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The Girls: Sappho Goes to Hollywood

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  306 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Diana McLellan reveals the complex and intimate connections that roiled behind the public personae of Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, and the women who loved them. Private correspondence, long-secret FBI files, and troves of unpublished documents reveal a chain of lesbian affairs that moved from the theater world of New York, through the heights of chic ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published September 19th 2001 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2000)
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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Feb 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The sewing circle in 1920s Hollywood

This is a highly readable book and the author has way with words when she describes feminists of 1920s Hollywood who were redefining sexuality and marriage. The so called sewing circle consisted of a significant number of Hollywood elite who chose and practiced their sexuality openly and lavender marriages, supported by studios, were accepted with grace. It was a daring practice of post-WWI feminism.

The author focusses on three major stars who were notorious
Lord Beardsley
Jun 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book simply blew me away. I was held captive from page one all the way through until the end. The writing is wonderfully vivid and well-researched. The crass warblings of The L Word is nothing compared to the complex, stylish, heady world of lesbians, gays, and various other sexual outlaws during the pre and post-code years of Hollywood. This has everything: silent film divas with a commune for deviants, 1920s Weimar Debauchery, bitchy mayhem, lesbian Duh-raaammmaaa and revenge that makes ...more
Having read both The Sewing Circle by Axel Madsen and this one, I have to say I favor Diana McLellan's version. It's meatier (twice as long), more detailed and has a lot of humor.

If you love to read about lesbians (and gays) in classic Hollywood and the stage, it can't get any better than this.

5 stars
Apr 05, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer
According to this book, Hollywood used to be full of gorgeous, talented, and wildly promiscuous commie lesbians. Oh, would that my life were half so interesting--! But alas, it is not to be.
Suzanne Stroh
A rollicking read if ever there was one. Garbo, Weimar Germany, old movies, international spycraft, stolen jewels and gorgeous, Jet Setting women with supercharged libidos: What's not to like? This is the most fun I've ever had between the covers of a book about Hollywood.

It's great to see that nearly one-fifth of the ratings here on Goodreads are from people who have read The Girls this year. That shows the staying power of a book I first read more than a decade ago. It's even better to learn
Apr 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
How was I supposed to resist a title like that?

This is the allegedly true, research-based story of Hollywood's two most famous LGBTQIA actresses of the 1930s, Ms. Greta Garbo and Ms. Marlene Dietrich. Neither woman self-identified as lesbian, bisexual, or pansexual during her lifetime, so I have to state for the record that it's a bit unfair of me to label them after their deaths, when they lived in a very different world than we do now. However, there is ample evidence to support that both
Sy Snootles
Mar 12, 2010 rated it liked it
It's a history book, in that it's nonfiction and written about the past, but McLellan's writing is just as titillating and gossipy as you want it to be when reading about such a delicious subject. However, the level of detail can be confusing and tedious, since so many names come in and out of the picture you'll have to re-read some parts just to keep everybody straight (no pun intended). In fact, it's SO detailed that it made me doubt the veracity of the material; could McLellan really know ...more
Rachel Jones
Feb 19, 2009 rated it liked it
According to this book, it's amazing that Marlene Dietrich was ever vertical long enough to make a movie. Some juicy bits, but overall just an okay read.
Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Solidly a great read full of tidbits, horizons filled with lust and multiple lesbian affairs. Bisexuality was the norm, and frequent bedding of multiple partners. Greta has multiple female and male lovers and lives in a strange private world. Marlene Dietrich hops in and out of beds as does Greta.A must read.
Aug 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Good read - writing sufficient, but there were major players and basic information missing. What was in the book was good, writing and flow sufficient - just lacking slightly on certain, key players and giving very little new insight on the people noted. For those unaware of the lavender side of Hollywood, this would be a great primer.
Sep 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I'm not even half way through this gem and I can't put it down!! The 'sewing circle' which includes Marlene Dietrict, Greda Garbo, Talulluh Bankhead, and other Hollywood starletts, is incestuous! These women have insatiable appetites for sex, stardom, and glamor. I love this book, go and read it!
Apr 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Super fascinating research. The best line is a quote from Noel Coward to Tallulah Bankhead. "Stop stuffing reefers up your jacksie, Talullah!"
Nov 19, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who enjoys sassy ladies and the golden age of Hollywood.
Recommended to Thirstyicon by: Dusty
I learned that "Dyke Drama" transcends class (whether rich or poor), and sexuality (homo or bi). This was a great read an EXTREMELY informative. The book deserves 4 stars just for the amount of research she has done. Granted, even the author states a lot of information has to be taken with caution; but most of it seems plausible.
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
If you've read The Celluloid Closet and The Sewing Circle, you might like The Girls. Although it focuses primarily on Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, there are some interesting anecdotes about other glamorous ladies who moved in Sapphic circles.
Sep 08, 2011 rated it liked it
A meticulously detailed, sometimes intriguing/sometimes fantastical biography on a coterie of glamorous and decadent stars from Hollywood's Golden Era. McLellan leaves a lot to conjecture, but when the prose is as dishy and compulsively readable as The Girls' is, it's easy to forgive her.
Michael  Starsheen
Fascinating account of lesbianism in Hollywood

