One of our recommended books is THE SHOW GIRL by NICOLA HARRISON

THE SHOW GIRL

A Novel


Nicola Harrison’s The Show Girl gives a glimpse of the glamorous world of the Ziegfeld Follies, through the eyes of a young midwestern woman who comes to New York City to find her destiny as a Ziegfeld Follies star.

It’s 1927 when Olive McCormick moves from Minneapolis to New York City determined to become a star in the Ziegfeld Follies. Extremely talented as a singer and dancer, it takes every bit of perseverance to finally make it on stage. And once she does, all the glamour and excitement is everything she imagined and more—even worth all the sacrifices she has had to make along the way.

more …

Nicola Harrison’s The Show Girl gives a glimpse of the glamorous world of the Ziegfeld Follies, through the eyes of a young midwestern woman who comes to New York City to find her destiny as a Ziegfeld Follies star.

It’s 1927 when Olive McCormick moves from Minneapolis to New York City determined to become a star in the Ziegfeld Follies. Extremely talented as a singer and dancer, it takes every bit of perseverance to finally make it on stage. And once she does, all the glamour and excitement is everything she imagined and more—even worth all the sacrifices she has had to make along the way.

Then she meets Archie Carmichael. Handsome, wealthy—the only man she’s ever met who seems to accept her modern ways—her independent nature and passion for success. But once she accepts his proposal of marriage he starts to change his tune, and Olive must decide if she is willing to reveal a devastating secret and sacrifice the life she loves for the man she loves.

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  • St. Martin's Press
  • Hardcover
  • August 2021
  • 400 Pages
  • 9781250200150

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$27.99

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About Nicola Harrison

NICOLA HARRISON is the author of THE SHOW GIRL

Born in England, Nicola Harrison moved to CA where she received a BA in Literature at UCLA before moving to NYC and earning an MFA in creative writing at Stony Brook. She is a member of The Writers Room, has short stories published in The Southampton Review and Glimmer Train and articles in Los Angeles Magazine and Orange Coast Magazine. She was the fashion and style staff writer for Forbes, had a weekly column at Lucky Magazine and is the founder of a personal styling business, Harrison Style.

Author website

Praise

“Full of surprises and romance, Harrison’s novel keeps readers turning the pages…Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls will drink this up.”Booklist

“Lush and evocative…she’ll keep readers turning the pages.”Publishers Weekly

“Harrison creates a heady mix of history, drama and romance in a seductive novel guaranteed to transport the reader to a different place and time.”–Karen White, New York Times bestselling author of All the Way We Say Goodbye

“In The Show Girl, author Nicola Harrison paints her characters with such a precise brush and sympathetic strokes that they live long after the last page.” –Betsy Carter, bestselling author of Lost Souls at The Neptune Inn

“Nicola Harrison brilliantly captures the last gasp of the roaring twenties in this indelible story of love and ambition.”Jamie Brenner, author of Blush

“Harrison beautifully portrays the trials and tribulations of a Ziegfeld Follies dancer in her new novel, which is brimming with juicy details of Roaring Twenties New York City. Fans of City of Girls will adore this exploration of love and ambition.” –Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Lions of Fifth Avenue

Discussion Questions

  1. The Show Girl takes place in the 1920s, when some young women (flappers) were rebelling against the Victorian ways of their parents and exploring their newfound freedom. Would you have wanted to come of age during the Roaring Twenties? Why or why not?

 

  1. From page 1 Olive is ambitious, determined, and unwilling to let anything stand in her way. Did you relate to or admire that quality in her or did it make her an unsympathetic character? How did your perception of Olive change throughout the book?

 

  1. What did you think about the choices Olive made, specifically with regard to her daughter? Would you have done things differently? What lessons do you think she learned in the end?

 

  1. Olive’s relationship with her parents was strained. Was she justified in demanding her right to work as a performer, or did she cause her parents heartache for nothing? What were your feelings about Olive’s parents at the beginning of the book, and did your feelings about them change?

 

  1. How did you feel about Archie when he was first introduced compared with later in the novel, when he began to feel differently about starting a family? Did you find him overbearing or did you sympathize with him?

 

  1. From the stage-door johnnies and show girls in Manhattan’s theater district to the bohemians and artists in the Village and the wealthy “camp” owners in the Adirondacks, Olive and Archie mingled in many social circles. Which group would you have been most interested to spend time with and why?

 

  1. Sometimes friends are found in the most unlikely places. How did Olive’s friendships with Ruthie and Alberto shape her in new ways? Which other friendships stood out to you?

 

  1. The unique mix of style and sophistication in the Ziegfeld Follies forever transformed the Broadway musical. How much did you know about Florenz Ziegfeld’s shows prior to reading The Show Girl? Does it make you think differently about any shows you’ve seen?

