The Sun and Her Stars
The little-known story of screenwriter Salka Viertel, whose salons in 1930s and 40s Hollywood created a refuge for a multitude of famous figures who had escaped the horrors of World War ll.
Hollywood was created by its “others”; that is, by women, Jews, and immigrants. Salka Viertel was all three and so much more. She was the screenwriter for five of Greta Garbo’s movies and also her most intimate friend. At one point during the Irving Thalberg years, Viertel was the highest-paid writer on the MGM lot. Meanwhile, at her house in Santa Monica she opened her door on Sunday afternoons to scores of European émigrés who had fled from Hitler—such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and Arnold Schoenberg—along with every kind of Hollywood star, from Charlie Chaplin to Shelley Winters. In Viertel’s living room (the only one in town with comfortable armchairs, said one Hollywood insider), countless cinematic, theatrical, and musical partnerships were born.
Viertel combined a modern-before-her-time sensibility with the Old-World advantages of a classical European education and fluency in eight languages. She combined great worldliness with great warmth. She was a true bohemian with a complicated erotic life, and at the same time a universal mother figure. A vital presence in the golden age of Hollywood, Salka Viertel is long overdue for her own moment in the spotlight.
Praise & Reviews
“In The Sun and Her Stars, Donna Rifkind delves into the fascinating, complex life and work of one of Hollywood’s unsung screenwriting legends and emerges with a rich and illuminating biography, one that Salka Viertel herself would have undoubtedly adored.” —Sarah Weinman, author of The Real Lolita: A Lost Girl, an Unthinkable Crime, and a Scandalous Masterpiece
“This book elegantly captures a splendid life and career worth remembering, its moving central portrait set like a brave feminist jewel amidst treacherous crosscurrents of history, in Europe and Hollywood, which echo eerily today.” —Patrick McGilligan, coauthor of Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist
“The best biographies tell the story not only of the individual but of the entire milieu in which they lived. Donna Rifkind does exactly this in her examination of Salka Viertel, a figure mostly unknown to the general public but whose life is a winding line from prewar Vienna to the coast of California at the dawn of Hollywood. This book is smart, questioning, insightful, and ultimately impossible to put down.” —Christian Kiefer, author of Phantoms: A Novel
“The unjustly forgotten Salka Viertel, premier memoirist of Hollywood’s Golden Age and so much more, gets a vital, comprehensive biography to call her own in Donna Rifkind’s lively and engaging The Sun and Her Stars.” —Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times Film Critic