THIS IS THE STORY of Marabelle Lawrence, a naughty rural Alabama girl who enjoyed a multi-decade, multi-continent career as one of the world's leading ladies. Crossing her path are Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn and other notables. She says "darling" as often as she changes into stunning new outfits, and her friends use expressions like "ducks," as in "i know you're still a growing boy, ducks, but try to restrain yourself tonight."

The cover blurb says Huff "has written best-selling historical novels under a pseudonym." This may be true. The writing here is clear and the story moves along with all the embellishments, parties and petty jealousies a romantic tale must have. But best-seller Huff has done little historic research for this one. Any fan magazine reader knows more about the stars than Marabelle does.

Still, Marabelle is interesting. The neglected lonely child of an absentee father (a big-shot senator), she decides that public attention will prove her worthy of his love. At age ten, for example, she employs forbidden words as she tells birthday party guests to leave, taking their unwelcome presents with them. Such unswerving disprespect for accepted norms gives her character. She also ages well. No matter how her body thickens and how many bags appear beneath her eyes, she believes that true love -- and true meaning in life -- are somehow just around the corner.

Marabelle gets tiresome, however, when she and her crowd fail to update their "darlings" and "ducks" into more modern idiom. One way to keep the book interesting is to wonder whether Tom Huff is really a man. Would a male author -- even during these days when men are trying to be more sensitive to the female perspective -- write things like: "She looked stern and patrician in navy blue shoes, sheer nylon stockings and a navy blue skirt and the new mid-calf length skirt and tailored jacket with shoulder pads. A coral brooch was fastened to her lapel, and she wore a navy blue hat festooned with coral ribbons. . ."?

Be a real darling, Tom, and next time include a ducky picture of yourself on the back cover.