At the end of The Misfits, an aging cowboy and a former dancer have found each other and are heading home in the night. The final lines of the film, the last ever spoken by Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe on-screen, are a beautiful elegy for two of Hollywood’s greatest stars:

“How do you find your way back in the dark?”
“Just head for that big star straight on. The highway is under it. It’ll take us right home.”

Judy Garland spent the summer of 1934 in Chicago, performing with her family’s vaudeville act, the Gumm Sisters. Barely 12 years old and still five long years from her breakthrough role in The Wizard of Oz, Frances Ethel Gumm (as Garland was then known) was already drawn unstoppably to the silver screen. On July 22, feeling restricted by her workhorse siblings, she escaped for a day alone and ended up at the Biograph Theater to see the gangster flick Manhattan Melodrama, starring Clark Gable and Garland’s future costar for eight films, Mickey Rooney. She sat through five showings. When her Hollywood-besotted eyes finally emerged, eight hours later, they saw a tall, pencil-mustachioed man in a straw hat and swank pinstripe suit, with a girl on each arm. He was exiting as well. Mistaking him for a movie star, Garland asked for his autograph. He gave it. A few moments later, he was shot through the head.

The success of The Dressmaker, set during the sinking of the Titanic, established Kate Alcott as a writer with a knack for poignantly recreating historical moments. In her latest novel, A Touch of Stardust, she turns that talent to the volatile world of 1939 Hollywood and the making of Gone With the Wind. Amidst today’s rapid-fire social media, 24/7 behind-the-scenes access, relentless scandals and privacy leaks, it’s almost hard to fathom classic movie star mystique and glamor. That’s why it’s such a thrill to be drawn into the enchanting pages of A Touch of Stardust, and to feel, right away, that you’ve stepped back in time to rub shoulders with film greats like mercurial genius David O. Selznick, regal Vivien Leigh and the vivacious Carole Lombard, whose relationship with Clark Gable counterbalances the story of Alcott’s gutsy heroine, Julie Crawford.