 

  1. Ziegfeld’s show girls were advertised as “the most beautiful women in the world.” Their bodies were celebrated and their sexuality was liberated, but all that glitz and glam often came at a cost. Many of these young women made sacrifices and compromises in order to enjoy the spotlight. How has our society changed, then versus now?

 

  1. Despite Prohibition being in effect from 1920 to 1933, booze abounds in this book! Are you the type of person who would have played by the rules if you’d lived in the ’20s or would you have frequented the speakeasies?

 

  1. Olive lived with a huge secret looming over her. What do you think would have happened if she’d gone ahead and married Archie without telling him about her past? Would they have lived happily ever after?

 

  1. Endings almost always lead to a lively discussion. What do you think will happen next for Olive and her new family?

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

I saw the marquee first, jutting out onto West Forty-second Street with bright white letters—ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1927—all full of light bulbs and ready to illuminate the street when the sun began to fade. The building above the New Amsterdam Theatre towered over its neighbors. The names Eddie Cantor, Lora Foster and the Brox Sisters were painted in huge lettering on the side. I allowed myself to imagine for a moment that it was my name up there—big, bold lettering, shouting out for all of New York City to see.

During the walk over from Lord & Taylor to the theater, I’d felt quite proud of myself. Mr. Ziegfeld had approached me at a show in California and told me to call on him if ever I was in New York. And look at me now, I thought. Despite everything, I was about to knock on his door, ready to get on that stage. A twinge of nerves fluttered through me as I approached the theater entrance, but I shooed them away.

Inside was equally impressive—black-and-white marble floors, elaborate carved wooden friezes, illustrations of beautiful women adorning the walls. But there was no one in sight. The box office windows were closed, the glass doors to the theater were locked. Looking around, I could see no indication of where to go, so I called the elevator and heard the churning of machinery as it slowly made its way down to the lobby.

“Good morning, miss,” the elevator attendant said as he opened both doors. “How can I help you?”

“I’m here to see Mr. Ziegfeld,” I said.

“Of course. He’s on the sixth floor. Is he expecting you?”

“Yes, I believe he is,” I said, smirking slightly as I stepped inside. It had been a little over a year since we’d met, and in that time my life had been turned upside down and back again, but Mr. Ziegfeld didn’t know any of that. Surely he was expecting me to show up at some point.

In his office I gave his secretary the same answer I’d given the elevator attendant because it had worked so well and it tickled me as I said it.

His secretary looked through the calendar. “I don’t see a meeting scheduled, Miss McCormick.”

“Really?”

“Are you sure he’s expecting you?”

“Oh yes,” I said, enjoying this more than I should be.

“Okay, let me see,” she said, getting up and going through a heavy dark wooden door. When she reappeared she said, “You can go in now.”

I quickly walked into the office before anyone had a chance to change their mind, taking a deep breath, willing the confidence to stay with me.

The rich burgundy-and-gold carpet was thick under my feet, as if I were in someone’s bedroom, not their office. Mr. Ziegfeld stood up from his large mahogany desk and walked around to the front to greet me. He looked just as I remembered, slight of build but tall, a full head of silver-grey hair, thick black eyebrows and an impeccably tailored suit.

“Hello, Mr. Ziegfeld, so lovely to see you again.”

He stopped and appraised me, frowning slightly. He looked confused or possibly angry at me for showing up without an appointment. I couldn’t decide.

“And you are?”

“Olive McCormick,” I said, laughing a little nervously. “We met in California at the Manila Theater.” He looked at me blankly. “San Jose, California. I sang in the performance of The Mikado with a traveling opera company.” I was sure this would bring that moment back to him. But nothing—just a blank look. “There was an earthquake, remember? You said that my singing stopped a moment of sudden panic.” Panic? I was in a panic. This was not going at all as I’d expected. How could he not remember? He’d been so complimentary. I had imagined how this second meeting would go just about every day of the past year, envisioning it as a turning point in my career, a necessary stepping-stone in my life, yet he couldn’t recall ever seeing my performance.

“I’m terribly sorry. I see a lot of beautiful women, a lot of talented singers and dancers. I cannot possibly remember them all.”

“Well, let me jog your memory,” I said, a little sternly now. “You told me you’d like me to come to New York and be in your show.”

He raised his bushy black eyebrows, and a slight grin appeared under his thin mustache.

“Or, perhaps you said if I was ever in New York then I should pay you a visit at your theater, or something to that effect. Anyway, here I am.” I curtsied sarcastically.

