14 September 2022

Big Red a Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles by Jerome Charyn Book Review! #BigRed


 It’s 1943. The Germans rule Europe, and the moguls rule Hollywood. Attendance is better than ever. Not even radio can compete with the Saturday matinee. The heart of America has become Hollywood Boulevard. And Rusty Redburn, a feisty lesbian visionary who works as a lowly servant to Harry Cohn at Columbia’s publicity department, lives right on the boulevard at the Hollywood Hotel.


Harry is worried about his biggest star, Rita Hayworth, who has moved in with the “Boy Genius” Orson Welles. He’s never had a star before Rita arrived. He schemes to have Rusty pretend to work as Rita's private secretary while spying on her. Rusty is far more clever than Harry Cohn. She worships Orson and Citizen Kane. And thus the story begins.


Nothing will last, neither the war, nor Harry Cohn, nor the marriage of Rita and Orson. And it’s Rusty who tells their tale.

Since he first appeared on the American literary scene, Jerome Charyn has dazzled readers with his “blunt, brilliantly crafted prose” (Washington Post). Yet Charyn, a beloved comedic novelist, also possesses an extraordinary knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood, having taught film history both in the United States and France.

With Big Red, Charyn reimagines the life of one of America’s most enduring icons, “Gilda” herself, Rita Hayworth, whose fiery red tresses and hypnotic dancing graced the silver screen over sixty times in her nearly forty-year career. The quintessential movie star of the 1940s, Hayworth has long been objectified as a sex symbol, pin-up girl, and so-called Love Goddess. Here Charyn, channeling the ghosts of a buried past, finally lifts the veils that have long enshrouded Hayworth, evoking her emotional complexity—her passions, her pain, and her inner turmoil.

Charyn’s reimagining of Hayworth’s story begins in 1943, in a roomette at the Hollywood Hotel, where narrator Rusty Redburn—an impetuous, second-string gossip columnist from Kalamazoo, Michigan—bides her time between working as a gofer in the publicity offices of Columbia Pictures, volunteering at an indie movie house, and pursuing dalliances with young women on the Sunset Strip. Called upon by the manipulative Columbia movie mogul Harry “The Janitor” Cohn to spy on Hayworth—then, the Dream Factory’s most alluring “dame,” and Cohn’s biggest movie star—Rusty becomes Rita’s confidante, accompanying her on a series of madcap adventures with her indomitable husband, the “boy genius” Orson Welles.

But Rusty, an outlaw who can see beyond the prejudices of Hollywood’s male-dominated hierarchy, quickly becomes disgusted with the way actresses, and particularly Rita, are exploited by men. As she struggles to balance the dangerous politics of Tinseltown with her desire to protect Rita from ruffians and journalists alike, Rusty has her own encounters—some sweet, some bruising—with characters real and imagined, from Julie Tanaka, an interned Japanese-American friend, to superstars like Clark Gable and Tallulah Bankhead, as well as notorious Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

Reanimating such classic films as Gilda and The Lady from ShanghaiBig Red is a bittersweet paean to Hollywood’s Golden Age, a tender yet honest portrait of a time before blockbusters and film franchises—one that promises to consume both Hollywood cinephiles and neophytes alike. Lauded for his “polymorphous imagination” (Jonathan Lethem), Charyn once again has created one of the most inventive novels in recent American literature.

BUYING LINKSAmazonBookshop.orgBarnes & Noble

Jerome Charyn is an award-winning American author. With more than 50 published works, Charyn has earned a long-standing reputation as an inventive and prolific chronicler of real and imagined American life.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon calls him "one of the most important writers in American literature." New York Newsday hailed Charyn as "a contemporary American Balzac," and the Los Angeles Times described him as "absolutely unique among American writers."

Since the 1964 release of Charyn's first novel, Once Upon a Droshky, he has published thirty novels, three memoirs, eight graphic novels, two books about film, short stories, plays, and works of non-fiction. Two of his memoirs were named New York Times Book of the Year.

Charyn has been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He received the Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture. Charyn is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at the American University of Paris.

In addition to writing and teaching, Charyn is a tournament table tennis player, once ranked in the top ten percent of players in France. Noted novelist Don DeLillo called Charyn's book on table tennis, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, "The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong."

Charyn's most recent novel, Jerzy, was described by The New Yorker as a "fictional fantasia" about the life of Jerzy Kosinski, the controversial author of The Painted Bird. In 2010, Charyn wrote The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, an imagined autobiography of the renowned poet, a book characterized by Joyce Carol Oates as a "fever-dream picaresque."

Charyn lives in New York City. He's currently working with artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka on an animated television series based on his Isaac Sidel crime novels

My Thoughts

Big Red by Jerome Charyn is a "Big" novel about Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. The narrator is Rusty Redburn tells the story of Rita and Orson, their beginnings, and follow-up lives. Rusty is fictitious but the book is full of real people from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

We see the good and the bad in these people, their problems, foibles and their intimate lives. Rusty worked in a cubicle in the basement of  Columbia’s Publicity Department. Harry Cohn, head of Columbia wants her to "spy" on Rita and Orson. Big Red, Rita Hayworth is an up-and-coming actress and Harry is not happy with her relationship with Orson who he feels is a loser. Rita loves Orson and they eventually marry.

Rita was a 12-year-old girl when she started dancing with her father, we later find that he had been molesting her. She started out as Rita Cansino. She then becomes the top star in the 40's. Top pinup girl to the GI's during the war. She was most popular for her role in Gilda. She had 5 marriages, Orson and Aly Khan among them. She had two daughters. Her skill as a dancer was exceptional.

Orson was a producer, actor, screenwriter, and producer best known for his work in film, radio, and stage. He is known as one of the most influential filmmakers ever. He was married three times and had two partners, including Rita. He is best known for Citizen Kane. He was also a goodwill ambassador during the war and a campaigner for F.D.R. His life was fraught with ups and downs, successes and flops. 

Rusty Redburn, is the narrator of the story. Her relationships with Harry Cohn, Rita Hayworth, and Orson Welles were bittersweet relationships. I enjoyed that she was the teller of the tale of these people, famous for their work during the Golden Age of Hollywood and beyond. We often think that famous people have a golden life but they do not. Money can not buy happiness.

I had a bit of a time getting into the book but once I did I did not want to put it down. It made me go and do some research on the people in the book. Not Rusty though as she was fiction. The author did an exceptional job telling the story of Big Red.

I give the book 5 stars.

I received a copy of the book for review purposes only.

THE GIVEAWAY We have a great package of goodies including an autographed copy of BIG RED, a tote bag with the great cover (which was designed by Ed Sorel), Rita Hayworth sunglasses, popcorn, light-up smartphone charger (with either the book jacket or an image of Rita) and a Shalimar sample, Rita’s favorite perfume.  The package will be served up in a red box mailer packed with red tissue 
One reader, USA and Canada only. 


  1. this looks like a good book i would love to enter the giveaway.

    1. It is good! Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Megan, if you by chance come back could you gt in touch with me at momkelly2003@gmail.com Results of giveaway!

  2. I read the excerpt and I am hooked-RITA HAYWorth was a great actress-thanks



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