Pamela HamiltonMay 28, 2021
Lady Be Good
The Life and Times of Dorothy Hale
Koehler Books 2021
The name of Dorothy Hale is not well known these days. In the 1920s, she enjoyed a career on Broadway as a dancer, including in a leading role with Fred Astaire. When an accidental injury ended that career, she auditioned, successfully, for the filmmaker Samuel Goldwyn and landed a part opposite Ronald Coleman, who would later star in Lost Horizon. But Dorothy’s film career did not take off, and she moved into art, writing, and museum work in support of her second husband, Gardner Hale, a well-known fresco painter and portraitist, until his tragic death in 1931.
Dorothy survived the stock-market crash of 1929 with her wealth intact and remained a light of New York society into the 1930s. Her closest friend—Clare Boothe, who married Henry Luce in 1935—branched out from an active career in magazine publishing, including a stint as managing editor of Vanity Fair, to produce a Broadway play titled The Women. The play lampooned members of their social circle, evoking both amusement and outrage. Dorothy Hale then starred in Boothe Luce’s next play, Abide with Me. When Hale fell to her death from the window of her apartment building in October 1938, Boothe Luce commissioned a commemorative painting from their mutual friend Frida Kahlo.
This painting, The Suicide of Dorothy Hale (1939), was the spark that lit the imagination of Pamela Hamilton, a long-time producer for NBC News. She began to research Hale’s life and death and uncovered the kind of anomalies that delight both fiction and nonfiction writers. For reasons explained in this interview, Hamilton decided to turn her findings and her speculations about their meaning into a novel, and Lady Be Good: The Life and Times of Dorothy Hale (Köehler Books, 2021) is the result. Against the backdrop of New York high society, the Algonquin Set, the art world, and politics under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this novel paints a picture of a vivacious, determined woman and offers an alternative vision of her final hours.
C. P. Lesley is the author of 11 novels, including Legends of the Five Directions, a historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible. Her latest book, Song of the Sisters, appeared in January 2021. Find out more about her at http://www.cplesley.com.