The Quick Recap and Section-by-Section Summary for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.
For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.
In the Prologue, Monique Grant, a relatively unknown writer, is selected by Evelyn Hugo, a reclusive Hollywood legend, to write a biography of her life story which divulges all the secrets about Evelyn's many husbands. Monique does not know why she was chosen. The book is to be published after Evelyn dies, but Monique can keep the entirety of the proceeds.
In Part I, Evelyn talks about being young, beautiful and Cuban, but growing up with an abusive father. She wanted to get away, so she married her first husband Ernie because he was headed to Hollywood to work as a lighting grip. 16-year-old Evelyn is soon noticed by a young Hollywood producer, Harry Cameron. Evelyn then seduces a 48-year-old executive, Ari Sullivan, so she can get bigger roles. It works. They turn her blond and tell her how to dress. They want her to seem naive, but erotic. They also tell her to divorce Ernie so she can be seen dating Hollywood stars.
In Part II, Evelyn meets Hollywood royalty, Don Adler, and falls in love with him. His parents were both 1930's celebrities. She marries him, but he becomes abusive as his career gets a little rocky. Evelyn also becomes good friends with Harry, who reveals that he's gay, and with one of her co-stars, Celia St. James, who is a lesbian. Evelyn kisses Celia the same night she catches Don cheating on her. Don leaves her before she can leave him, but he also has the studio blackball her professionally. Evelyn moves in with Celia, and they begin a relationship.
In Part III, Evelyn goes to Paris to find work since she's blackballed in Hollywood. She becomes an international star. When rumors circulate about her and Celia, Evelyn decides to trick Mick Riva, a singer, into marrying her (and getting a quick annulment) to quell the talk. However, Evelyn gets pregnant in the process. She gets an abortion, but it causes Celia to break up with her out of jealousy.
In Part IV, Evelyn is in a movie that Harry is producing, Anna Karenina, that they desperately need to succeed. She hatches a plan to marry her co-star Rex North. Rex is well aware of the situation and agrees to the sexless marriage. The plan works and it results in a lucrative 3-movie deal for all three of them. However, two years later, Rex falls in love and the woman is pregnant. Evelyn comes up with a plan to be caught "cheating" with Harry the same time Rex announces his relationship. It works out and brings a lot of publicity to their last movie together.
In Part V, Evelyn finally makes up with Celia, who is now in a faux marriage with a gay man, John Braverman, that Harry is seeing. Harry and Evelyn decide to marry. That way, Evelyn and Celia can be together and Harry and John can be together. Things work out for years. When Evelyn is 36, she and Harry have a child together (with Celia's blessing), Connor. However, things fall apart when Evelyn does an explicit sex scene (opposite Don), against Celia's wishes. They break up. John dies of a heart attack soon after. Harry falls apart and starts drinking more.
In Part VI, one of Evelyn's directors, Max Girard, proposes to her. Harry agree to a divorce so Evelyn can re-marry. However, Evelyn soon realizes Max simply likes the idea of being married to Evelyn. It's been ten years since she's seen Celia, but she ends up reaching out. When Max finds their love notes, he's furious. Evelyn leaves him to be with Celia. Meanwhile, Harry has met a man and is in love. As the three of them are sorting out what to do and where to live, Harry drunkenly gets into an accident. Both he and his partner die. To protect Harry, Evelyn makes it look like the other man was driving.
In Part VII, Evelyn and Celia move to Spain to live a quiet life, but Celia now has a respiratory illness from smoking. Evelyn marries Celia's brother, a financier and womanizer, so that Celia can leave Evelyn her estate when she dies. Six years later, Celia passes away, at the age of 61. Robert passes away at 81. When Connor is 39, she is diagnosed with breast cancer and dies at 41.
In the Epilogue, Evelyn notes that everyone she loves is now dead. Evelyn admits to Monique that she was chosen for this because Harry's partner was James Grant, Monique's father. Monique is angry, but also realizes that Evelyn has taught her a lot and in time she will forgive her. Evelyn also tells Monique that she has breast cancer. After Monique leaves, Evelyn passes away (likely at her own hand).
