer and Morgan Locklear for proposing this wonderful interview idea and for their excellent questions on one of my favorite subjects—classic film.
Morgan and Jennifer: What role do you think 1950s Hollywood played in America’s cultural maturing?
Alexandra: The 1950s bridged America’s postwar optimism and the looming cynicism of the 1960s (The Vietnam War, Civil Rights, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.) Hollywood’s studio system was in decline, and a climate of fear and uncertainty existed throughout the United States due to the escalating Cold War with Russia. During World War II, films were made to boost American morale and provide an escape from the horrors on the battlefront and the home front. In the 1950s, with the threat of Communism looming, Americans no longer wanted to slip into fantasy worlds and avoid truths. They demanded realism and this was reflected in motion pictures. Films focused on characters with which the movie-going public could relate to, not idolize.
In the 1950s, teenagers were especially restless and frustrated with the current state of the country. Where did their rebellion come from? One argument uses the hypothesis that World War II robbed American youth of a strong parental presence in their lives. Fathers went off to war, mothers joined the work force, and children had to fend for themselves, which contributed to adolescent angst.
In the 1950s, these adolescents were teenagers, heading toward adulthood, but they didn’t want to embrace their parents’ values. The older generations’ resistance to cultural change made these teenagers question how American society acted toward those who were different from the majority. Consequently, they lost respect for their elders and desired their own identity.
Prior to the 1950s, teenagers were ignored by the film industry—motion pictures had always catered to adults and had simple story lines. 1950s Hollywood helped move teenage issues and opinions to the forefront. Social commentary films like Rebel Without A Cause, The Wild One, and Blackboard Jungle were released, which gave a voice to teenage rebellion. In terms of American cultural maturation, 1950s motion pictures showed that Americans were finally willing to embrace the hard truths about their society instead of running away from them or ignoring them, and put forth the necessary effort to execute change.
I address the subject of the film industry, American society, and teenage rebellion in The Starlight Trilogy. Aidan Evans, the male lead character in the story and the first actor in fictional Starlight Studios’ history to refuse to sign the standard seven-year contract, stars in a “teenage rebellion” film, Spike Rollins, which is nothing like the motion pictures released by the studio before. Upon the film’s release, Aidan struggles with hiding his dark past from the public while suddenly thrust into the Hollywood spotlight. He didn’t start acting for the acclaim, fame, or money, but all of those elements became unavoidable parts of his life:
Aidan sat down a nobody in the Egyptian Theater and stood up a star. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. While most people in his position would’ve been overjoyed, he hated everything that accompanied the transformation.
Sure, he was happy that Spike Rollins achieved the biggest one-day opening in Hollywood history and the film continued to break box office records, but he didn’t like that people were so fascinated with him personally all of a sudden. The movie’s success was due to the brilliance and complexity of his character, Preston’s direction, and the solid script. It had nothing to do with who Aidan was in real life.
Teenagers—the generation movies never catered to until Spike Rollins hit theaters—were especially interested in him. They were able to identify with him because he was so far removed from the studio machine than what they were used to—a regular Joe rather than a manufactured Starlight Studios star. He represented their unrest and need for rebellion.
Aidan was real, tormented, and as much as he hated to admit it, vulnerable. The biggest draw for teenagers was that finally, after years of being ignored by the film industry, they had a motion picture, character, and performer they could call their own. Spike Rollins was a smash hit throughout the country. At last, their voices had been heard.
The teenagers’ important message—which Aidan delivered through his character to their parents and society, whom they believed didn’t understand them—was that they were people, too, with depth and opinions, and they should be respected and taken seriously. Much to Aidan’s discomfort, he was their hero—their defiant, unpolished, and undisciplined leader in the fiery red windbreaker. His only solace was that even though the public now felt like they understood and related to him, they were none the wiser to his real inner pain. That, at least, he still had all to himself.
Elizabeth Sutton, a Starlight Studios’ contract actress and Aidan’s love interest in The Starlight Trilogy, also recognizes Aidan’s impact on American society through his character and his unique approach to acting. Spike Rollins isn’t just a film. It is a reflection of her, of them, of us:
Beth stood as well, placing her purse on her chair so she could join in the applause. Although the supporting actors were great, it was Aidan who had singlehandedly carried the dramatic and spiritual momentum of the film by injecting diffuse fragments of his own personality into Spike—a vulnerability so deeply embedded in him that one was instinctively moved, almost disturbed by it.
