"It didn't matter that she was destined to plan the happiest day of a girl's life for other brides, but never for herself, until she met Whit Tolliver." Remember how I told you that these career romances tend to fall into one of two categories, "career manual" (Patti Lewis, Home Economist) or lurid and absurd? (A Measure of Love, anyone?) Well, today's Career Romance for Young Moderns, 1964's Weddings by Gwen, is kind of a hybrid. Sure, author Sylvia Lloyd gives us the ins and outs of the nascent wedding-planning profession, but not without a hefty dose of lurid romance! Veils, cakes, subservient wives and blackmail — after the jump!Young Gwen Wright has always dreamed of opening her own wedding consulting business. Raised by a miserly grandmother who won't let her go to college despite "a sharp, quick brain, an almost uncanny memory and an ability for figures," Gwen works at a department store, where she develops an interest in helping brides. When her grandmother dies and is — surprise! — rich, it's her chance to open shop (gray-carpeted with rose-pink draperies of lustrous satin and Provincial furnishings.) Gwen's a workaholic with a dull boyfriend named Steve whom she treats horribly. "He was as solid as the bank he worked for; he was kind and good humored and, in spite of his masculine strength, a good man. He was always at hand when she needed him and had proved his live for her in a hundred unexpressed ways." But he's never made her pulse race like the man who wanders into her shop! "He was extremely good-looking, almost the best-looking man that Gwen had ever seen...Gwen reacted in an entirely feminine manner.Her smile came back in answer to his. She felt herself melting under the glow of his admiring glance. In that moment, she was less business woman than just plain woman." Turns out "Whit Tolliver" wants Gwen to plan an elaborate wedding for his sister Laurie, a socialite who was paralyzed in a car accident. Laurie proves to be a petulant jerk:
"About the reception. We'll serve champagne - imported, naturally. And hors d'oeuvres, and perhaps small fancy cakes. No dinner. I think it's gauche - people stuffing themselves at a wedding. And I don't want too many caterers' hirelings swarming all over the place." Gwen had taken her notebook from her handbag and opened it to a clean page. She wrote into it: "Unobtrusive caterers." And under that she wrote, "No gaucherie."
She has equally strong ideas about the gown. "It was full-skirted. 'So that the braces won't show,' Laurie explained. It was sketched on Medieval lines, a high, tight bodice with designs of elaborate embroidery on the sleeves and up the front, from the hem to the neckline. 'To hide the fastening there. A zipper I suppose. You'll have to figure that out. And I want it in a rich, heavy material. Figured satin brocade, I think. You can get something with flowered figures on it and have the embroidery match the pattern." Gwen gets her friend Maryellen Johnson — who we learn has a shady brother, Flloyd - to make the uber-60s gown. But when Gwen brings her friend to the Tollivers, Maryellen and Whit have an instant connection and Gwen is stricken. We see Gwen working on various other weddings — for an ebullient young shopgirl, and for the hapless Steve's cousin. We learn why Gwen doesn't stock mother of the bride outfits: "She had learned at Bonner's that they were usually the most difficult and time-consuming of the wedding party. Middle-aged women were often hard to fit and their ideas about what they wanted were not as flexible as those of younger people." In the meantime, poor Steve comes around again. "Honey, I'll tell you frankly that I thought you were getting into a nutty sort of business, but I don't know now. There's more to it, isn't there, than just a way of making money and getting to be successful? You're making girls happy, and I guess that's the important part of it. Does that sound schmaltzy? I guess it does, but that's the way I happen to see it." She promptly dumps him. Because she's fixated on Whit Tolliver! Every article in the shop seemed to mock her. She could scarcely bear to look at the lovely white gowns which would be worn by other girls lucky enough to have had their romances turn out right. Nor at the crowns of orange blossoms or silk flowers or seed pearls. Nor at the illusion veiling in its misty swirling. The blue garters with their tiny rosebuds and clusters of lace which seemed, for some reason, to enchant the future brides merely sickened her." Although sickened by garters, Gwen perserveres with Laurie's wedding, as it becomes increasingly clear that Flloyd Johnson is up to No Good. And I regret to inform you that at this point the book is taken over by an exceedingly tedious blackmail adventure in which Gwen has to play detective and figure out what leverage Flloyd has over the Tollivers (spoiler: an old affair/murder and a scandalous grandfather in an insane asylum who he's threatening to bring to the wedding), her store gets trashed, and she's repeatedly threatened, menaced and saved by Steve. Yes, the wedding goes off without a hitch. Cops apprehend Flloyd outside the church, return the old man to the mental hospital, and the guests are none the wiser! Gwen, obviously, settles for Steve
"It's only fair to tell you I want to keep my shop and my service. But it doesn't have to be a full-time job thing. I'd keep the reins in my own hands, but that shouldn't take me away from the important things...in the order o importance would be you and our marriage, and then children, if we're lucky enough to have them. And then, after that, my own career. I promise you, my dearest, that's the way it will be."
Steve is delighted with her priorities. They embrace passionately. Gwen laughs and says, "I was just thinking of a paraphrase for that old slogan: 'The wedding you plan may be your own." Weddings By Gwen [Alibris]