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The book opens with a news clipping about Hollywood “It” Girl, Evelyn Hugo (born Evelyn Elena Herrera). She’s auctioning off some of her gowns, expected to fetch around $2 million to be donated to the breast cancer foundation. The article discusses her seven husbands and her daughter, Connor Cameron, who passed away last year from breast cancer at 41.
Monique Grant, a journalist, writes for the magazine Vivant. To her surprise, she’s informed by her boss, Frankie, that Evelyn Hugo has specifically requested her for an interview. Monique is a low level writer there whose marriage has just collapsed, and she’s eager for the opportunity. Her husband, David, has moved to San Francisco for a job, and she didn’t want to go. He moved anyway.
To prepare, Monique starts doing extensive research on Evelyn. Evelyn is notoriously private about her marriages and all her husbands have passed away. Monique shows up to talk to Evelyn, 79, who say that she wants Monique to write a book about her life story, to be published after she has passed away. Evelyn says that when the book sells, Monique can have all the proceeds of the sale, likely millions. Evelyn refuses to explain why. Evelyn also wants to write the book with only Monique, no one else, and not affiliated with the magazine. It puts Monique in an awkward position with her employer. Monique ends up lying to Frankie about the situation.
Evelyn starts by explaining her childhood. Her mother had been an aspiring starlet, who died when Evelyn was young. Evelyn grew up with her abusive father, and they were dirt poor. Evelyn has also always been gorgeous. An electrician in her friend’s building was going to Hollywood to rig up some lighting. She was determined to go with him.
In Monique’s mind, the question she really wants answered is to know who the love of Evelyn’s life was.
Part I: Poor Ernie Diaz
Evelyn’s mother had been a Cuban immigrant. She developed early and figured out that she could use it to get things from boys. But what she wanted was not boys, but to get out of Hell’s Kitchen, where she lived. Determined to get to Hollywood, Evelyn traded in her virginity for a chance to go to there with Ernie. She marries Ernie on February 14, 1953.
Soon, they move to Hollywood where he worked as a grip. She began hanging out at Formosa Cafe, where she’d heard famous people hung out. The bartender offers her a job as a waitress. Soon, she catches the eye of a young producer, Harry Cameron, and ends up with a deal at Sunset Studios by late 1954. Evelyn, 16, starts taking acting classes, and she starts getting small roles in movies.
Evelyn knocks on the door of Harry to ask for larger roles, but he says no. Her Cuban heritage is a problem, since they want nice blond girls for the roles. Evelyn starts trying to seduce Ari Sullivan, a 48-year-old executive. Soon, she’s sleeping with Ari, and Evelyn gets a role as Jo in Little Women. Evelyn goes blond and is told to lose weight. She takes elocution lessons to get rid of any trace of her New York accent and banishes her Spanish. They also give her a new backstory, give her a new last name and tell her how to dress. They were designing her to be naive and erotic.
The producers also want her to leave Ernie, so she can be seen around town with some high-profile male stars. She agrees, and Ernie cries for hours. In retrospect, Evelyn feels bad for using Ernie, who she only pretended to love. But she also feels that she did what was necessary to improve her life.
At this point, Monique and Evelyn take a break for the day. At home, Monique’s mother calls to plan a visit.
Part II: Goddamn Don Adler
Harry tells Evelyn that the studio wants Evelyn to try to date one of the male studio stars. At first she’s reluctant, but then she ends up on a date with Don Adler. She liked the way Don seemed to appreciate her, at least at first. They put Evelyn and Don in a movie together, Father and Daughter, and it’s a hit. Don’s parents are Mary and Roger Adler, the biggest stars in the 1930’s. Don is considered the prince of Hollywood. However, Don aspires to get out of his parent’s shadow.
Evelyn falls for Don and he asks her to marry her. Evelyn is delighted to marry someone she actually loves, even if it’s at the studio’s urging. After the wedding, Evelyn asks Harry why he never tried anything with her, and he laughs and says she’s not his type. He implies that he’s gay, and Evelyn tells Harry that he’s her best friend.
Evelyn and Don are married for two months before Don starts hitting her. Don has recently been in an action movie that has gotten bad reviews. Evelyn soon realizes that she’s met Don when he was on an upswing, and Don is only nice when he’s happy. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s career is doing well. One day, Don suggests angrily that she should quit acting. When Evelyn says no, he slaps her. Later, he apologizes. However, when Evelyn says she doesn’t want a family, he hits her again. It happens again and again. Eventually, Harry figures it out, but Evelyn says she loves him and there’s nothing to be done.