Aidan created a character who was both tender and ferocious, child and man; a dynamic, instrumental force. In each of his scenes, Beth saw what was going on underneath his words. She hadn’t watched him act. She had watched him feel.
After her feature film debuts, Beth further appreciates the impact Aidan’s performance has on young Americans and compares this “new breed of Hollywood star” with her own role in the film industry:
Now that Beth was back in L.A. and no longer caught in the whirlwind of her press tour, she was able to fully grasp and appreciate the impact Aidan’s performance had on not only the film industry, but also the entire country.
In the wake of Spike Rollins’ nationwide release, his popularity skyrocketed. He was a new breed of Hollywood star with the ability to tap into something deep inside him that resonated with everyone—a special magic rarely seen.
The antihero was now the hero. Theatergoers demanded more characters like Spike Rollins—someone they could relate to with flaws, fears, and fierce determination. Aidan wasn’t like the actors they were used to who memorized scripts and recited lines confidently while perfectly coiffed and dressed in fashionable clothing. He was unrefined, unkempt, and hesitant in his delivery—not on account of uncertainty, but realism. His performance was authentic and came from within. The epicenter—the living, breathing soul of his art—was nonconformity.
In contrast, Beth represented the tried and true studio system and its glamorous, untouchable stars. She provided the public with an escape. Someone to look up to, not relate to. As a couple, they might’ve seemed like a contradiction, but she had never felt so right about anything in her entire life. They made more sense together than apart.
In the 1950s, there was a discontent among young people of all social classes, coupled with desperation to break free from the ideals established and enforced by their parents after World War II. Teenagers would no longer accept a counterfeit reality, and just when it seemed as if they would never be heard by society, Hollywood listened and finally gave them a voice. These teenagers grew into the men and women who would leave their homeland to fight a war in Vietnam and die for a cause that wasn’t theirs, but one they could relate to—one they, too, had feared in their youth. In the decades to come, these same teenagers would stand up for Civil Rights, Women’s Liberation, and unite to form a counterculture that would shape American history and result in the many freedoms we have today. Hollywood acknowledged them before anyone else and gave them the support they needed to fight for a better future for all of us, helping advance American culture at a time when fear and uncertainty threatened to silence the country forever.
Alexandra: One of the big differences between Exposure and The Starlight Trilogy is the media’s portrayal of actors and actresses. In Exposure, the press is relentless toward Kyle and Michelle. They are in the business of tearing them down, not promoting them. The juicier the story, the worse the stars look, the better. The Starlight Trilogy takes place in Hollywood in the early 1950s, a time when the press worked in tandem with the major motion picture studios to present stars in favorable lights only, even if it meant sharing completely fabricated tales. Studios also had “fixers” who would cover up scandals involving contract stars to help maintain their positive public images. Even the images of “sexy” actresses like Marilyn Monroe were controlled, so people only got enough tantalizing tidbits to hold their interests, not enough to upset the censors or turn the public against them. There were no paparazzi. Actors and actresses could go about their daily lives with little to no intrusion on their privacy.
Do you prefer the tabloid ways of the media today or wish we could go back to the time when actors and actresses were always presented favorably in the press? Or perhaps a balance would be best? Are there any benefits to digging into movie stars private lives or do you think we should just enjoy their work, leave it at that, and allow them to determine what we should know about them personally? Sure, it may mean we aren’t getting the full truth, but if receiving a false positive perspective on actors/actresses gives the movie-going public someone to admire/look up to – an escape from everyday life (like in the Golden Age of Hollywood, especially during WWII) – wouldn’t it be worth it?
Morgan and Jennifer: We remember a time when James Lipton was the only one who could get a personal detail from an actor in an interview, and it’s no secret that we do not paint a favorable view of the paparazzi in Exposure. Unfortunately, the lowest form of ambush photography pays well enough to propagate the cycle.
You mentioned how using social media to communicate with the public directly takes the magic out of an actor’s craft and we are forced to agree, but with the caveat that Morgan is still talking about the time Henry Winkler tweeted him while he was sharing a plane ride with his friend, Marlee Matlin. (Henry Winkler’s friend, not Morgan’s.)
Even the filming of actors has changed. They’re regularly playing highly emotional roles that show fierce vulnerability and remarkable range even with TV show characters. The scrutiny has intensified, the paychecks have increased, and all this means that the stakes are higher than ever. All this and actors of a certain level can expect a schmuck in wrinkled pants trying to get an upskirt when they put their kids in the car. So no, we’re not fans of the current state of Hollywood “journalism.”
