Starring Humphrey Bogart as an expat in Morocco who finds himself caught up in World War II-era intrigue, Casablanca is a classic film that stands the test of time. The 1942 film garnered several Academy Awards upon its release, and had the honor to be one of the first films selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, with many of its lines instantly recognizable to the American public (“Here’s looking at you, kid!”). Despite the film’s popularity and iconic status, its origin story is less well known—and, as it turns out, surprisingly feminist.
The new novel Season of the Gods borrows from real life for its riveting plot, which focuses on a young woman working at Warner Bros. Studios in 1941. There couldn’t be a more ideal author to write this story: Robert Matzen is a Hollywood Golden Age biographer, and this is his first novel. His previous work includes Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II (2019), Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (2016), and Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 (2014), all of which place their subjects’ fascinating lives and careers in the proper historical context. Now, he’s turned his attention to historical fiction, and its undeniable ability to bring us to imaginative new heights.
Matzen’s novel begins, as the true story does, with Irene “Renie” Lee, the story editor at Warner Bros. Studios. Far from perfect, she abhors her “junkyard” of a love life, and it’s not exactly smooth sailing to be a woman in the 1940s workforce, either. She believes her luck may be turning when she stumbles upon an unproduced play in the slush pile that she accurately senses could be a serious hit. But getting everyone else on board with her convictions is another story…
Studio executives want to pass on the script, but Renie wins over screenwriting duo and identical twins Julius and Philip Epstein. Together, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Set against the mounting tension of World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor, the novel follows their efforts to bring Casablanca to the silver screen. Along the way, they’ll meet dazzling Hollywood legends, including producer Hal B. Wallis, director Michael Curtiz, and even Humphrey Bogart.
Published on the heels of the film’s 80th anniversary, Season of the Gods brings Renie’s story to the forefront. With the film still sparking headlines even today, the nostalgic press coverage failed to mention Renie, without whom we wouldn’t have this classic film to enjoy decades later. Her story deserves to be told, and Robert Matzen does it justice in this novel that Publishers Weekly called “marvelous”, with “crisp storytelling [that] will send readers back to the film with fresh eyes”. Download the book today to discover a riveting, unlikely story set during one of the most turbulent eras in history.
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