Monique and Evelyn break for the day. At home, a box arrives for Monique. Her mother has sent some of her father’s photos over.
There’s some drama a news outlet reports a rumor that Evelyn is unwilling to have children. Is fend off these accusations, Evelyn fakes a miscarriage, and soon public sentiment is back on her side.
They finally start filming Little Women, and Evelyn is worried about the actress playing Beth, Celia St. James. She’s worried Celia is too good of an actress and will show her up. Despite Evelyn’s initial apprehension, Evelyn and Celia soon become good friends. Celia starts seeing one of Don’s friends, Robert Logan, even though she doesn’t like him, but it enhances Celia’s profile. Celia takes him to the premiere of Little Women.
Their other co-star, Ruby Reilly, is upset during the premiere. She feels Celia has shown them up. When Evelyn doesn’t seem to care, Rose angrily mentions that Celia is a lesbian and that Evelyn’s husband is currently cheating on her. Evelyn confronts Celia, who is cagey about her sexuality, but Evelyn kisses her. Evelyn then goes to find her husband, walking in him cheating on her. Harry drives her home afterwards.
(Monique interrupts at this point. Evelyn finally admits that the love of her life was Celia St. James and that she’s bisexual.)
Afterwards, Don decides to leave Evelyn before she leaves him. Evelyn moves into Celia’s place. Harry shows up to deliver the divorce papers. He tells Evelyn that Don wants the studio to drop Evelyn, lend her out to MGM and put her in movies that are sure to flop. Evelyn will get to keep the house and half of Don’s money, but will be on a gag order as far as talking about their marriage goes. Afterwards, Evelyn and Celia finally sleep together.
When Monique and Evelyn take a break for the day, Monique gets another inquiry from her boss about what is going on with the Evelyn situation. Monique finally decides she needs to come clean (that she is writing a book and it’s completely separate from her job at the magazine). She also wants to keep her job because she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to publish the book. Monique is able to negotiate to become a writer at large in exchange for convincing Evelyn to do a front page story with a photo shoot. Afterward Frankie agrees, Monique negotiates with Evelyn to do the story and photo shoot or else she walks.
Part III: Gullible Mick Riva
By the time the Oscars roll around, Evelyn is persona non grata in Hollywood thanks to Don’s blackballing. Harry offers to take her, but Evelyn doesn’t want to mar his reputation. Celia wins an Oscar for supporting actress, and they celebrate together afterwards.
Evelyn gets the idea to go to Paris in order to continue her acting career. She meets Max Girard, an up-and-coming New Wave director. He soon asks her to be in a movie. As they are filming, Evelyn has the idea to turn a topless scene into a big tease. It works. When Boute-en-Train is released, Evelyn becomes an international star.
Don marries Ruby. Meanwhile, Harry leaves Sunset for Fox. Evelyn is booked to star in Anna Karenina at Fox with Harry as a producer. Soon, however, rumors start about the relationship between Celia and Evelyn. To deal with it, Evelyn hatches a plan to involving a man named Mick Riva, a singer. Evelyn plans to marry him and convince him to annul the marriage. She knows there would be rumblings of her being a tart and whatnot, but it’s better than whispers of them being homosexual.
The plan works, but Evelyn gets pregnant. Celia flips out, because she didn’t realize Evelyn was going to have sex with Mick. She’s also tired of hiding their relationship. They get into a huge argument, and Celia leaves. Evelyn gets an abortion, but she and Celia don’t speak for the next five years.
Evelyn gets through it because of Harry, who has become like family to her. Meanwhile, they were working on Anna Karenina together, and they both desperately needed it to succeed. Evelyn knew the best way to make this happen was for her to marry the man playing opposite her, as the character of Count Vronsky.
Part IV: Clever Rex North
Rex North is playing Count Vronsky, and he has a similar mindset as Evelyn. When she proposes the plan of having a stunt marriage, Rex is game. The agreement is that they will never have sex, and they can sleep with whoever else they want, as long as they don’t get caught. They move into Rex’s place, and Evelyn brings Louisa, her maid, along. The plan works brilliantly. Anna Karenina is a hit. Meanwhile, Celia marries a football quarterback, John Braverman.
