Read Cheat and Charmer Online

Authors: Elizabeth Frank

Cheat and Charmer

Praise for



Vanity Fair

“Twenty-five years in the making, Frank’s richly packed tale can be deemed no less than a magnificent achievement on par with any Hollywood novel ever written. With a master’s brush, she paints a mural of human folly that is breathtaking in its scope, yet marvelous in its simplicity.”



L.A. Weekly

“Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Frank explores so many issues and emotions with such thorough understanding that she often leaves the reader breathless.… 
Cheat and Charmer
rises above the pack.”

Blue Ridge Business Journal

“[Frank] has produced an engaging, if dark, story of a family in the throes of the Hollywood blacklist, and, in the process, she has captured an important moment in American Jewish history.”

The Jerusalem Report

“Elizabeth Frank’s sumptuous
Cheat and Charmer
is … a profoundly personal exploration of the pain caused by our unrealistic expectations of others—and of ourselves.”

Library Journal

“Seen from the inside out, this vicious slice of the American saga is intense, confusing, and irresistible to behold.… An astonishing first novel.”


“A riveting, spellbinding story, lushly and lavishly written … this is a very special novel.”

—Ann La Farge,
Taconic Newspapers

“Frank has delivered the goods.”

Kirkus Reviews

This is a work of fiction. Though some characters, incidents, and dialogues are based on the historical record, the work as a whole is a product of the author’s imagination.

2005 Random House Trade Paperback Edition

Copyright © 2004, 2005 by Elizabeth Frank
Reading group guide copyright © 2005 by Random House, Inc.

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Random House Trade Paperbacks, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.


and colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., in 2004.

Frank, Elizabeth.
Cheat and charmer : a novel / Elizabeth Frank.
p.   cm.
ISBN 0-8129-6961-8
eBook ISBN: 978-1-58836-497-5
1. Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)—Fiction.   2. Triangles (Interpersonal relations)—Fiction.   3. Blacklisting of entertainers—Fiction.   4. Motion picture industry—Fiction.   5. Married women—Fiction.   6. Adultery—Fiction. I. Title.
PS3606.R376C47 2004
813′.54—dc22  2003066723



I to my perils

Of cheat and charmer

Came clad in armour

By stars benign

Hope lies to mortals

And most believe her

But man’s deceiver

Was never mine

The thoughts of others

Were light and fleeting

Of lovers’ meeting

Or luck or fame

Mine were of trouble

And mine were steady

So I was ready

When trouble came



he band launched into an old swing tune and the other couples fell away, clearing the floor for Jake and Dinah Lasker, who were dancing with tremendous rhythm and style. Tall and broad-shouldered, his thinning hair black and wavy, Jake led smoothly, his timing practiced and understated as he released his wife in an outward spin and then snapped her back toward him in an inward spiral. Under her flaring green satin dress, Dinah’s legs were what any dance director would have considered professionally great—long and well proportioned, with slender, graceful ankles. She wasn’t otherwise especially beautiful, at least not by the impossible standards of the motion picture industry, but she was a comely woman, with regular features and warm, guileless eyes. She wore her brown hair in a pageboy, with a side wave swept up and locked into place with a simple gold barrette. Had she been two inches taller, she could easily have had a career as a model; good clothes looked wonderful on her, and she danced with the same naturalness and trust in her body with which she walked and gestured.

After a wave of applause, Irv Engel, the tuxedoed president and head of production at Marathon Pictures, returned the baton to its rightful owner and beckoned the Laskers to join him. Engel was strikingly tall and thin, round-shouldered, with transparent eyeglass frames and, at the moment, a big horsy smile that seemed inconsistent with his furrow-browed demeanor at the studio. “God, it’s fun watching you two dance,” he remarked, as he clamped his long arms around both Dinah’s and Jake’s shoulders and steered them from one table to the next, each with a pink damask tablecloth and napkins, heavy silver, and gardenias afloat in a crystal bowl from
whose center rose a small flickering candle. It was early summer and, like most Southern California evenings at this time of year, fragrant with ocean air, pine trees, and night-blooming jasmine.

It seemed to Dinah that Irv was unusually attentive tonight, flattering her in front of all the guests, oohing and aahing about her great legs, and going on and on about her as a paragon of Hollywood wifeliness. Nevertheless she hung back, keeping her eyes on Jake, wanting the night’s glory to be completely his. She took in the sound of voices low in conversation, the gusts of sudden, often profane laughter, and the familiar scents—perfume and coffee and cigarette smoke, brandy and cigars. Finally, seeing an opportunity, she slipped away from Irv and her husband and headed toward a round table otherwise deserted except for a lone woman who was staring out in unfathomable melancholy at the turquoise depths of the swimming pool.

As Dinah swept the folds of her dress to one side, let her satin high heels drop to the terra-cotta tiles, and put her stocking feet up on the empty chair beside her, the woman, a small blonde, glanced at her with interest. “My, my, Dinah, you and Jake certainly look good on the dance floor.”

“Thanks, Anya,” Dinah gasped. “But I forgot I was wearing high heels. I damn near k-k-k-killed myself.”

“The two of you have such style together. It’s a pleasure to watch.”

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