Alexandra: As an industry publicist, what would Shaunna’s perspective be on this issue? Why?
Morgan and Jennifer: One of the reasons Shaunna became a publicist, despite the opportunity to grace the shiny side of the camera, was her fear of a piranha press. As a publicist, she can attempt to maintain some control of her client’s exposure without having to get burned by the flash bulbs herself (or so she thinks). She is wise enough to know she can’t change anything, and patient enough to ride the headlines like the current of a river. Keep in mind however, that it is the path of least resistance that makes a river crooked.
Shaunna never considered LAX a special airport. Sure, it was always busy and even clean, but it wasn’t memorable. Only the people passing through it were.
Photographers, reporters, fans and the like were not allowed past security but as soon as David and Michelle were fair game, the hunters came at them with clicks, flashes and shouts.
“Michelle! Did you rebound with David? Or is it true love?”
She blinked at the man who asked the question but didn’t say a word.
David couldn’t stop himself from formulating several responses that were neither confirming nor denying a relationship, but understood that the trap was giving the parasites any ammunition at all.
He began humming Roger Miller’s tune King of the Road while the unnerving questions tripped over each other, each more invasive and insulting than the last.
“David! Have you landed a cougar to ride to financial freedom?”
“Michelle! How does David compare to Kyle in bed?”
“David! What was it like working with Kyle on-set while you were working on his wife off-set?”
“Michelle! I know he’s young, but aren’t you trading down?”
“David! What does your mother think about the fact your new girlfriend is almost as old as she is?”
Shaunna walked slightly ahead of them both, clearing their path. She was pulling her own bag and trying not to cringe at the ruthless verbal attack on a “relationship” she knew the fans adored. Paparazzi were considered neither media nor fans, (nor human, for that matter).
Still, David was green and keeping one’s mouth closed in situations like this was easier said than done. It took practice, and sometimes medication.
He recognized the desperate nature of their questions, however. It was almost as if they knew that the only way to get celebrities to talk was to shock them into responding. This understanding made it easier for him to resist.
Being photographed within the confines of the airport was inevitable, but if the paps got no words out of their target, then they usually felt as though an opportunity had been wasted. David was thrilled to deny them any fodder.
Morgan and Jennifer: If you could cast any two classic Hollywood actors in a movie together, who have never worked together before, who would you choose?
Alexandra: James Dean died September 30, 1955 at the age of twenty-four. He was on his way to a car race in Salinas and crashed. Dean’s next project was to be the boxing film, Somebody Up There Likes Me. His ex-girlfriend and the love of his life, Pier Angeli, was to be his costar. When Dean died, the role went to Paul Newman, which helped launch his film career.
Pier was Catholic, and her mother was very strict. She didn’t approve of Pier’s relationship with Dean, one of the main reasons being their different religious affiliations. Pier broke up with Dean, and out of the blue, married crooner Vic Damone and had his child. Dean was devastated by the breakup and went to his grave mourning the loss of his beloved Pier. Pier died from a barbiturate overdose in 1971 at the age of thirty-nine. In her suicide note, she wrote that Dean was the only man she ever truly loved. I would love to have seen Somebody Up There Likes Me with James Dean in Paul Newman’s role. It would’ve been great to witness his onscreen chemistry with Pier.
Another onscreen pairing I would love to have seen is James Dean and Paul Newman. Paul actually auditioned for the role of Aron Trask (Dean’s character’s brother in East of Eden). Unfortunately, the part went to Richard Davalos instead. You can watch Dean and Newman’s screen test online. It is a must see!
Also, I would love to have seen Marlon Brando and Natalie Wood act in a film together, simply because they are my favorite actors.
Alexandra: If Exposure was made into a classic Hollywood film, who would you cast as David, Shaunna, Kyle, and Michelle, and why? And who would you bring on board to direct?
Morgan and Jennifer: For starters, Jimmy Stewart has to be in there somewhere, maybe as Nathan, who is in many ways the moral compass of the book and the director of the film within. As far as our main characters, we think we’d like to see the devastatingly beautiful Lauren Bacall as Michelle and if we could get him, Frank Sinatra as Kyle. (Jimmy Cagney would make a good villain too) David has to be good looking but humble…maybe Henry Fonda, but Jennifer is still not sold on that one.
