Save for the fact that American libel law prevents public figures from having their day in court, a number of child actresses might be inclined to sue the author of this new appraisal of the motion picture industry in the decades before and after World War II. The focus is the effort by Jack Boderick to determine the points of intersection between the legend of Blue Tyler, nee Melba Mae Toolate, and objective reality. Blue Tyler, an unlikely composite of Judy Garland and Marlene Dietrich with just a pinch of Elizabeth Taylor, was a successful child actress who left Hollywood in disgrace after an appearance before the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities.
The postwar investigation of communist infiltration of the film industry is only one of the familiar aspects of the Hollywood scene that appear in PLAYLAND. Thinly disguised portraits of the predominantly Jewish studio heads abound, as well as some of the more nefarious elements seem to flourish throughout the entertainment industry. The reader is introduced to J. F. French, the dictatorial and perverted president of Cosmopolitan Pictures; Jacob King, a gangland figure who incorporates elements of Bugsy Siegel and Jay Gatsby; and a host of other individuals who represent the human community at its most disgusting.
PLAYLAND is an engrossing, if exceedingly salacious work, about a time and a place which exemplified, although somewhat unwittingly, the most compelling aspects of American culture. Slipping easily between chronological periods fifty years removed, Dunne moves his tale of deceit and betrayal toward an unexpected yet plausible denouement. It is sometimes difficult, however, in view of the novel’s recurring homophobia, to discern exactly where the author leaves off and his fictional characters begin.