Souls for Sale
On the wedding night of Owen Scudder and Remember “Mem” Steddon, daughter of conservative preacher Dr. Steddon, the bride has a change of heart. Abandoning her new husband, she impulsively sneaks off their Los Angeles-bound train in middle of the desert. When she recuperates from dehydration, she comes to realize she’s stumbled on a film set and is given a role as an extra. As Mem’s masterful art of deception leads her to fame, Scudder — now known as a murderer who marries and kills his new brides — returns, raging with jealousy and attempts to kill one of her admirers, director Frank Claymore.
Tragedy strikes during the filming of Claymore’s next movie, in which Mem stars, when lightening sets a Big Top tent ablaze. The book concludes with murder, contrition, and the dreams both questioned and fulfilled: every character falls prey to the blurred lines of truth and fiction, described by the narrator as “mad spiritual gymnastics.” The conversions in Souls for Sale are as significant as the lies that lead to them.
Praise for Souls for Sale
“Hugely successful in its day, Souls for Sale furnishes a fascinating window on early Hollywood. One of many stories about would-be starlets seeking fame and fortune in the new industry, forced “to sell their souls and bodies,” it takes on new resonance in the #MeToo era. The book’s heroine is a small-town clergyman’s daughter, “young and starved for life,” who, finding herself pregnant and unmarried, ventures west to Los Angeles. There she meets members of the “movie colony,” finds work as an extra, then like so many other movie-struck girls of her generation, soon aspires to be a star. Released at the height of the star scandals that rocked the early movie business, Souls for Sale sets the stage the industry’s efforts to manage its reputation just a few years later by implementing a “morals clause” in studio contracts aimed at curtailing debauchery behind the scenes, as well as a strict Production Code that regulated depictions of sex and violence onscreen.”
— Shelley Stamp, author of Lois Weber in Early Hollywood and Movie-Struck Girls
“Encountering Souls for Sale now, it’s hard not to think of the Coen Brothers and to imagine this send up of small-minded America in their capable hands. With shades of Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, Hail, Caeser!, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Souls for Sale feels like a kindred script waiting for an update in our time, where truth and lies have taken on new significance.”
—Marsha Gordon, Professor of Film Studies, North Carolina State University
About The Authors
Rupert Hughes was an American novelist, film director, Oscar- nominated screenwriter, military officer, and music composer.
Sarah Gleeson-White is Associate Professor in American Literature at the University of Sydney. She is the author of William Faulkner at Twentieth Century-Fox: The Annotated Screenplays, and Strange Bodies: Gender and Identity in the Novels of Carson McCullers, and the editor, with Peter Lurie, of The New Faulkner Studies (forthcoming with Cambridge UP). She has written about American literature and film for PMLA, Modernism/modernity, the LA Review of Books, The Cambridge Companion to the Literature of the American South, and William Faulkner in Context. Her new book project, “Literature in Motion,” considers the interactions of US literary and cinema cultures across the silent-film era.