Borchardt Agency
Published by
Liveright (2022-08-23)
Current material
Final Pages
Original language
Historical adventure fiction


A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles

by Charyn, Jerome

Narrated by a starry-eyed lesbian, Big Red reimagines the tragic career of Rita Hayworth and her indomitable husband, Orson Welles.

Since he first appeared on the American literary scene, Jerome Charyn has dazzled readers with his "blunt, brilliantly crafted prose" (Washington Post). Yet Charyn, a beloved comedic novelist, also possesses an extraordinary knowledge of Golden Age Hollywood, having taught film history both in the United States and France.

With Big Red, Charyn reimagines the life of one of America's most enduring icons, "Gilda" herself, Rita Hayworth, whose fiery red tresses and hypnotic dancing graced the silver screen over sixty times in her nearly forty-year career. The quintessential movie star of the 1940s, Hayworth has long been objectified as a sex symbol, pin-up girl, and so-called Love Goddess. Here Charyn, channeling the ghosts of a buried past, finally lifts the veils that have long enshrouded Hayworth, evoking her emotional complexity- her passions, her pain, and her inner turmoil.

Charyn's reimagining of Hayworth's story begins in 1943, in a roomette at the Hollywood Hotel, where narrator Rusty Redburn - an impetuous, second-string gossip columnist from Kalamazoo, Michigan - bides her time between working as a gofer in the publicity offices of Columbia Pictures, volunteering at an indie movie house, and pursuing dalliances with young women on the Sunset Strip. Called upon by the manipulative Columbia movie mogul Harry "The Janitor" Cohn to spy on Hayworth - then, the Dream Factory's most alluring "dame," and Cohn's biggest movie star - Rusty becomes Rita's confidante, accompanying her on a series of madcap adventures with her indomitable husband, the "boy genius" Orson Welles.

But Rusty, an outlaw who can see beyond the prejudices of Hollywood's male-dominated hierarchy, quickly becomes disgusted with the way actresses, and particularly Rita, are exploited by men. As she struggles to balance the dangerous politics of Tinseltown with her desire to protect Rita from ruffians and journalists alike, Rusty has her own encounters - some sweet, some bruising - with characters real and imagined, from Julie Tanaka, an interned Japanese-American friend, to superstars like Clark Gable and Tallulah Bankhead, as well as notorious Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons.

Reanimating such classic films as Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai, Big Red is a bittersweet paean to Hollywood's Golden Age, a tender yet honest portrait of a time before blockbusters and film franchises - one that promises to consume both Hollywood cinephiles and neophytes alike. Lauded for his "polymorphous imagination" (Jonathan Lethem), Charyn once again has created one of the most inventive novels in recent American literature.

Available rights (1)

Language Territory Type Vendor Status
German World All

Mohrbooks Literary Agency
Sebastian Ritscher

Available View on Rightsdesk


Big Red is an entrancing work of historical fiction... a long form love letter from Jerome Charyn to [Rita] Hayworth.descriptions are vivid, humorous, and perceptive... Big Red is a delight for fans of Old Hollywood and great historical fiction. Its characters are compelling, the plot moves along at a clip, and it provides a glimpse behind the curtain of a Hollywood long gone.

Review: Chicago Review of Books

If you love stories about Hollywood's golden age, you'll be swept up by this dazzling fictionalized account of a doomed Tinseltown marriage... Charyn's obvious affection for his subjects lends humanity and depth to the depictions of personal drama... As captivating as its namesake and chock full of bold-faced names, Big Red is an unforgettable portrait of American film royalty.

Review: Apple Books Review, starred review

The veteran author's charm and easy sense of irony further lift this surprisingly affecting book... A novel that transcends its concept with its human touches.

Review: Crimereads

Big Red is like a graphic novel except that Jerome Charyn doesn't need illustration. The way he writes we can see it all, as vivid and energetic as a great B movie.

Quote: David Thomson, film historian and critic

No one writes historical fiction better than Jerome Charyn, and Big Red, his latest, narrated by the marvelously wry Rusty Redburn, is the hilarious and moving tale of a bygone Hollywood - its glamour, its stars, its moguls, its dreams, and its victims - all told with the tender wisdom of a good friend.

Quote: Brenda Wineapple, author of The Impeachers

The veteran author's charm and easy sense of irony further lift this surprisingly affecting book... A novel that transcends its concept with its human touches.

Review: Kirkus

This affective and searing portrait of Silver Screen superstars Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles... [is] a rewarding paean to some of cinema's greats.

Review: Publishers Weekly, starred review

One of the supreme strengths of 'Big Red' is that Jerome Charyn finds exactly the right voice for the novel... [the] wheels [of the novel] turn with extraordinary ease and elegance.

Review: New York Sun

Jerome Charyn is an American original. His prose is scintillant, seemingly without effort or strain, yet unfailingly brilliant & audacious. In 'Big Red' the characteristic virtuosity is present - but beneath, a tender, bruised heart.

Quote: Joyce Carol Oates

Cinematic and bittersweet...[Charyn] subtly evokes F.Scott Fitzgerald's 'The Great Gatsby' in telling his saga of star-crossed charismatics... His novel, with its multiple layers of fiction and fact, resurrect the vanished world it celebrates and explicates it in all its grand illusion.

Review: Wall Street Journal

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