Evelyn gets nominated for, but does not win an Oscar for her performance. Still, the next day, Paramount calls with a deal. Evelyn, Harry and Rex are being offered a three-picture deal to make any movies they want. The next two years are spent very profitably making movies together. However, Rex then announces that he’s fallen in love with a woman he’s been seeing, Joy. Moreover, she’s pregnant.
Evelyn comes up with a plan for her and Harry to be caught in an affair the same weekend it’s announced that Joy is pregnant. Harry warns that some people might know about him being gay, but Evelyn doesn’t want to fake it with anyone else. Harry also mentions that he’s seeing John Braverman. Celia’s marriage is a sham.
Evelyn asks Ruby to tip off the paparazzi so they can photograph her and Harry together embracing. Ruby agrees, but she also mentions that she wishes Evelyn would have warned her that Don was violent. Ruby and Don are now divorced. Evelyn thinks that if she had come forward with it, it could have protected Ruby.
Evelyn’s plan works. It’s a wash in terms of who’s the bad guy since both Rex and Evelyn were cheating, according to the media. Moreover, it generates a lot of publicity for their last movie together, Carolina Sunset. Harry ends up suggesting that he and Evelyn get married. That way, Evelyn can be with Celia and Harry can be with John.
Part V: Brilliant, Kindhearted, Tortured Harry Cameron
Evelyn gets nominated for Best Actress for Carolina Sunset. Celia and Ruby are up for the award, too. Ruby ends up winning. Celia and Evelyn run into each other and end up in an embrace. They get back together. Soon, Evelyn and Harry are married. The four of them become quite the foursome and are seen together all the time. When the Stonewall Riots happen, Celia wants to join in, but the others think it’s a bad idea. Instead, they all agree that donating financial resources is the best way they can help.
Evelyn, now 36, and Harry decide they want to have a child. Evelyn talks it over with Celia. They have a daughter, Connor. A movie opportunity comes up with Max Girard, but it’s opposite Don Adler. Evelyn thinks it over and meets with Don. Don apologizes for their past. He says that he’s sober now and trying to be a better man. Evelyn doesn’t quite forgive him, but she agrees to do the movie, 3 AM, with him.
As 3 AM progresses, Evelyn is sure it’s going to be a great movie. Max asks Evelyn to do a sex scene where she orgasms, which was not done at the time. Eveyln likes the idea of showing female desire and readily agrees without consulting Celia. After the scene is shot, she knows she’s made a mistake by not telling her. When she tells Celia, Celia is not okay with it. They end up splitting up over the issue. The movie was a hit, but it had an X rating. Don gets an oscar, but Evelyn is judged for her sexuality.
Evelyn admits that she used her body when it was the only thing she had, but then she kept using it after she had other options, even when it bothered Celia. She also admits that she lost Celia because she cared more about fame than protecting her relationship.
John dies of a heart attack in 1980, when he’s 50. Celia soon becomes close with another starlet, Joan Marker. Harry is distraught over John’s death and strts drinking excessively. Evelyn is determined to find a project for them to work on to get Harry out of bed. They end up working on a movie with Max called All for Us. It gets Evelyn her Oscar, finally. Max wins Best Director, and Harry wins Best Picture. Afterwards, Max kisses Evelyn. He soon asks Evelyn to marry him. Evelyn talks to Harry about it, and Harry agrees to a divorce.
Monique and Evelyn take a break for the day. Monique is surprised to find her estranged husband, David, at her apartment. He wants to try to work things out. But Monique remembers something that Evelyn said, about feeling like a failure about the demise of her marriage but not sad about the person themselves. Monique realizes that she was never sad about David leaving. She doesn’t want to work it out.
Part VI: Disappointing Max Girard
Evelyn, now in her mid-forties, and Max get married. However, Evelyn very quickly realizes that Max seems to like the idea of being with her more than the actual experience. When Celia wins yet another Oscar, Evelyn finally writes to wish her well. It’s been a decade since they’ve talked. They manage to reconnect. Evelyn says she’s ready to come out of the closet, even if it costs her career.
