Sunday, April 22, 2012

Spotlight on Nurse Thorne

By Tracy Adams
(pseud. Sofi O’Bryan), ©1962

Inspired by her medical student fiancé, Cindy Thorne abandoned her acting career to become a nurse. But the details of medical training and the strain of awaiting his return made her question her decision. Was her dedication to helping humanity strong enough to counter the excitement of a new appearance behind the footlights and the charm of an intriguing leading man?


“With a love scene like that you’ll give all the doctors high blood pressure and they’ll kick you out of nursing, baby.”

“My heart is in real bad shape, suffering from a stenosis there’s no name for.”

Cindy Thorne is a former child star with a haranguing stage mother who has lost her chance at glory by association when the child in question opted for a more pedestrian career: While researching a role at a hospital, Cindy met this intern, Bruce, and soon decided to chuck Hollywood for nursing school so she could help him when he goes into practice. (But it’s also apparent that Hollywood had dropped Cindy as well, as she had become too old to play a child, and roles for older girls weren’t forthcoming.)

When the book opens, Cindy is a few months from graduating from nursing school, and her class has decided to stage a production of My Fair Lady. Cindy, of course, lands the lead. There’s this intern, Ted Morrow, who qualifies for the part of Henry Higgins basically by being cute, but he comes with the extra advantage that he’s already pining for his leading lady. As play rehearsals progress, Cindy spends a lot of time thinking about how much she loves being on the stage and asking herself if nursing is really the right career for her. Oh, and dating – and kissing – Ted, despite her being all but engaged to Bruce. As graduation and opening night approach, her internal struggles increase in frequency and amplitude, until both are over and Cindy is heading out for a celebratory night on the town with Bruce, planning to tell him that she’s going to quit nursing before her shiny new RN pin has even cooled. Then their cab is brought to a halt in a traffic jam caused by a fire in the subway near the Times building on 42nd Street – and she and Bruce are simultaneously tumbling out onto the street to go help the injured. Somehow this instinctive reaction completely negates all those pages of internal turmoil, and “she belonged in this white uniform, in these white oxfords and white stockings. She wouldn’t exchange places with any other girl in the world.”

I’ve spent the morning wondering what to say about this book. As you can see from the pair of paragraphs above, there’s not really much to say. It’s mildly pleasant, but it has next to no camp or humor, and it’s a bit earnest for my taste, with too much fretting over how emotionally demanding nursing is. The cast of characters is overly large; we whiz past 12 other nursing students, getting to know just one, who is unfortunately a bit irritating. Our brief exposure to Bruce – he doesn’t even have a last name – is not enough to make for a satisfying ending when she chooses him over Ted. I was also somewhat taken aback, given Cindy’s previously strong conviction that she needed to be an actress, that she could reverse herself for apparently no more of reason than that she reached for a car door handle in a moment of crisis. In the end, the spotlight is focused on a fickle nurse engaged to a stranger, and I’m more than ready to leave the theater.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Nurse Kitty’s Secret

By Fern Shepard
(pseud. Florence Stonebraker), ©1963
Cover illustration by Rudy Nappi

At times, Kitty McCarthy thought she had buried her unhappy past. She was young, beautiful, raven-haired—and now all she wanted was to make good as an R.N. at Miner’s Hospital in the Kentucky hills—and to marry rugged Dr. Gary Harding—whose dream it was to see his little hospital properly equipped and endowed. Then, one day, Kitty’s brave new world fell apart—when Hollywood film queen Sherri Shannon was brought in—an accident victim. Sherri soon decided she wanted young Dr. Harding and would win him—if she had to destroy Kitty by ruthless trickery and by divulging the dark secret that involved both their pasts …


“Being born my child was the most important thing that could have happened to you.”

“Nurses don’t weep!”

“Jeff would be a good catch for any girl. One of these days he was going to be an excellent gynecologist. He had all the necessary qualities.”

“I’ll be twenty-four. That’s pretty ancient, so maybe by then I’ll have more sense and a clearer head.”

“No wonder it had been so easy to lose Gary who, for all of his serious side, was a very human man. Such men were attracted to women who never forgot to be intensely feminine, who understood the importance of small vanities, of working hard to look beautiful even if they were not beautiful.”

