Elisabeth Woolf is born into a rich Jewish family in Edwardian London. Her doting but domineering father has definite ideas how a young lady should behave; they do not include visits to the theatre. Yet Elisabeth defies him, and meets an intriguing young actor with whom she falls in love. Before she fully realizes the consequences of her action, she is made an outcast.
The young couple flee to Melbourne, where Elisabeth discovers her own talent for acting. Just as she is poised for artistic success, tragedy intervenes and she must escape again, this time to America. Nobody wants stage actresses: nobody has heard of Melbourne. Elisabeth, however, is not easily discouraged. For in California, there is talk of an exciting new medium - cinema.
From the First World War to the 1950s Elisabeth and her descendants are at the heart of the emerging entertainment industry, from silent movies to talkies, from early radio broadcasts to the first days of television. Despite the scandals of Hollywood decadence and pressures that threaten her professional survival, Elisabeth proves that she is truly a woman for all seasons.