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"How did she feel about homosexuality?"

"She was like most people at the time in Hollywood; she tolerated it, she was familiar with the gay community, but I don't think she approved of it in her daughter [Parsons's only child Harriet was a lesbian].

"I wish I had insight into Harriet's torment. It was so obvious that she was struggling all her life. She was still bitter, even after Louella died; she was going to write a memoir called I Didn't Tell Mother. But in the end, her obituary read 'Louella Parsons's Daughter,' even though she was a respected producer in the '40s."

"Did she bring home her girlfriends?"

"No. Oh, no. I think by the time she came out, she was probably in her 40s. They didn't have that close a relationship. Harriet was devoted to Louella. This was definitely a love/hate relationship."

Parsons loved movies. "She was addicted," Ms. Barbas said. "When she was in her 70s, she was still reviewing five films a week. All her career she was not only writing a gossip column, but she did film reviews. So she was writing two columns every day. And for each one she had to watch a film."

"Who is the Louella of today?"

"I don't think we have one. There's the Hollywood Reporter and Variety, but these don't reach a mass audience. We have People and other, similar publications. The concept of celebrities has expanded. Anyone can be a celebrity. Gossip and news have fused. Now we have a gossip culture. We don't need to go to somebody's column to find out who's sleeping with who."

"Why do you think we want to know?"

"Well, in the '20s, I think Louella was very smart. She brought this up in an interview, she said, 'I think that as a modern society, we don't know our neighbors, we have no community.' She believed we were looking for some intimate connection with people. Maybe this is one way."

"So much that was written in the gossip column was illusion."

"Yes, and all the classic American fables -- 'rags to riches,' 'work hard and succeed,' 'the good will be rewarded.' Those are all woven into the celebrity myth. We know it's a sham. Yet we're willing to participate in it. More than ever we know it's a sham, but it's still addictive."

"What would Parsons make of today's films?"

"She would criticize the sex and violence. Part of me thinks she would faint, but on the other hand, she always appreciated a good story. So she might see some merit in some films today. But she was basically Victorian. She was born in the 1880s. Yes, she would faint at a lot of stuff.

"I wish that I had more to go on with Louella. I want to dig deeper. I want to write a history of female ambition in the 20th Century. What drives women to do these things, particularly at times in history when they're not encouraged? How are their efforts perceived, and where did their inspiration come from? What's the role of men and other women in this ambition?"

"A personal question, how did you survive while you did this work for the book?"

"I was teaching full-time in Orange County. I didn't get any fellowships. I did it on my own."

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