We think Natalie Wood would make a great Shaunna. She’s feisty but fragile and will look great during the sex scenes, (which will of course just be a pan to the curtains).
Since we have always embraced the comedic side of Exposure, we think Frank Capra would be the perfect choice as Director. He can blend comedy and tragedy like he did in It’s A Wonderful Life, and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and his World War II phase will prepare him nicely for some of the more lively parts of the story.
Morgan and Jennifer: Is there anyone in Hollywood today that reminds you of a Hollywood celebrity from the Fifties?
Alexandra: Unfortunately, there are no modern-day celebrities that remind me of classic film stars. On red carpets, commentators will remark that an actor or actress is channeling “Old Hollywood” and I always cringe at this description. Running the risk of sounding like a classic film snob, I will say I usually find that their attempts fall way short. Perhaps it is because we as a society know too much about celebrities nowadays. In the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, for example, the media portrayed film stars positively. The motion picture studios with which they were aligned strictly controlled their public images. Stars were beautiful, glamorous, and untouchable. People looked up to them, admired them, depended on them for an escape from everyday life. Today, with gossip websites, the intrusive paparazzi, and celebrities personally using social media, the magic and mystique are gone. There is no comparison between then and now—even with all we now know about what truly went on behind the scenes during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Alexandra: What would David’s dream film role be? Who would be his ideal male and female costar? It can be any film and any actor/actress, past or present.
Morgan and Jennifer: David’s western television series, West of the Moon (We picked this title as a tip of the hat to a-ha, one of our favorite bands), will do very well, so his role is going to define him at first. Predictably, he’ll be keen to push away from that. He’s a bit of a clown at heart so we feel like he would love to try his hand at comedy. In fact, he would be aptly cast in a Buster Keaton type silent role where he used his body to convey his humor.
David is not a trained actor; he’s a natural which is a blessing and a curse. When you don’t know where your talent comes from, it’s hard to unravel the science of it enough to make adjustments and improvements. Therefore, he would want to work with people who, like him, just had the knack for playing their roles so effortlessly believable. James Dean comes to mind, as does Tom Hanks, who has become our generation’s “Everyman”.
Morgan and Jennifer: What classic Hollywood actors do you think would embrace modern day technology? Which classic actors do you think would categorically refuse to do a green screen scene?
Alexandra: Marlon Brando would definitely embrace the use of modern technology in films. Unfortunately, later in his career, he no longer viewed acting as a respectable profession. He squandered his talent and accepted roles simply for the paycheck. He even relied on cue cards on set and an in-ear monitor, through which his assistant would feed him his lines. Therefore, I think he would be open to any role studios would like technology to play in motion pictures.
In the 1950s, green screens (actually, they were usually blue) were widely used. Obviously, not in tandem with CGI, but backdrops were often faked because shooting on location was considerably more expensive than filming on studio grounds. In terms of refusing to act opposite, let’s say, a CGI costar who would be edited into the film during postproduction, I think James Dean would have the most trouble with this. He often proclaimed he needed a handle, something real—tangible—to react against in order to deliver an authentic performance. I would imagine it would be difficult for him to deliver a performance he was happy with if he was acting opposite an invisible costar.
Alexandra: When writing The Starlight Trilogy, I realized that my love and interest in all things classic Hollywood over the last ten years had provided me with a solid factual foundation on which to base Aidan and Beth’s fictional Hollywood lives. The way the studio system worked…life at the studio, what filming a movie was like. Studio contracts, the 1950s Hollywood social scene… I possessed a lot of knowledge on these subjects, so I hardly had to conduct any additional research. I did take some liberties to fit the story I wanted to tell, but overall, I remained as true to the times as possible. My goal was to weave this information into my trilogy subtly in order to educate people on what life was like back then for actors/actresses without boring my readers or having the story read like a Wikipedia article :)
Did you have to do a lot of research on the modern day film industry in order to write Exposure? If so, what were your go-to resources? If not, where did your knowledge come from?
Morgan and Jennifer: Like you, we had an interest in, and possessed a lot of knowledge of our environment. We knew Hollywood, Disneyland, movie production, and publicity terms and practices already, which made it an easy choice for a backdrop. However, like you, we found ourselves learning even more as we turned our characters loose in the world we created. Research is actually pretty easy when you have two people working on a project and we took turns fact checking and investigating new avenues.