This time he smiled and sat on the edge of his desk. “Well, Miss McCormick, you’ve certainly got the spirit of one of my girls. I can see now why I must have liked you. Please take a walk to the wall, slowly, turn, and walk back towards me.”

I did as he instructed, trying not to rush, trying to calm myself down. I was here now, he’d already seen me perform, he’d already complimented my voice, my figure, what more did he need? It felt strange and uncomfortable to be observed doing a simple, everyday act such as walking. His eyes on me made me feel as though I were doing it wrong.

I’d read a few magazine articles about Ziegfeld over the past year. One was called “How I Pick My Beauties,” and I remembered it saying that personality is what gets a girl into the Follies and that she should be jolly, happy, and lighthearted. Another article, “When Is a Woman’s Figure Beautiful: Florenz Ziegfeld Tells How He Judges,” was more specific, saying that a beautiful, rounded, lovely figure is an attribute to the stage and that the measurements he considers right for the girl of today is height: five feet five and a half inches—I was spot-on there. Weight: 120 pounds—well, in my normal state I danced back and forth between 118 and 122, and in the past few months I’d worked harder than ever to stay right in the middle. Shoe size: five. Mine was a whopping size seven—I curled my toes in my boots as I recalled this detail. It went on to say he tried to choose the “American type,” with a perfect profile, a straight nose, a short upper lip, rose-and-cream-colored skin, large melting eyes, an expressive mouth and a mass of crinkly, bright golden hair—well, I was a brunette, but I knew he’d selected brunettes before; even his former wife was a brunette. When I’d read these articles, I’d thought I fit perfectly, but now, as he took his time looking me up and down, I started to wonder and sucked in my stomach.

“Thank you, Miss McCormick, do sit down.”

“Do you recall the evening we met now?” I asked, smiling, remembering to appear jolly.

“It’s coming back to me, yes.”

“It would be an honor to join your show, Mr. Ziegfeld, I live in New York now and I’m…”

He held his hand up to stop me. “Before you go on…” He paused, as if to make sure that I was willing to listen, which I was, obediently yet reluctantly. “This is a wonderful time for the theater. It’s a time when we as producers and performers”—he nodded to me, which gave me a little hope—“know that we are doing something good for our country. We entertain, we lift spirits, we make people laugh, we tell stories, we bring communities together, we celebrate and glorify the American girl and therefore we celebrate our country and our heritage.”

He paused as if for some applause or a pat on the back. “That’s wonderful, I agree,” I said, not sure what else to say. “I think it’s brilliant and that’s why I came here to tell you…”

He put his hand up again. It was really starting to bother me when he did that.

“Having said all that, I’m afraid that we don’t have any openings for chorus girls at the present time. With your proportions, your long legs, good features and”—he opened a drawer and pulled out a transparent screenlike mask, with various lines and measurements, and held it up to my face—“yes, and with your near perfect facial symmetry, you would make an excellent chorus girl. I believe I said you’d be perfect for the ponies, but on second thought you’d make a marvelous chorus girl.”

He did remember me! He’d told me when he came to my dressing room that I could be one of his ponies, and I remembered thinking how awful that sounded until I read up on it and realized it simply meant a dancer. But now he saw me as a chorus girl—even better, I thought.

“So a chorus girl, then?”

“Yes. But I’m afraid not at this time.”

What was wrong with this man, getting my hopes up and then shooting them down repeatedly? Maybe I wasn’t good enough, maybe performing in small-town shows had allowed me to believe I was better than I really was. I suddenly felt foolish for barging into his office, but I refused to let those feelings get the better of me or to let him see my weakness.

“It’s all very well to have the looks, Mr. Ziegfeld,” I said. “But let’s not forget the importance of talent supported by a lifetime of training. No one is going to light up a stage if they can’t sing or dance. I can do both, very well I’ve been told, by newspaper reviews, audiences and very important producers such as yourself.” I got up to leave.

“Do come back. We’ll be holding auditions again early next year.”

I was mad as hell. Really, who did this man think he was, anyway, God? Picking out what he considered to be the perfect specimen of a woman with no account for her talent and perseverance? I might not be the best dancer out there, but I sure worked at it. He had no idea what I’d been through in the past year, and in that time I’d worked on my voice constantly. It was about the only thing I could do. Before that, I’d taken any part I could get in any theater company in town just to continue my training onstage. Sure, they were small-time, amateur productions, but he didn’t need to know that, and I did it all to be ready to finally show off my hard work in New York City.

“Auditions?” I turned back toward him with my hand on the door.

“Yes, I’ll have my—”

I held my hand up this time, stopping him midsentence. “Oh, Mr. Ziegfeld, I can’t simply wait around for you. I’m sure I’ll be cast in another show by then. Hopefully, we’ll meet again sometime.”