“When you want something with all your heart, you must expect to pay a price for it.”


You can usually count on Florence Stonebraker for a lively romp, with sparkling writing, characters that hold nothing back, and a wry wit. Nurse Kitty’s Secret could have been all that. It has the necessary ingredients: a femme fatale, a sassy sidekick, and even a tiny revolver pulled from a sequined clutch. Just add vodka and a twist of lemon, and enjoy responsibly! But despite these individual gems, they’re just not substantial enough to produce something to sigh over. In the end, Nurse Kitty’s Secret is your longtime fiancé finally pulling out a ring—and it’s microscopic diamonds set in silver.

I was hopeful with the very first sentence: “At exactly what moment Sherri was going to let the cat out of the bag concerning their relationship, Kitty McCarthy did not know.” All right! Enter Sherri Shannon who, at 42, is one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women, but you know as well as I do how keeping your chins and crow’s feet in check at such an advanced age can make a gal utterly neurotic. She’s been in a car accident in the boonies of Kentucky and has been transported to Miners’ Hospital, where Kitty is a nurse. No coincidence, this: Sherri had hired detectives to track down her long-lost daughter when she found herself alone and bored after the death of her fourth husband. In no time flat she is fluffing her platinum blonde hair and pressing her sculptured moue on Dr. Gary Harding, the medico who runs the hospital, in spite (or—could it be?—because) of the fact that he is currently all but engaged to Kitty. (As usual, the man in question cannot bring himself to marry, “as long as I am not earning enough to provide the kind of life I would want to provide for a wife and family.” These sorts of dopes unfailingly find themselves at the altar within 100 pages of such idiotic declarations.)

Kitty wants nothing to do with her glamorous mother because seven years ago the woman tried to have her committed to an insane asylum. It’s not clear why Sherri is so eager to persecute her daughter after a such a long hiatus, and she gets off to a weak start, haranguing Kitty to find her favorite tweezers—“I simply couldn’t get along without them!”—in amongst the creams and oils and lipstick papers littering the bathroom of Sherri’s hospital room. Indeed, after this weak attack she barely has the chance to sharpen her claws any further, immediately striking a deal with Kitty: She will organize a huge fund-raiser to build a new wing for the hospital if Kitty will quit her job and leave town. Kitty realizes that “it was Gary’s lifetime dream. To take it from him would be to take everything that was important to him”—or, in Sherri’s words, Kitty is “a foolish little sentimentalist […] just the type to give up your man in order to give him his heart’s desire”—and promptly tenders her resignation.

Kitty plans to leave town, but something always stands in her way. There’s that 16-year-old bride carrying an ectopic pregnancy, who begs Kitty to help her: She’s been advised by Kitty’s uncle, who plays the role of the wise, aged family doctor, to “guard against over-exertion and fatigue, be careful of her diet,” but I just can’t see how either of these precautions is going to keep her fallopian tube from rupturing and causing serious hemorrhage, even death.

So Kitty’s always hearing rumors from her pals at the hospital about the romance that Sherri is foisting on the dopey Dr. Gary. He wants his new hospital so much that he plays along—only to realize too late that “that fiendish woman—and she must be a fiend, treating you as she did—expects me to marry her! […] Think what it will mean to me to be married to that screwy woman!” But the pragmatic Kitty reminds him that his precious hospital hangs in the balance. And besides, “Marrying Sherri won’t mean a life sentence, honey. Her marriages never last very long.” Oh. Well, in that case …

The benefit goes off, but without the doctor—whose engagement to Sherri was to be announced at its conclusion—because he’s in surgery saving the kid whose ectopic pregnancy has indeed nearly killed her. Never saw that one coming. The money is raised, and Sherri turns up in a gold lame sheath dress, sporting a small shiny revolver to collect her vengeance. But it’s too little, too late. This scene plays out like a mangy stray with heatstroke compared to the fiery tiger it could have been.

