A feature length article in this week’s Los Angeles Review of Books is entitled “In Search of the Great Hollywood Novel.” This is by Graham Daseler who begins by wondering why there is no genre for Washington novels but then notes that Hollywood has had more than its fair share. One of the first he mentions is Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One. This comes up under the topic of spotting the source of the characters in a town that is full of them:
One need not have a PhD in film studies to recognize the actual movie folk wandering through Charles Bukowski’s 1989 novel Hollywood because Bukowski barely bothered to disguise them (for instance, “Wenner Zergog” and “Jean-Luc Modard”)…It takes a somewhat sharper eye to spot C. Aubrey Smith — the wizened, well-mustachioed supporting player in such films as The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) and Four Men and a Prayer (1938) — sipping gin and tonics in the opening of Evelyn Waugh’s satire The Loved One. In the novel, Smith is renamed Sir Francis Hinsley and made a screenwriter rather than an actor, but his aristocratic posturing and taste for cricket give him away. Sir Aubrey, a veteran of the London stage who transplanted to Hollywood in the early 1930s, was the doyen of what later became known as the Hollywood Raj, a faux gentleman’s club of Brits working in Southern California during the Great Depression. Like his fictive counterpart, Sir Aubrey was president of the Hollywood Cricket Club and, as if to compensate for his émigré status, played up his Englishness in California, where the locals were unlikely to notice the histrionics of the performance. In the beginning of The Loved One, Sir Francis and his friend Sir Ambrose Abercrombie are having their drinks on the porch at sunset, chatting about the climate and the natives as if they’re living in some far-flung outpost of the Empire.
This identification runs counter to most of Waugh’s biographers and critics who have concluded that Waugh used C. Aubrey Smith as the primary model for Sir Ambrose Abercrombie, not for Sir Francis Hinsley. Indeed, Stannard notes some correspondence in which the Cyril Connolly (who first published the book in Horizon) said his printer’s lawyers expressed concern that “Aubrey Smith might have a case which would be awkward…I imagine the answer would be that being the President of the Cricket Club was but one attribute of many taken from all kinds of English actors.” Stannard II, p. 205, n. 82. Christopher Sykes, Robert Murray Davis, Paul Doyle and Lisa Colletta also take Smith to be the model for Sir Ambrose. It is true that in the novel it was Sir Francis, not Sir Ambrose, who had been president of the cricket club. Since that was a position also held by Smith, he may have contributed something to both characters. But Sir Ambrose had surpassed Sir Francis as the spokesman for the English expatriate community in Hollywood at the time of the novel, and that was a role Smith still very much performed.