In the mid-1980s, journalist and filmmaker George Csicsery climbed aboard The Love Train, a rail voyage organized by romance novel superfan Chelley Kitzmiller that took passengers from Los Angeles to the Romantic Book Lovers Conference in New York City.
The film captures a time when the romance fiction genre was transforming from an underground cult to a mainstream juggernaut, and it features some of its biggest names. There’s the chiffon-shrouded, jewel-laden, flower-bedecked author Barbara Cartland, who held the Guinness Book of World Records noted as the world’s most prolific novelist. And Janet Dailey, who was arguably the best known romance author at the time. We also gain insight into the what makes the industry tick with journalist E. Jean Carroll. And, of course, we meet fans — and their bewildered husbands.
“At first I wanted to make a general sociological film about this community, this huge phenomenon in our culture,” Csicsery told POV in a recent interview. The filmmaker instead found himself exploring “how people addressed loneliness,” but as The New York Times noted, “Mr. Csicsery, using terrific restraint, never overstates the obvious.”
The film holds up amazingly well considering how much the romance novel industry has changed in 25 years. As Csicsery tells us, “The ways that people create escapes are just as valid today as they ever were.”
Watch the film the San Francisco Chronicle called “a sparkling and adroit slice of American life that defies easy classification,” that The New York City Tribune called “insightful, poignant, surprisingly candid, occasionally searing and genuinely off-beat,” and that the Washington Post said is “filled with delicious moments” — not unlike a great romance novel, no?
And, if you can’t tell, we’re in the mood for romance! Our most recent documentary, Guilty Pleasures, is already streaming free online at pbs.org/pov/video, and there’s much more to explore on the film’s companion website, including an infographic about the evolution of the romance novel, and tips for aspiring romance novelists.