The protagonist of "Empire," Caroline Sanford, has returned to America. War is raging in Europe and Caroline is eager for a fresh start. Her brother Blaise is now running the family newspaper in Washington and he's a bit unnerved by his sister's return. He is worried that she wants to take the paper over. He was wrong. She starts writing for the paper and uses her powerful connections to inform her columns.
Caroline becomes close to President and Mrs. Wilson. Wilson has struggled mightily to keep his country out of the Great War but, finally, in 1917 the United States goes to war. Caroline meets George Creel, who is in charge of American propaganda efforts. He thinks that Caroline ought to make some propaganda films to aid the cause. She agrees and begins acting in fictionalized accounts of the war using her late mother's name, Emma Traxler. It turns out that none of her society friends recognizes her much to her relief.
When the war ends, Wilson becomes disabled with a stroke. His ambitious Attorney General begins the first American red hunt. Caroline's daughter, Emma, becomes an enthusiastic supporter of the witch hunt much to her liberal mother's disgust. Mother and daughter become estranged but the latter grows closer to her right wing Uncle Blaise who cheers her on.
During the Harding years, Caroline focuses on the movie business and encounters director William Desmond Taylor whose murder on William Randolph Hearst's yacht remains a mystery to this day. The murder itself becomes a major sub-plot of Vidal's book.
Speaking of sub-plots, part of the book focuses on President Harding's corrupt Attorney General, Harry Daugherty, and his bagman Jess Smith. We meet President Harding and his mistress Nan Britton who Jess befriends as a way of keeping her name out of the headlines and Harding's reputation safe. In the end, it comes to naught, after Harding's death Jess' role as a bagman is exposed and he ends his own life.
Hollywood is one of the best installments of Vidal's American Chronicles as it explores the intersection of politics and show business, which will culminate in the election of a movie star to the White House in 1980.
Best part of story, including ending:
Lucid recounting of an important era in American history.
Best scene in story:
The depiction of the Taylor murder and the lingering mystery surrounding it.
Opinion about the main character:
Caroline is a strong and intelligent woman who knows what she wants and often gets it.