Another sign that this book was doomed to disappoint was the fate of the liveliest character, hospital receptionist Liz Tracey. Liz is the sassy, wry sidekick who flings off lines like, “What’s with our Love Goddess this bright spring morning?” and “Miss Shannon is holding her own: Her temperature is normal, her blood pressure is normal, her appetite is normal, she wanted champagne for breakfast. We think she will live.” And she decamps for California halfway through the book, after Sherri told her that she ought to “strive to project a sweet, cheery personality. Me!” Frankly, I wish we could have gone with her. It would have made for a spicier book.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

University Nurse

By Arlene Hale, ©1967
Cover illustration by Lou Marchetti

Sara Arnold, the nurse at Heights University, knew what it was to go beyond the call of duty, to help sick or troubled students. But she needed love, too, and she couldn’t share Noel with so many of his devoted—and beautiful students. Sara loved the dedicated young professor, but how could she accept just a small corner of his life when someone like Hal offered her his whole world? For Hal was the kind of man who would give up all for the woman he loved. As a responsible nurse, Sara could understand Noel’s dedication to his career, but sometimes even a girl like Sara, usually so full of common sense, had trouble choosing between what reason dictated and her heart demanded.


“It’s a living. I’d swap it any time for a home, kids and a husband.”

“ ‘Hmm, your hair smells so good.’
“ ‘Shampooed it last night, just for you.’ ”

“ ‘You look right in a kitchen. I thought professional women were never much for homemaking.’
“ ‘You’re wrong,’ Sara answered. ‘We’re women first and then professionals.’ ”

Arlene Hale was a very prolific writer, penning more than one hundred books under this name, and she had at least six other pseudonyms as well. Quantity, however, seldom has anything to with quality in a best-selling author; I have found Arlene Hale’s books to be mostly mediocre (this is the eighth I’ve read). And so we have University Nurse.

Sara Arnold, the RN for Heights University, is dating sociology prof Noel Tyler. Their dates consist of her laying her head on his tweedy shoulder as he smokes a pipe in his book-lined study. Oh, and fighting about how he spends too much of his free time with his students, the co-eds especially, and this one girl in particular. Anne Marie Parker, a 22-year-old senior, is perennially turning up on Noel’s doorstep. Noel won’t tell Sara what he and Anne Marie talk about, because it’s confidential, but Sara has a few unflattering ideas.

Despite Sara’s objections, the visits to Noel’s house don’t stop, and now Professor Garth, the old chem prof, is dropping by as well. He has a troubled marriage, and rumors are flying that he is involved with one of the undergrads. Soon the Dean hears that it’s Anne Marie who is getting extra help in chemistry, and Prof. Garth is fired. Anne Marie is about to be expelled herself when she turns up at Noel’s house again. Noel sees no problem in “tightening his arms around her for a moment. In a way, Anne Marie was much as he had been as an orphaned boy, needing help, needing love, needing someone’s shoulder to lean on. He would and could help this girl. He lifted her tear-smudged face in his hands. Even like this, she was a fragile, beautiful thing and his heart ached to help her.” Clearly he has learned nothing from the cautionary tale of Prof. Garth.

Anne Marie tells Noel that nothing happened between her and Prof. Garth, and he insists that she go to the Dean and tell him this, or he will. Of course, when Sara learns of this latest tête à tête, she argues with Noel; she feels that if she had really wanted to, Anne Marie would have gone to the Dean long ago and prevented Prof. Garth from being fired in the first place, and Sara wonders if Anne Marie needs some therapy. Noel is hotly defending Anne Marie’s psychiatric integrity and about to break up with Sara when the phone rings: rather than go to the Dean, Anne Marie went to the medicine cabinet and attempted suicide with its contents.

When Sara and Noel get to Anne Marie’s hospital room, she asks them if anyone has cabled her father, an elusive businessman who has never had time for his daughter. “They must! They must!” she tells them. “Otherwise, it was all for—” Sara and Noel immediately deduce that Anne Marie had set up the whole “affair” with Prof. Garth as well as the suicide attempt to get her father’s attention. Noel takes the whole thing very hard, feeling that it’s entirely his fault that Anne Marie attempted suicide, because his rescue of Prof. Garth’s reputation and Anne Marie’s enrollment in the university meant that Anne Marie felt compelled to take some other drastic action to force her father to notice her.

I’m sure I don’t have to explain any more for you to see where this story is going. It’s a simple story, simply told, without much camp or fun or humor. It’s a quick read, but the best thing about this book is the cover—the illustration by Lou Marchetti as well as the cover line, “The professor understood everything but love.”