When Max finds her letters to Celia, he is angry and insults her. He threatens to expose her, but Evelyn walks out the door anyway and leaves him. Evelyn is determined to get back together with Celia. Celia warns her, however, that she has a pulmonary disease and probably won’t live that many more years. Celia suggests that Evelyn do her last movie, and that they then move to Spain. Celia also suggests that Evelyn marry Celia’s brother, Robert, so that Celia can leave her estate to Evelyn. (Celia insists Robert won’t care, since he just wants to sleep around.) They agree to the plan. Max proceeds to bad-mouth Evelyn and calls her a lesbian, but Evelyn is seen out with a young male senator (friends with Celia) and it’s all chalked up as sour grapes.
However, Harry doesn’t like the plan of moving to Spain. He’s not ready to retire. He’s also met a man and doesn’t want to move to Europe for that reason. They agree to talk about it later. However, when Evelyn pulls up with her driver, Nick, to his house, she sees that Harry has been in a car accident. The other man in the car, Harry’s lover, is dead. Evelyn arranges it so it doesn’t look like Harry was the one driving drunk, but Harry dies. (Nick, the driver, demands to be made a star in exchange for his silence. Evelyn agrees. Nick goes on to do big things.)
Connor turns to partying, alcohol and drugs after Harry’s death. Celia and Evelyn decide to move to a quiet area of Spain to help keep Connor out of trouble. Evelyn comes clean with Connor about her relationship with Celia.
Part VII: Agreeable Robert Jamison
As part of the plan, Evelyn marries Celia’s brother, Robert Jamison. The three of them, become a nice family. Connor goes to school in the United States, coming home for holidays. One night, Evelyn and Celia have a “spiritual” marriage ceremony between the two of them and exchange vows. They use a hair tie as a symbol of a ring. Celia soon passes away six years later, at 61.
Robert and Evelyn move to New York to be closer to Connor. Connor gets a job at Merrill Lynch and later gets a job teaching at Wharton (with Robert’s help, unbeknownst to Connor). Robert passes away at 81. Evelyn hires a woman, Grace, as a new housekeeper. She spoils Grace since she’s inherited and made millions and has no one to spend it on. At 39, Connor is diagnosed with late stage breast cancer and dies 18 months later.
Evelyn says that her story ends with the death of everyone she has ever loved. Evelyn says that “Evelyn Hugo” was someone who never really existed, it was a person that was made up so others would love her.
Epilogue: That is how my story ends
Finally, Evelyn tells Monique that everything she ever did was to protect the people she loved. She then admits that the man that Harry had loved, the one that she had left in the car, was a black man named James Grant. James, Monique’s father, died on February 26, 1989. Monique is shocked. She grew up believing that her father, James, had died driving drunk when she was seven. Instead, he was left for dead on the side of the road by Evelyn and then framed for his own death.
Evelyn then gives Monique a letter from James that she had found in Harry’s pocket when he died. It confirms that James and Harry loved each other, but also explains why Harry had been drinking so much around that time. In the letter, James addresses Harry’s plan of having James marry Celia (while Harry re-marries Evelyn) so they can be a foursome together. It says that James is unwilling to leave his family for the sake of his child, Monique. He admits that his wife, Angela, is not the love of his life, but he loves her nonetheless.
When Monique asks about when she can publish the book, Evelyn admits that she has breast cancer and will likely die soon. That Friday, they do the photoshoot for the magazine. Evelyn wears one of her signature emerald green gowns. Afterwards, Grace talks to them about the all-expenses-paid vacation she’s about to go on with her husband thanks to Evelyn. As she talks, Monique realizes what is going on (that Evelyn is ready to die) and they all say goodbye.
When Monique gets home, her mother is here. She asks about her parents marriage, and her mom says it was never passionate but they were happy. She is grateful to have found her soul mate in him. Monique is still upset over what Evelyn has told her, but she also realizes how much she has gotten out of Evelyn story, about being assertive and about fighting for what she wants and in reflecting on her own marriage.
That evening, Evelyn passes away, leaving most of her estate to charity and LGBTQ causes in particular. Monqiue publishes her story for Vivant.