With her friend Julia, who is looking for a part in comedy, Carol finds a room in a theatrical boardinghouse. She finds Herbert, a pet skunk, and his vaudeville trainer on the floor above. But week in, week out, she finds nothing but discouragement in the casting offices. "Sorry, but you are not the type--perhaps we can let you know later." Those turn-downs drive her frantic. When her money has dwindled to the point of desperation, Carol is lucky to find herself a job as an usher in the balcony. The she picks up a little work on a radio program, she gets a walk-on part in a play which soon flops, and at long last she comes to her real trial on Broadway.
The story of Carol's and Julia's adventures on Broadway, the story of what they bring to the theater and of what the theater grudgingly gives to them, has the true ring, the warmth and the color, which one looks for in the work of Helen Dore Boylston. This is a book to be read by every girl who ever dreamed of "going on the stage." (from the inside flap of Carol Plays Summer Stock)
Another novel by the writer who knows both nursing and people--Helen Dore Boylston. (back cover)
In a rambling old house by the sea, Carol, Julia, and Mike live with the other members of the Richards Theater. Here their days are filled with learning parts, attending rehearsals, painting scenery, and absorbing as much as possible about the business of a summer theater; nights are filled with the excitement of performance. Here, too, Carol learns what it means to combat such forces as townsfolk who frown on the stage as evil, Maine fog and rain which seem intent on keeping away an audience. She learns how to meet discouragement and how to cope with a girl named Orchid, a professional member of the cast whose training gives her an advantage over Carol and whose glamour is as effective as her technique.
Most of all, Carol and Mike discover the meaning of the theater--its demands, its disappointments, its rewards--and it is with a deeper realization of their love for it that they turn their eyes towards Broadway. (inside flap)
How can you beat a character introduction like that? Helen Dore Boylston was also the author of the Sue Barton nurse stories, but I have a soft spot in my heart for the Carol books--and not just because of the name. My copy is a first edition, published in 1941 and withdrawn from a public library in Chisholm, Minn probably due to the coffee spills, pencil marks and torn, yellowed pages. Considering I got it in the 1970s, it's holding up quite well.
According to the blurb on the back of one of Boylston's book, Carol is one of "Two Famous Young Heroines from the books of Helen Dore Boylston." Here's the description: "Carol Page, who wants to be an actress. Attractive, full of spirits, but serious underneath, Carol treads the difficult path toward a career on the stage, finding all the hardships--and thrills, too--that the theater has always provided for the girl who wants to reach the pinnacle." She wrote four books in the Carol series, starting with Carol Goes Backstage, and moving on to Carol Plays Summer Stock, Carol on Broadway, and finally, Carol on Tour.
As the book opens, Carol is late for the dress rehearsal for the high school play. After making the appearance noted above, she goes outside to rehearse her lines and is "interrupted by the jerky arrival of a battered roadster driven by a tall boy with a thin, eager face and tousled fair hair." This would be Ned Long, and don't get attached--the Boylston books are about careers first, then love. She goes off in his car with him, which naturally breaks down. She hitches a ride to the school with someone in a "long, underslung coupe", who talks to her about acting. She has a great success in the play and heads off for a trip to New York with her older brother. As she gets tickets for Candida, she walks through Times Square lost in daydreams of theatrical success:
"Broadway elbows and Broadway shoulders brushed against her, but she didn't notice. Nor did she know that her sensitive young face and startling green eyes stood out sharply in the crowd. She didn't know that her body had grace and ease of balance, or that she walked lightly, her weight on the balls of her feet--a perfect stage walk. But there were individuals in the crowd who knew, and who turned to look after her with brief interest."As the play starts, she realizes that the woman who gave her a ride is Jane Sefton, a great lady of the theater. She goes backstage and tells Miss Sefton that she plans to go on the stage as well. Back at home in Milltown, much drama ensues as Carol informs her parents (Judge Page, mind you) of her plans to become an apprentice at the Stuyvesant Theater School in New York. She auditions, along with her good friend and future character actress Julia, and meets an annoying young man named Michael Horodinsky.
"Talent is not enough. You must realize that, too. You may be the most talented person in the world and still have no place in the theater. The real essentials for a theatrical career are discipline, steadiness, willingness to work and co-operate, manners, and respect for the rights of others. an actor with 25 per cent talent and 75 per cent character will go farther in the theater than one with 75 per cent talent and 25 per cent character."They put on their own scenes (directed by that annoying Mike), and get to watch a production from backstage, including a magical production of Peter Pan.
The charm of this book lies in the detailed and fascinating depiction of life in the theater--from high school productions, to off-Broadway productions, to the Broadway show in which one of the apprentices gets a walk-on part. It's also very evocative of life as it must have been for the young apprentices in the New York theater scene. Boylston's novels are fast-moving, and her characters and dialogue are vivid and dramatic. Carol learns a lot about herself and acting, and as she gets to know Mike, she gains respect for his talent despite his gruff exterior. But the central focus in this novel is always Carol and her journey on her way to becoming a real actress, despite her family's objections and the hard road ahead.