Interestingly enough, we also share a desire to choose subject matter we know little about in order to use the story as a personal educational devise. Morgan’s first full length story took place in Paris in 1891. At the time, he actually disliked Paris in general and felt that it was an unfair attitude to take, so he set his vampire story there in order to shrug off his prejudice. It worked brilliantly and now he adores Paris and knows many romantic and funny French phrases. Writing can be an exercise in using what you know to weave a tangible and believable book, but it can also be an enriching journey into new territory that turns you into an expert on a new field of study.
October 1952 finds eighteen-year-old Marie Bates relocating from her rainy hometown in the Pacific Northwest to the sun-soaked streets of Los Angeles, California. Marie’s plans for a teaching career take an unexpected turn when she’s asked to film a screen test at Starlight Motion Picture Studios.
Renamed Elizabeth Sutton by the studio heads, she lands her first role as an extra. On set, Beth spies Aidan Evans, a rebellious, twenty-three-year-old Method actor from New York. Aidan is branded as a stuck-up troublemaker by his famous Hollywood peers, but Beth suspects a tragic secret lurks behind his steely facade.
As their careers hit the fast track and friendship evolves into romance, the expectations of Hollywood stardom threaten to shine a spotlight on Aidan’s dark past before he can make peace with it. Beth must help Aidan confront the painful event that shattered his life and conquer a terrifying truth before it destroys him and their future together.
Starlight is the first book in The Starlight Trilogy, a story of love and redemption set against the backdrop of the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
For starlet Elizabeth Sutton, it’s difficult to tell which has more momentum: her burgeoning film career, or the growing intimacy in her forbidden romance with notorious Hollywood outsider, Aidan Evans.
When the opportunity to costar in a feature film arrives, Beth and Aidan fight to keep their relationship out of Hollywood’s rumor mill and away from the ever-watchful eyes of Starlight Studios head Luther Mertz, who condemns a union between them and threatens the future of Beth’s acting career.
The pressure mounts as the cameras roll. Beth and Aidan navigate the precarious heights of superstardom while exploring their physical desires in secret. Beth grapples between the debilitating nervousness over her sexual inexperience and her unbridled need for Aidan. Meanwhile, the demons from Aidan’s past he thought forever vanquished linger on the fringes of a fragile inner peace . . .
Starbright is the second book in The Starlight Trilogy, a story of love and redemption set against the backdrop of the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
Five Reasons To Read The Starlight Trilogy:
1. A sweeping technicolor tale of forbidden romance.
2. A detailed homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema.
3. Cameos from many of your favorite classic film stars.
4. Transformation of a small town girl to silver screen starlet through Hollywood’s unforgiving lens.
5. Close-up of a 1950s bad boy channeling a tragic past and the stress of sudden super stardom through the art of Method acting.
Publicist Shaunna Noble is no stranger to the ego-filled dysfunction of Hollywood’s elite, but is she ready for her two biggest clients to turn into her worst nightmare?
Kyle Petersen and Michelle Cooper are Hollywood royalty, everyone’s favorite celebrity couple, but while on location filming their new summer blockbuster, Kyle ambushes his wife with divorce papers and orders Shaunna to destroy Michelle in the media. Unwilling to comply, Shaunna spectacularly and publicly quits her job, humiliating Kyle in the process.
David Quinn, a struggling actor cast alongside the A-listers, is caught in the crossfire. When pictures surface of David and Michelle out on the town, media and fans rush to crown them Hollywood’s new hot couple. Kyle explodes, tensions boil over, and everyone’s lives and careers are thrown into jeopardy.
So what’s a publicist to do? Especially when Shaunna finds herself falling in love with the sexy and talented David. Can she put out fires on the set while keeping the flames burning in the bedroom?Love, lies and passion. What happens when the naked truth is exposed?
About Morgan and Jennifer Locklear:
Morgan and Jennifer Locklear met in 1989 as teenagers and became high school sweethearts. They have been married since 1995 and live in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States with their two children, a son and daughter.
Although both enjoyed creative writing in their youth, they have only been working as a writing team since 2010. Since then they have created a dozen full-length and short stories together.
Jennifer has been employed in fundraising and development for a non-profit organization since 2000. She also enjoys participating in charitable activities, both locally and online. In her (limited) free time she is an avid reader.
Morgan has been employed in the hospitality industry since 1998. He has been active in the local performing arts community since childhood with many acting and directing credits to his name. He is also a musician and songwriter and has recorded 6 albums.