Elinor Sutherland was born in Jersey, at No. 1 St Saviour’s Road. After a terrible childhood shipwreck, she dreamed of escape. She succeeded. As Elinor Glyn, her romantic novels would eventually sell by the million and make her an Edwardian household name. When she moved to California in 1920, she became friends with Charlie Chaplin and invented the concept of the “It Girl”. Her motion pictures struck gold at the box office, and at the brief pinnacle of her success, Elinor Glyn helped to define the legend of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
In the very beginning in California, there was only dust. Beverly Hills had the ambience of “an abandoned real estate development”, recalled Charlie Chaplin in his autobiography. “Sidewalks ran along and disappeared into open fields”. California was a “a paradise of sunshine, orange groves, vineyards and palm-trees, stretching along the Pacific coast for a thousand miles”. America’s great trek west, the Manifest Destiny that had guided the nation for decades, had at last reached its final frontier.
First men came west for God, then for gold. Now a new breed of technical pioneers colonised the Promised Land, in search of the aura of pure clear light. Farms became studios. The merciless Californian sun proved the ideal medium for the magicians to conjure up their ghostly moving pictures on magic lanterns. An obscure and ramshackle country roadhouse, the Hollywood Hotel, suddenly became deluged with celebrities.
The allure of the West Coast sucked in a swarm of writers and swindlers, moneymen and showgirls, tycoons on the make. This was a gold rush as fatal and alluring as the mad old days of 1849; the spell of California promising the bounty of untold wealth to the ferociously ambitious with nothing to lose but their souls. For a very few, the dream came true.
This was the world that Elinor Glyn would rule like a dowager empress.
“Her British dignity was devastating”, recalled Gloria Swanson.“Her hair was the colour of red ink, and she wore it wrapped around her head like an elaborate turban. She was something from another world”.
At Jersey Library on Saturday January 20th, Paul Darroch, author of Jersey: The Hidden Histories, will be telling her story.
(c) Paul Darroch 2018