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Leading Lady


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Women of three generations, from the 1930s to the present, wrangle in this snappy novel about Hollywood. Laverne is the domineering stage mom, red-haired Bunny the exploited child star, and Chelsea the neglected granddaughter. To begin, Laverne is so bent on advancing Bunny's career that she sends her eight-year-old daughter to the bed of a powerful movie mogul. Later she destroys Bunny's marriage and feeds her narcotics. She even hires a cosmetician to serve as gigolo and ``put a glow'' on the dejected Bunny to ensure that she give a peak performance in an arduous film. Laverne, the doughty, unstoppable ``Mother Witch,'' emerges as the best-realized of the characters, as well as the most flamboyantly diverting. The more sympathetic Chelsea plays a close second: after a brief dip into crime--cheating an insurance company and selling bogus jewels--she falls in love with an English earl and purveys gems to the British royal family. In contrast to the savory portrayals of Laverne and Chelsea, the rendering of actress Bunny--pawn and victim of her mother's mania--is pale. Coscarelli ( Fame and Fortune ; Pretty Woman ) displays a secure grasp of the film industry and the stresses of star-making. Her novel offers crackling entertainment, not the least bit of which arises from the refreshing notion that women can get away with a little villainy. (Aug.)

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