2019 Reviews · biography · non-fiction

New Release Book Review: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Title: Australia’s Sweetheartaustralia's sweetheart small

Author: Michael Adams

Published: January 29th 2019

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Pages: 416

Genres: Non Fiction, Biography

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 3.5 stars

This is the fascinating story of Mary Maguire, a 1930s Australian ingenue who sailed for Hollywood and a fabulous life, only to have her career cut short by scandal and tragedy. Packed with celebrity, history and gossip, AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART is perfect for readers of SHEILA and THE RIVIERA SET.

Mary Maguire was Australia’s first teenage movie star and she captivated Hollywood in the mid 1930s. Mary lived on three continents and was celebrated in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Los Angeles and London. Her life was lived in parallel with seminal incidents of the twentieth century: the Spanish Flu; the Great Depression; the Bodyline series; Australia’s early radio, talkies and aviation; Hollywood’s Golden Era; the British aristocracy’s embrace of European fascism; London’s Blitz; and post-war American culture and politics. Mary knew everyone, from Douglas Jardine, Don Bradman, Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan, to William Randolph Hearst, Maureen O’Sullivan and Judy Garland.

AUSTRALIA’S SWEETHEART in an irresistible never-before-told story that captures the glamour of Hollywood and the turbulent times of the twentieth century, with a young woman at its centre.


I suspect it would test many Australians today if we asked the question, who was Mary Maguire? I’m not sure many would be able to provide an answer. This is why author and journalist Michael Adams, who has passion for the subject of cinema history, has brought to life the tale of Mary Maguire, one of Australia’s first expats to crack Hollywood. Australia’s Sweetheart is a tribute to and a life re-imagined of this forgotten heroine of the silver screen.

Christened as Helene Teresa Maguire, but best known as Mary Maguire, or ‘Australia’s Sweetheart’ for the purposes of this book, Mary is perhaps our country’s first official female star to hit it big in Hollywood. Mary’s began her career treading the boards on a stage pantomime production of Peter Pan, but she soon became involved in the “talkies” or motion pictures. She carved a career for herself by starring in two film productions on local soil before embarking for the bright lights of Hollywood. In Hollywood and later Britain, Mary rubbed shoulders with the many well known movie stars of the 1930s and other renowned celebrities of this glamorous era. Through it all, Mary looked on as many world events unfurled around her, including the Spanish Flu epidemic and the storms of war. She negotiated a tough first marriage with husband who was imprisoned for his political affiliations and she suffered the loss of her infant son. She was the subject of intense media scrutiny and publicity. She watched her brief Hollywood star rise and fall. A short lived career revival occurred for Mary, but it was fleeting and she retreated to a quiet life, but she never came back home to the place of her birth and upbringing.

Hidden history non fiction titles always fascinate me. I was keen to delve into the secret life of Mary Maguire, a Hollywood star from yesteryear that I had no prior knowledge of until I read Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams. I can’t say I’ve really sat back and thought about who paved the way for some of our most successful Australian film and celebrity exports. But Michael Adams gets us thinking about our successful celebrities of times past. It is their time to shine, thanks to this very enlightening biography.

Michael Adams appears to be the best figure to delve into the history of one of our first official movie stars that managed to crack the illusive Hollywood market. With a career as an author, journalist, TV producer, screenwriter accompanying his vast knowledge of film, has definitely put Adams in good standing for reviving the life of Mary Maguire, a screen star many of us would not know existed. Adams admits to taking some liberties with his book, Australia’s Sweetheart, with a lack of firsthand diaries and letters, this book is a work of creative non fiction. Adams has had to fill in the gaps so to speak, drawing on archival research, along with recollections from relatives and some interviews. What emerges is an inferred history, which is fascinating but lengthy. It took this speed reader a good part of the working week to work through this book.

Beginning with Mary’s childhood, upbringing, family background and early life living in Australia, we begin to form a picture of a young woman who was bitten by the Hollywood bug early in her life. We are privy to some of Mary’s first acting and stage work. We also learn a lot about the casting process and what it would have been like to work as an actress, especially a teenage actress on a major motion pictures back in the 1930s. Mary was a woman with ambitions and it wasn’t too long before, with the urging of her mother behind her, Mary set sail for Hollywood. Adams re-imagines Mary’s emergence into the epicentre of motion pictures. We discover what life was like for an aspiring actress, especially an actress so far from home. Mary was homesick at times, but her desire to succeed overtook this. Adams reveals Mary’s breakthrough in the world of film, along with who she encountered by the way of fellow actors, actresses, producers, directors and studio heads. This is old Hollywood at it epitome.

Mary’s star was fast to rise, but it seemed to dwindle out as quickly as it ignited. This was due to a number of factors which Adams is careful in drawing our attention to through  his book. We know that female movie stars did not generally have long careers in Hollywood. They were plagued by intense scrutiny on their private lives, looks and weight. When Mary married her first husband, she made an ill choice and this decision rocked her career. Mary’s husband was a fascist and he was imprisoned for his actions and beliefs. Sadly, he was in prison when their son was born and later died. It was an event that would haunt Mary for her entire life. Once she separated from her first husband and remarried, Mary attempted to revive her faltering career. Small successes ensued but she retreated for a quiet life. Mary’s internal struggles remained until her death.

The most interesting aspect of Australia’s Sweetheart is the backdrop that is painted and matched against Mary’s colourful life. We watch on as Michael Adams describes the social and political climate of the 1930s era and the years after. We are standing right there as an onlooker as the Spanish Flu passes, the world welcomes advances to technology such as the emergence of more sophisticated air transport, the revolution in the film industry and the rise of political ideals such as fascism with the advent of war. Adams looks at these pivotal world history events within the context of Australia, the United States and Britain, which is where Mary resided at various points of her life. I came to look forward to the name dropping that occurred in this book, from Ronald Reagan to Errol Flynn, British royalty and more.

Australia’s Sweetheart is divided into four parts, segmented by Mary’s time in each continent, starting with Part One in Australia and concluding with the fascinating last section, Part Four on the Marrying Maguires (her sisters). An Afterword, Sources, Select Bibliography, Acknowledgements and Index rounds off Australia’s Sweetheart.

If you have ever felt fascinated by the origins of Hollywood and the megastars that helped bring the industry to what it is today, Australia’s Sweetheart is definitely a book to turn to. Fascinating and exuding old classic glamour of yesteryear, let Australia’s Sweetheart immerse you in a world of scandal, fame and tragedy.

Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $32.99


*Thanks is extended to Hachette Australia for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.


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