I gave this book five stars because it brought life to a fascinating time in Hollywood history, and the lives and loves of some of the most interesting women of film.
Sascz Herrmann
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Things I never knew

I'd never been an old film buff, but maybe I would have been if I'd known how many of these actresses were lesbian by preference. A fabulous and fascinating book which I highly recommend.
Apr 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone that would like to know about lesbinism in Hollywood
Amazing! Book, I love it. It has all the information that I've been looking for about Hollywood's lesbians; plus it has a lot of information about my favorite actressAlla Nazimova. ...more
Oct 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Rediscovered this as I slowly catalogue my bookshelves. Immersing myself in a more glamorous world.
Well this was obviously written by a gossip colomnist and not a historian! The language just came across as Oh So Scandalous, and everyone was described as whose lovers they were, rather than who they were. She would repeat conversations of people after they'd had sex together, and I had to ask, how did she get this information??? Most of her information comes from published biographies and autobiographies, and yet she writes it all as speech that was taking place that she somehow witnessed and ...more
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this for its concentration on Greta Garbo, this time through I skipped some of the early Hollywood tales about of Alla Nazimova. (Though according to the author, all these women, Nazimova, Garbo, Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead shared their long- term lovers.) Garbo, according to McLellan, was neurotic, deeply secretive, and paranoid. Discretion and loyalty were two qualities Greta Lovisa Gustaffson (Garbos original name) had always demanded of her girlfriends. (56) And she existed firmly ...more
Nov 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
My very favorite type of nonfiction read! This was light and fun but incredibly informative, & its nice to get a perspective on the lives of the rich and famous thats not completely heterosexual...

Pick this one up if you like Old Hollywood or just tales of gals bein pals.
May 23, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: hollywood, lilyan
Dubious sources but an entertaining read.
May 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Garbo or Dietrich fans, film buffs, anyone interested in sexual social trends
Shelves: 2009
I feel like I have been reading this book forever, and while I enjoyed some of the anecdotes, I am quite glad to be finally done. The book was well researched and very well written - in fact, if the writing was not as good as it was, I would have likely given up a while back. I kept reading 10-20 page chunks and putting it down again.

I believe someone with more interest in the early Hollywood stars would have been much more into this book. As it was, I have heard the names of some of the stars
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was very disappointing. I really thought it would be an easier piece to read, but I slogged 20% of the way before I just gave up and then started skimming through the rest of the book.

I think there was really old information in it; however, it didn't appeal to me the way similar books have. Too bad. I started reading this book in May 2015 and would put it aside and come back to it. Finally finished late in July 2015.
Michael Mardel
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
The girls by McLellan was a long-winded expose of two main actresses, namely Garbo and Dietrich. At times I had to look back a page or two to see whom was being talked, especially as the lovers? interrelated. I'm not a film buff so the movies meant little to me. At least I am old enough to remember a few of the stars sprinkled throughout the book. Has the subject of lesbianism been taken out of the closet today? And were these women bisexual with their lavender weddings?
I found the story told utterly fascinating, but there was something about the tone of it, the author's voice, that put me off. While I'm happy to learn more about LGBTI history, it made lesbianism sound like a superficial diversion. Still, the author seems to have done her homework and builds a compelling case that Garbo & Dietrich knew one another.
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic, nonfic-film
A book you kind of have to take with a grain of salt. McLellan will suggest something that #may# have happened and then continue on from that supposition as if its an obvious proven truth. Specifically focuses on Dietrich and Garbo; other women float in and out of the narrative as they float in and out of the orbit of one or both of the lead players.
May 26, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Drag Queens, Perverts and Me.
Everyone needs a little trash on their bookshelf. I, quite frankly, found this book wildly entertaining. Its also an interesting glimpse into the hidden symbols in female gay culture during the first 50 years of the last century. If you like old movies at all you'll love this.
Mar 05, 2014 is currently reading it
Finally picked this book off my shelf and the wind was immediately taken out of my sails reading the acknowledgments. Any author mentioning their "good friend" trash writer David Bret
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English-born Diana McLellan made her bones as a Washington reporter, feature writer, magazine journalist, columnist, critic and editor. (Penney-Missouri Award, Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild Front Page Awards for humor; Pulitzer nominee.)

She spent ten years as a gossip columnist, "The Ear", for the Washington Star, Washington Post, and Washington Times. She is the author of "Ear On

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